Choosing between eating, drinking and using the bathroom #perouskenya

Posted by Amy Christian Stories, Film and Photography Project Manager

7th Aug 2013

I have seen countless photos and read many stories about our projects in Nairobi, but nothing could have prepared me for the sights, smells and sounds of Mukuru.  As I looked around at the piles of rubbish and open sewage running through the streets, it really hit home what it actually means to be poor and living in a city like Nairobi. 

The sights and sounds of busy Nairobi. The roads congested every hour of the day. Rugged paths lining the motorways, filled with people rushing in every direction, perhaps on their way to work, the shops, or home. Trucks and cars alike churning out exhaust fumes that fill your lungs and make it hard to breathe normally.

On the outskirts of Nairobi, Mukuru informal settlement is nestled between big factory buildings. The roads to reach it are lined with market stalls selling everything from second hand trainers to bananas. Every few metres, music blasts from speakers, advertising the CD's being sold from inside small shops made of corrugated iron sheets.  People mill between moving vehicles. The road is made of mud, full of holes and dips that cars and trucks struggle to get out of.

This was my first visit to an urban project. In the past three years I have visited many programmes in remote rural locations, but never an informal settlement like Mukuru. It made me realise what it really means to be poor and living in a city like Nairobi.

It's hard to imagine what it would be like not to be able to afford to go to the toilet. To have to choose between drinking clean water, eating or using a bathroom. The only alternative to a toilet being to use a plastic bag and throw it outside.

"I thought I was ready for Mukuru. I was wrong."

I have never counted the number of times I use the toilet each day. Well not until today. I found myself totting it up and by lunch I had already reached four. I drink a lot. I need the loo a lot. But I can go as much as I need to and have never had to worry. There's always a bathroom for me to use. Even on our journey here to Nairobi I noted all the toilets at my disposal along the way. One on the coach to Heathrow, at the airport, on the airplane, at the guesthouse, and so on. For the first time ever I am counting myself lucky for something I have always, up until now, taken for granted.

The poorest families living in Mukuru earn just 2,000 Kenyan shillings a month. That's around $23 US dollars. We were told today that for an average family to eat properly, drink clean water, use the toilet twice a day and pay their rent, they need 14,000 Kenyan shillings a month.

So what do you give up? 


Follow Amy, Perou and team in Kenya #perouskenya

Fashion photographer, Perou, is currently in Kenya, visiting the Mukuru informal settlement with Amy and staff from Oxfam's Stories, Film and Photography Team. They'll be keeping us up to date until 12 August.

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Blog post written by Amy Christian

Stories, Film and Photography Project Manager

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