We’d reached the end of the tour and were to walk a bit up the road and catch a bus back to town. But before that, one of the girls on the tour was also researching on slum tourism and asked us to fill a questionnaire.
She later told me how three American girls had said how disappointed they were about the tour. I guess they had expected to see ‘ugly scenes’, ‘a place that reeks of despondency’. Hmmm, not enough dirt I guess [so dirt is good]
In any case, it was my turn to share my thoughts. With a camera trained on my face my pal asked me to assess the whole thing. This was the moment of truth, was slum tourism bad? Was it morally or ethically correct?
The truth is, there is no simple answer. I’m glad that I came to Kibera and saw such uplifting projects that I would otherwise not known about, but the manner in which I got to know about them is what bugs me. Especially as a Kenyan.
And while Western life is not as oh-lala as one would imagine, for them a slum is a very foreign idea/experience. I do not fault them for wanting to see, hear and understand what it is. I just take issue with the term ‘tourism’.
Even though we didn’t experience jeering or snide remarks I would not blame the people of Kibera if they had. We looked so freaking ostentatious; long-lens cameras and the like. It was very obvious that we we’re there to see them, our living museums.
So in that sense, it is very wrong. Poverty chooses no one; nobody seeks it out. Tomorrow any of us could wake up with nothing. Should we then expect to find a camera trained on our faces? A herd of eager faces peering into our shacks?
Sure, the kids were the most bold, saying ‘how are you’ and sticking out their hopeful palms. And Caucasians will forever be thought of as moneybags regardless of how much they have in their pockets. Because, truth is, how did they get here? Europe is thaaat place over there, somewhere.
But after all is said and done, I think this particular tour focused on the positives. We saw people helping themselves, others and making a difference in the community. I am proud that this ‘slum tour’ took that approach.
And as for me, I can honestly say that taking the issue of slum tourism aside, I was ashamed that I had never been to Kibera. Despite my earlier explanations, I realize now that I had blocked it out of my mind. I was so focused on me, me, me and the things people in my ‘zone’ were into that I forgot that my other brothers and sisters needed my help.
Let me be clear, I do not say any of these things in a condescending manner. I just want to help restore people’s dignity in whatever way I can. I have finally met ‘The Common Mwananchi’, what am I going to do about his/her problems?
So I guess it’s time I broke my boundaries because I definitely have a family, a project and business to conduct there.