The project in Mathare is by far our biggest one to date. Not only are we constructing a recycling centre, we are renovating the connecting youth hall, and by renovating it, I mean tearing it down and rebuilding it. The size of it was a little intimidating at first, especially when we started tearing everything down. Now as we have been working on it for the past week, everything is taking shape and everyone is feeling good.
The site we are building on is my favourite so far. It is situated in a core area where there is lots of human traffic and surrounded by apartment blocks. All day long we are watched by mothers doing laundry, selling vegetables and taking their kids for walks. By vagabonds and street kids with glue bottles hanging from their mouths and by people my age and older with no work in sight and nothing better to do than to sit in the shade and stare. Kids are constantly running around playing, often with just a tire or a piece of string pulled from a garbage heap and stopping every now and then to watch. As much as the people of Mathare like to watch us, I like to watch them. I feel as though my understanding of poverty is something that has no limit. I’ve been in this country for some time and still I find myself astonished at some of the conditions people have to live through. Mathare’s condition disturbing and the garbage is similarly overwhelming than that of Kibera’s. The smell we work in everyday can sometimes bring a tear to your eye
The crew of people we have working are vibrant and hard working. In Makadara we hired two females and can honestly say were very disappointed by their effort. In Mathare we have three females and they are all fantastic. One woman, Joyce is a powerhouse and is more hard working than many men on the crew. It’s really strange having to give orders to people. Sometimes the language barrier is a major headache but I try hard to make sure that everyone knows I’m their friend, because after all I’m in their hood and none of this would be happening if it weren’t for them.
Today was especially brutal. Sean and I dug a trench for about 6 hours in a place which not only used to be a dumping site but a place for pooing. As I was sweating all over my body under the intense sun, hurling the pick into the “dirt”, the soil would fly back and hit me in the face, at one point I licked my lips and the taste I felt on my tongue was the same taste as the smell I had been smelling all morning.
We hire a lunch spot across the way for the crew everyday and usually it is very enjoyable. Except for today. Sean and I were equally dying of hunger but much to our chagrin the daily special was “Matumbo” or what we would call cow stomach. Our hunger presided and we went for it. I’m not sure what was worse, the smell of the dish or the taste. The scent was like a rotten petting zoo and the taste was like a chewy garbage soaked piece of leather. Never again.
Our days are long and hard, waking up at 530 and usually arriving home at six or seven, with an hour and a half commute each way. That’s when Sean’s alarm clock isn’t waking us up at 3 am so we think its time for work, up until we’re making coffee and I look at my phone and see the real time. We slave all day throwing rocks, dirt and cement around and our hands are sore from the skin being shaved down. When we’re done, my body is fatigued and aching, we are covered in dirt, feces and sweat. but I can’t say that at the end of the day I have ever felt a better feeling.
I should be posting a new video soon and some photos of the construction in Mathare. For now here are some photos of the youth centre we pulled down and what garbage collection looks like in the slums.