Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nothing like a bottle of GLUE to wash down some HOOF

This adorable child is one of our friends from Barachi Field, a designated 'Safe Zone' for the many street children and families who live in Mombasa. Because these neglected humans present a negative face for the city and country, Kenya (the government? the police? the community?) has decided that it is 'okay' that they be rounded up and removed from the streets, and left alone at Barachi, a brick-walled, old football field where a community of homeless people numbering somewhere between 30-100, live, huff glue, sleep, and try to breathe. This way, these people really do not exist. Out of sight, out of mind. No need to alleviate the problem or tackle the push-factors which leave these children alone in the streets of a bustling city, so long as you hide the problem from the community and tourists. Spend an hour here--if you're daring--and you leave high as a kite and heartbroken.

Cancer Sucks

Meet Morris. A 13-year-old living at Barachi Field. Here, he takes his daily vitamins, jams to Kenyan radio through broken headphones, and plays football with a flat volleyball. Although his circumstances are more than disparaging, he has a kindness and gentle nature that illuminates within his eyes. These children are incredibly powerful and tenacious. They just need some help.

Special Ops

The sky hook is scheduled for pick up of 2 persons from the top of the tallest building in Nairobi. The exact rendezvous time must remain confidential, but when it comes, we will fly like escaped POWs at the end of a movie as CCR bumps. One hand on the cable, the other on our tapes. Traffic in the streets will stop as the people who know us now will be paralyzed at the sight, matatu drivers will bang on their roofs and point, women in burkas will lift up their eye-flaps and gaze in awe and whisper to eachother, MPs will radio the air force to have us intercepted and the crew will be handing us fresh vegetables once on-board. Any minute now...

The Borderline

Perched atop the only 'green' area in and near Korogoccho slum, just outside Nairobi's City Center where businessmen tout their designer shoes and drive in consistent bumper-to-bumper, exhaust-laden traffic in their Land Rovers, I point my camera at Dandora. The capitol's mountainous dumpsite that extends for miles and is home to hundreds of street children and families. Some build shelters from the disposed materials...others use the site as a resource for recycling materials back into the market, earning some form of a living through sales of metal, glass, and anything anything else they can find (toys, used clothes, medical supplies!, machine parts, etc.) You can see them scavenging alongside giant 4-foot-tall birds, battling for food scraps and survival. We met a few of the children who have lived in the dump and will introduce them in the film. (Expected release Spring 2010!) This place may earn the gold winner for most tragic area in Kenya. We found ourselves after a long day at the dump, shedding tears back in the City Center market, unable to remove ourselves from the painful experience. Humans should not exist like this.

Rescue Me

A sign hangs above the door of this room that reads "Napenda Kuishi"- which means "I want to live". The place is basically a street kid stronghold, situated right in the middle of the Korogoccho slum, about 5 miles outside of Nairobi. Its modest aim is to keep them busy and out of trouble during the day, before letting them go back to the streets to find a place to sleep each night (shop fronts, video parlors, abandoned cars, etc). The ground floor is the meeting room for lessons and hanging out, decorated with bright cartoons of Jesus and "don't do glue" type scenes depicting kids passed out with X's over their eyes. Across Kenya though, the main medicine to chase away slum blues is booze-  dollar fifths of hair-raising whiskey in plastic bottles that later become glue-containers, or home-brewed chang'aa (known to cause instant, irreversible blindness) or a yellow-labeled  pint of Kenya's national beer, Tusker- which for now only provides those kids with checker pieces. Tusker Lager versus Tusker Pilsner. Outside is a guy offering to pay children to traffic drugs around the neighborhood hidden in ice cream buckets. These kids are surrounded like Crockett at the Alamo with no alternative but to hang on as long as they can.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


We cut hair. We purchased God-awful formal-wear. At a mall. We concocted resumes and delivered them to offices in high-rise buildings, wearing our ridiculous outfits. Talking the talk. Walking the hobbling walk in our ill-fitting and unforgiving shiny new pleather shoes.
Yet, the pay-off can be seen here, as we stand victorious, following an interview with the honorable Kalonzo Musyoka: Vice President of Kenya.


To illustrate the transition in our Kenyan experience that took place over the past month, we start with this moment- 7am in the village of Attir, machete in hand, soaked to the bone after a night of howling wind, rain, thunder'n'laaghtnin', a collapsed tent and a 5-way spooning session (for warmth) inside a manyata, that included the two of us, one large Turkana named Julius, a friend and evangelical pastor, Gregory, and a baby goat. Days later, we left for Nairobi.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Under the bridge...

The Talent Show

"Ghetto Radio 89.5 FM" is a non-commercial station bumping throughout the streets and matatus (mini-buses) of Nairobi, helping to promote local talent: rappers, dancers, graffiti-writers, and slam-poets like this guy.
To get a sense of this place, without getting asthma, you can stream their shows here.

Kenya's Royal Family

This is Wafalme. (Kiswahili for "Kings & Queens.") They're an up-and-coming hip-hop act from the streets of Uhruma, another slum outside of Nairobi. These kids, ranging in age from 6-17, use the lyrical skills of artists much older to overcome hardships most will never know in a lifetime.

Home to 1 million?

To keep it red, I've heard the Golden Gate bridge is constantly being repainted. I imagine a census on Nairobi's Mathare slum would be a similar undertaking. Everything is in constant transition, yet at the same time, a feeling of stagnation heavily looms about. How long will this continue?

Friday, May 1, 2009

No Seats Inside? Quite Okay. I'll Ride on Top.

Safety is the number one priority for the citizens of Nairobi.

Here we are re-locating to our new digs in the city where our lungs have turned a deeper shade of black and we've become experts on death-defying forms of public transportation.


The kids talk about something called "the steam," when the glue and gasoline mixture takes effect. They become successful internal escape-artists, replacing their hearts and heads with a softer, numbed version of the world where visions of lions leap toward them, or they find themselves piloting a jet fighter through the sky. The hunger pains are released and the mud and exhaust on their clothes seem to disappear. With a complacent community circling them and families unable to provide, what is there to lose?


Whhirrrrrr...rrrumble...choke.. Choke! Spit, burp-burp-chug-chug-chug-chug...
Twende! (We go).
We coaxed this wobbly, beat-up 14-seater minibus into taking us home from the crusty plains surrounding Attir by pushing it around and around in circles with the muscles and determination of a dozen Turkana men and one set of extra-duty California chicken legs (Austin's). Anneliese supplied strategic advice and optimism, which probably made the difference and saved us all a 6-hour walk under the mid-day sun back into Isiolo town.
Here she is, celebrating with the grateful passengers. (By the way, we crammed in 23 people!)

Lunch with Moose

This was the typical view during lunch with our good friend Musyoka and the rest of the Mutilya family at their home in Bulapesa, Isiolo. We set sweat records in this place. The thing on the plate is a rolled chapati- a staple of the Kenyan diet. Simeon (left), father of Musyoka and 4 others laughs like a hyena whenever anyone comes in the door. The only time he was serious with us is when he would heap second, third, and fourth servings on our plates, offering no escape. This is the way of Kenyans: Stuff yourself while there is food, because you never know if there will be any tomorrow.
Then take a nap.
Leaving these folks and their hospitality brought us to the realization that we had made some good friends in Kenya who are already missed.