I grew up in this widespread village of Kibera called Gatwekera. It was the only place on earth I knew back then and I can recollect all the memories I have had in this place and the exclusive slum of Kibera. I mean Gatwekera was the place where everything used to happen. It was the core-epicenter of life and all the good and bad that could happen in Kibera and for instance if anything did not happen in Gatwekera then it probably would never happen.
But let’s consider all the aspects and let me start with a brief history of Kibera as I was told by my mum and this is what she said, “We came to Kibera in 1978 from Mathare - now a slum. By then there were only a few houses surrounded by farms and a river that divided Kisumu Ndogo and Gatwekera to the east. Also another river would divide Gatwekera and Lang’ata to the south. In those farms we used to plant maize, beans among other vegetables. The location where Gatwekera is, only a few houses used to be there. From the railway line you could see farms of people and just a small number of houses. In those rivers we used to wash clothes because the water was very clean then. Later on as years passed, people started flocking from all over the country including the rural areas looking for jobs and since Kibera was close to Industrial Area – a major production estate and firm in Nairobi, people would later therefore shelter and settle in Kibera because it was just close to Industrial Area, their major economic base where many companies are located until very now. Therefore the farms in Kibera started dying one by one as people would clear them to create room and space for building more houses. A once green place then turned into a jungle of corrugated rooftops and mud walled house just like that. It was unemployment and many opportunities that gave birth to this slum we call Kibera.”
I would go ahead and ask her what has really changed and she was quick to respond, “A lot has really changed and Kibera back then was best unlike what we see today. All these compost and dumpsites were never there, open sewers and drainage trenches were minimal and these roads were very clean. Now look at the transition, over 30 years down the line, Kibera has now grew to Africa’slargest slum, a once swanky green estate inhabited by trees and farms is now home to over 500,000 people, some living in total abject poverty with no means or income. Some have even given up on what life really mean and majority of the people would rather survive and live than prosper and thrive.”
As for me I grew up a little bit late with lots of childhood memories which are here to stay. In this vast slum city, I grew up with a good number of boys and girls, both my childhood families and friends. I watched a lot happen along the way, an evolution of change and destruction. Childhood was just fine and we played football together with all the other boys while girls on the other hand would skip ropes and throw balls. It was fun but as time went by, puberty would befall girls and adolescent would wreck boys.
Now this is that time of all the years that everything would absolutely change for the better to the worse and vice versa. I mean life drifted apart and majority of the boys on my side would take and choose a different stand, at only 14 to be exact a lot had to skip classes and drop out of school out of self-choice. They would go ahead and say something along the line of, schools weren’t meant for them, and that us who have chosen school should do our best and most possibly employ them in future. For some, family ties would put them out of what normal children should be doing. It’s either mummy couldn’t afford school fees and they had to sort themselves, sometimes the hard way and as time would pass by, cases of mugging and robbery would repetitively be recorded all over Kibera and the perpetrators of this heinous acts were teenage boys and girls. And as they say, habit is second nature. I watched as daytime robbers, pickpockets and muggers transform into most wanted hard knock criminals. This was a hard time in life especially when resident would take the law into their hands, not once- not twice but many times.
I watched as some of these teenage gang lords would be stoned and lynched to death but then again you couldn’t do nothing about it. The lucky ones would find themselves behind police cells but would be released the next day – bribery had taken toll. Some would be charged in a court of law for juvenile robbery and would spend quite a time inside jail blocks but the habit would never cease. However that is just the beginning of the story, I watched young girls, beautiful ones whom possibly I would at one point in life make a wife mess themselves really hard. It is just impossible to ignore this factors, but let’s consider them anyway. Young teenage girls would turn into a tangle and this is the time they would discuss men more than their mothers. They knew who’s hot and who’s not. At one point I saw two young teenage ladies, 15 years of age to be frank, fighting over a man who’s just a year older but he plays football and so maybe the girls would see a future in him, the story doesn’t end at that, one would go ahead and bite another in the ear forcing it to fall down. Now one is behind jail blocks and another is earless and the young man has nothing to do with them anyway.
At some point ladies would just get pregnant, for instance, I know of a lady who was a friend back then, she was 13 years and in class 7 when she first got pregnant and people were shocked somehow, she’s now 22 with 2 kids, and not happily married, always on run and lookout for any job mostly menial and mundane just for the purposes of survival. A young lady with so much dreams didn’t even finish primary because puberty was driving her really mad. You see, in Kibera, once a lady gets pregnant, they cease having that lassie look, and when you look at them, you’d see a story of how life can really be tragic at some point. Some of the ladies I know have turned into prostitution and others have done an abortion or so in their lives. And apart from all the worst, a lot of good would happen along the way.
Bryan Jaybee was born and raised in Kibera slums where he still resides. He is 22 years old and a journalism student at Multimedia University of Kenya, currently in his final year. Bryan will be sharing an insider’s view on life in Kibera every Tuesday on our blog with his photos and words. You can follow Bryan on instagram at @kiberastories for daily posts on life in Kibera.