The journey to Lunga Lunga Slums

When i first met Tush at Nyayo house i was in the company of my brother. We had gone there to register a community group to enable us carry out beneficial community projects. So at the far corner was this suited young man who had some shades on and who seemed to know how to go about the registration process and so we stuck a conversation. In the brief episode, i came to learn that Tush was a former street boy. I couldn’t believe it. I would call my life a ‘middle class’. In my understanding, I couldn’t believe if you didnt have a formal education you could actually speak like an educated person. I was such a snob and i must say my encounter with Tush changed and shaped how I look at life. He is an example of the kind of people that characterise our ‘slums’ self-made person, who has grown in this world based on wit and luck and has managed to captivate many. This is the journey to Lunga. I will take on this journey so that you can see what must be done and can be done with belief and trust.

dumpsite in Kenya landfill in Kenya

Lunga Lunga slum is named after Lunga lunga road near which it is located. This settlement is said to have been established in the 1960’s. The first people to settle were working in the industries around. The establishment of this settlement was meant to tap into the existing opportunities of employment in the nearby industries. Over time the need for other services motivated others to come and settle and thus the growth of trade. Some of the residents were displaced from other settlements, were landless or were pushed out of their matrimonial homes after the death of their husbands. Others who felt accomplished left their rural homes to live with their families here. Still others settled here immediately after school in search of a livelihood.

can u live like this

When Tush invited me to visit the slum, I must say I was filled with apprehension. You see, I had never been to one but their reputation surpasses all. In my mind they were the epitome of backwardness, filth, misery and absolute deprivation and above all; criminals, rapists, murderers lived here. How could i possibly go there? But wait a minute, is Tush from this background that i had analysed too. I was deeply ashamed because I realised I didn’t even consider slum people to be humans at all. I didn’t know what made them live there, I knew absolutely nothing about this people yet I could sit on a high horse and condemn them. So with that impulse I agreed to visit the slums with Tush as a tour guide. The only advice he gave me was not to dress very nicely and appear like i have been around the country. Obviously, that made me uneasy but he light-heartedly said ’unadhani kila mtu ni kauzi?’ (do i think all of them are gangsters?), to which i smiled back embarrassed and chastised.  You can approach this village in two ways. Either from Lunga Lunga rd (off lunga Lunga rd) or from Mombasa road then off airport north road  (on matatu route 33/34 fare).

deplorable housing lunga slums 2

When we walked into the slum, I was so thankful that I had worn sturdy shoes! We had to walk about two blocks in a mixture of three inch deep mud/sewage/ash. There were open human faeces everywhere and to my utter misery, u had to look down least u squished into it. Some looked fresh indeed. I almost threw up each second. My sister, who accompanied me, kept nudging me and looking at me sternly. We finally reached Lunga ‘high street’. I must say at this point nothing noteworthy had happened, we were alive and well. The people of Lunga who were numerous seemed to enjoy their normal lifestyles and attend to their daily routine. Garbage littered the settlement and particularly along these ‘high street’. In Kenya this is also called “central business district (CBD)” due to the heavy business that goes on there. Another reason for the heavy littering is the easy access of this lane by all, and many who find it difficult to throw their refuse into the river, do so here at night. Business is common because that is where most survive or live off. Fish business is dominated by the Luo’s;  water by the Kisii’s;  hotel by Kambas; kimera by Luhya’s and green vegetables by the Kikuyus. From groceries stalls and shops to mini supermarkets every step there is a shop or anything like that. Food is not a problem, if there is money because small bits here and there are cheap to obtain i.e. enough though some don’t manage.

Lunga lunga is divided into three settlements: Sinai, Paradise and Jamaica. The entire settlement measures 9 acres in size and is established on over-leaf land (where high voltage power lines pass). According to laws governing power and its distribution, this land is not supposed to have any constructions. There is an estimated population of about 15 000 people living in this settlement. There are more than 2800 structures in this settlement. Ramshackle structure approximately 5 ft x 6ft can be occupied by 6-8 people. More than 75% of the structures are made using iron sheets. The other 25% are made using wattle trees and mud. Of these ramshackle structures, at least 60% of the structures have cemented floors to avoid unnecessary wetness in the houses.  More than 95% of residents are tenants. The ownership of the structures in this settlement is mixed, with some being owned by individuals purposely for renting. There are however, some who see this as their home. Structures are owned by less than 1000 structure owners and only less than 250 structure owners reside in this settlement. Rents range between Kshs.500 – 800 per structure per month.

Water is available in the settlement at a cost of Kshs. 5 per 20-litre container. There are more than 18 water points in the settlement with a lot of concentration along the “CBD” area. Water is leased from the nearby industries. The water business is dominated by the Kisii’s. Changes of water coming into contact with amoeba is high as the pipe network bringing water crawls in the raw sew that runs evenly and at some point they break letting in dirty water. That is why there are many pharmacies, clinics and chemists in Lunga Lunga. 85% of Lunga Lunga is connected to electricity supply, more than 60% in Sinai, 40% in Jamaica and 50% in Paradise. This service is leased from the industries near the settlement and payments are therefore at the industrial rate. Electricity poses a dangerous and risky hazard as live wires are placed on the ground and others hanging dangerous not high above your head and over the rusty mabati structures. A narrow weather road provides access across the village while paths provide access between structures within the settlement. Children in this settlement attend school in an education centre within the village and St Bernard’s primary school, a short distance from the village. Medical services are sought for from St Bernard’s Dispensary opposite at subsidized cost.  Although primary schools education is free in public schools there are a few children who don’t attend school. These children spend their time watching videos playing other games or even hawking foodstuffs like peanuts and boiled eggs. Security is okay but outside the villages in industrial area and the fields you are likely to be mugged at around 6.30pm or between 5.30pm and 6.00am.

Its extremely difficult for a new person to cope with the lifestyles; leave alone the filthy and stinking environment. All plastics, paper bags and polythene materials adorn the place, everywhere in different colours. Dumpsites are everywhere; you will also find puddles filled with dirty dark water with a horrible stench rolling down slowly as if in no hurry between grasses on either side. The area surrounding the river bank is wet a characteristic common in the plains.

The drainage system which is non-eistant is so poor that waste water within inches of most homesteads of Lunga. Fewer than 5% of the structures are served with latrines but these facilities are usually shared by nearly the whole village, even though there are restrictions imposed on use by “outsiders”. Most of these latrines have been built along the river and empty their refuse directly into it. There are another 9 latrines that offer commercialized (pay as you use) services to the residents of this village. There is common use of open areas, especially along the river, by the residents for human waste disposal, while some use ‘flying toilets’ in the village. There are no water ducts in the settlement and water drains itself freely through the structures into the river below.

making a living in the slums

‘ hapa maisha ni kujipanga’ (in the slums, life is how you have prepared) said Richie, a friend of Tush who had met us on the way  to met the Lunga Lunga self-help group. During the rainy seasons people normally have difficulties because of mud and impassible pathways. The place turns into a pool of dirty water and running sewer as mud intensifies. The feature can take three days to clear. People have adapted a way of using gumboots during the wet seasons. However nothing is better either during the sunny seasons for there is dust everywhere under the strong burning sun as a matter of fact there are no trees to provide shades. The place looks like a mini desert. In the morning during weekdays you encounter hordes of people headed to their working places or going to search for jobs. They head towards industrial area which is of course nearby, others go to town. The same scenario also
occurs in the evening when they return home.

Women walk comfortably as if they fear hurting the soil as they giggle small pouches or paper bags in their hands. Men walk quickly and uselessly talking in loud voices as if they are preaching to the masses. They also walk carefully not to step on polythene with human waste normally dumped during the night. You also need to be careful when a vehicle passes for it can accidentally run over shit under its wheels and then splash it direct over your face. Most of the residents here come from different communities and tribes of Kenya. The largest number of people here are Kamba’s, Meru’s and Mbeere from Eastern Province, Kikuyus from Central, Luo’s and the Gusii from Nyanza the Borana and Somalis from North Eastern province and Luhya’s from Western province Some have intermarried among themselves while others marry within their ethnic divisions. The common language of communication is “sheng” a mixture of the Swahili and English and other local dialects from different communities in their own mother tongue.

lunga lunga youth

The people of Lunga Lunga have several forms of entertainment, for instance there are video shows where one pays five shillings per film. Most of this video’s have different genres of films to show. Some specialize in Nigerian shows, some in action movies and others in karate and kikuyu movies. Other specializes in showing sports in particular soccer through channels like DSTV and super sport. Demand is high n European soccer and the craze of enthusiastic fans. They admire teams like real Madrid, Barcelona, Bolton wanderers, Chelsea, Man u, Arsenal, Bayern, Ac Milan and Juventus among others. In fact people pay up to Sh.20 per game. But this sum depends on the popularity of teams and hence the amount can go down to not less than 10/=. The business is good and it has a good number of customers. By 8.30 pm most of them show pornographic material. This is done silently and secretly such that it doesn’t attract the officers of the law in patrol. It is even christened metro and charges are normally 10 shillings. Interestingly, underage children also watch it without fear of being caught. It is an affair for all from women to children to men. Popular tag is “under 18 ni noma”

The second form of entertainment is largely characterized by drinking joints such joints are as many as there are different churches. From muratina pubs (local brews)  to beer joints people have their take anytime any day continuously. How else can they spend their leisure? After all there are no recreational facilities. Different communities however have their own types of drinks that they enjoy much as they would in their motherland. For instance the Kikuyus love muratina (porridge like liquor) and kibuku an industrial porridge. These types of liquor are normally mixed with honey. Kambas enjoy kaluvu a drink made from adding sugar to water and then insert some plant notably muatine and then keep it for three to four days before being served to patrons who are more than ready to consume it. Luhya’s are famed for busaa and it is the main favourite to many. The Kisii and luhyas also love changaa normally brewed here or ferried from Gusii land and western Kenya.
Barely ten meters is a club for those who can afford beer. Most people however frequent the beer club at the end month. The area normally selling local ethnic drinks are noisy smelly open air like halls and under shades. Some are specialists in selling all types of liquor. There is no day you can’t see so many people growling like hyenas in presence of a prey as they drink. Maids are everywhere to provide service and lure more men into buying before they also seduce the men to have a few coins. It is a common thing. In fact this club makes a profit of up to 40,000 shillings per day or two.

Other clubs have TV’s and state of the art music systems.The other means of luring people into the club is by the use of playing local music in local dialects. In fact this has prompted high sales of cd’s, Audio cassettes, VHS cassettes and VCDs of different artists from music to comedy.People have a sense and a feeling of seeing and listening to their roots.  Ducks wattle in the mud with the ducklings chicken picking pebbles goats grazing as marabou stocks scavenge the dumpsites.

There are several mosques as there are churches of different denominations.
VCT centers and health centers are also there in plenty. Herbalists also bring their herbs to the people like hawkers do. They say history repeats itself but to the people of Lunga Lunga life is what repeats itself as they wake up daily looking everywhere it gets worse and repeating itself.


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