Today I spent my morning in the largest slum in East Africa; Kibera. And it was poa sana ( very cool). To be honest last night I was quite nervous about visiting Kibera because I have never seen a slum before and was expecting an overload of emotions. But I can tell you now the only emotion I felt all morning was pure joy. Kibera has a population of 1.2 million people and is absolutely massive. People live, work, go to school and church there. And yet you will not find Kibera on a map as it is technically illegal.
We took the public bus into Kibera and when we got off began to walk through the slums to the Massai Mbili an art collective that has become famous not only within Kibera but also around the world. Massai Mbili was founded around 2005 by local artists who wanted to raise the importance of art within the community. Goaba one of the founding artists told us that during that time art was considered a waste of time and those that called themselves artists were considered uncool. And so these artists worked to show how important art could be. Goaba said that a few years ago being a gangster was considered cool and that now being an artist is what is cool. These guys were definitely the coolest cats in the slum as we walked through the areas everyone stopped to say hello to them.
In addition to hosting around 8 local artists Maasai Mbili has children from Kibera come in everyday to paint and have a space to escape from their everyday lives. They are able to use art as a therapy for these children and told us that their progress has been evident as the first paintings children did were always of horrible scenes but as they came back their paintings progressed towards beautiful things.
The hopes of the Maasai Mbili were amplified in 2007 when the elections in Kenyan turned violent. One of the art collectives most famous artists Solo7 recognized the extreme need for peace in Kenya during this time and instead of running away decided to take action. Solo said ” if I ran away I would become a victim of circumstance.” And so he began to create street art all over Nairobi in the name and hope of peace. ‘Peace wanted alive’ became his slogan.
Kibera is often seen by outsiders as dirty, unsafe and a haven of poverty. But I saw nothing but a space of community and love during my time there. These artists wanted to show that good could come out of Kibera and remind the outside world of the human experience that exists within. When I asked one one of the artists who later walked us around part of the slum what he would want the world to know about Kibera he answered that he would want people too see that there is life inside. He said that often a single story is told about this place, that mzungo’s (foreigners like us) often drive on busses down the main road taking pictures but never getting off to walk around and interact with those who live there. People then walk away with a negative view of a place they never really got to know. Getting off the bus today and walking through Kibera was such a positive experience. Everyone was friendly, I saw nothing but smiles and people who were nothing but proud of where they were from.
I am so far in love with my adventure. My team is amazing filled with people with such big heats and smiles. And the people of Kenya are nothing but friendly. We have Swahili lessons everyday around 5 and so I am off to practice mine so I don’t embarrass myself.
Lots of love to everyone!!!!