Saturday, 21 April 2007

Kibera Part II - The car battery millionaire and other stories

Bebe, her husband and their 3 kids live in this 5m x 3m corrigated iron cubicle in the Kibera. In it, 2 small sofas (fit for 3 children to sleep), a table, a dividing curtain, a bed, a TV and a mobile phone. No kitchen. No bathroom. No stove. No fridge.

Yes. They all have TVs. In fact. The richest men in the Kibera is the guy who, in the early 80s, discovered that car batteries could work as power stations for black and white TVs. Busiest and most profitable time of his life in that over populated jungle with no energy supply. He started with 200 car batteries. A 'gift from god' apparently. He ended up with more than 5,000 batteries sold in the first year. 'God' was a very generous with him. Plenty of spare car batteries to give. If only the same principle applied to food in Africa.

Back to Bebe's interview. Although our intention was to interview her, her husband took the lead throughout the whole session... as he well put it: "I am the bread winner so I am the one who talks."Nina, native Research International researcher, told me that sexual and domestic violence is a very serious issue in Kenya. Black male Kenyans tend to behave as dominating alpha males. As a practical consequence, in Kenya for example, black male Africans refuse to use condoms as they perceive them as something to be ashamed of, a public humiliation. Needless to say, HIV is rocketing in Kenya, where nearly half of the population is now infected. Another consequence of all this is in fact quite disturbing. Kenya has a very high incidence of baby rapes, as men infected by the disease, in their ignorance, are made to believe by local priests that a baby is a pure entity that can absorb Aids and cure them. Bligh me... Today, over 100,000 Kenyans die every year from the deadly disease, The World Health Foundation says, with the majority of new infections occurring in young people, especially women aged between 15-24 years.

When asking Bebe's husband about their weekend plans, a simple two-fold answer:church - as it's free and they have no money to afford anything else and funeral - as there's someone dying of Aids in the Kibera community every week. Instead of a mortgage or a savings account, Kenyans contribute every month to the Funeral Fund. Every single family.

Looking around while her husband was doing the talking, I'm coming to realise more and more how tiny their home is, and only 20 minutes have past... imagine living there 24 x 7. That was a crude snapshot of life as it is in the Kibera. Where people have to live everyday cramed together. There's no such thing as privacy. The cultural impact this has on the community and family institution is fascinating. Families in the Kibera are very close, too close. Everyone has dinner together every night (or whenever there's food), shower together and watch TV together. At the Kibera, neighbours are family too. Values like trust, altruism, hope, faith in each other were mentioned by all people we talked to in Kenya. It is part of their cultural essence. Be it family, friend, neighbour or a newcomer in the Kibera.

These embeded values bring another interesting consequence. There's a lot of morality and integrity in this people. With that in mind, some people contribe every month to a community fund scheme called 'Merry-go-round'. In this scheme, friends and family that belong to the Kibera community join in. They contribute every month with a small amount and each month one person receives a big chunk of money - like a pyramid scheme, only with total strangers, no contract.

No comments: