Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nairobi in Pictures, Part 1: Health Clinics, Hospitals, Hotels, and Others

To be honest, I struggled a little with how to write about my time in Kenya. I did not feel happy with the pictures I took, and I had a hard time taking pictures (this is a big conflict for me in general). As much as I want to share what Nairobi was like, I also feel wary about presenting photos out of context of a city that I experienced for five days. I don't know a lot about Kenya. And I do not want to falsely present what it is or to exploit the people that live there.

But here are my brief impressions, all the same. Nairobi is a place of great contrasts--not unlike Cape Town or many other places in which I have lived. It's a busy, bustling chaos with some of the worst traffic I've ever experienced (Freetown tops it but not by much). For every shiny new building, there's a tin shack in a slum, which appears to be the accepted term for informal settlements and disadvantaged communities in Nairobi. Although it does not surpass South Africa (and I'd venture Brazil) for wealth disparity, it's certainly in the upper end of the list. Nairobi is home to malls that are nicer and more upscale than the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and living areas that have some of the worst pollution on the planet. Nairobi gets a pretty bad rap--the Lagos of East Africa, Nairobbery, Kidnap Capital--but I did not experience any of this. In fact, I felt pretty safe, apart from the insane traffic.

There was something special about Nairobi for me. I don't know how to put my finger on it or explain more than that, but I want to return to Nairobi and other areas in Kenya and explore further. For the three full days I was there (two were allocated to traveling), I spent much of my time in meetings and at the m2m office learning about how it all works in Kenya. We spent one day in the field at various m2m sites in slum areas. I avoided taking pictures of people as much as possible and will not share photos of our Mentor Mothers and Site Coordinators, who did not give me permission to post their photos in a public venue. As you can imagine, there are complexities around patient confidentiality and disclosure (since all of our MMs and SCs are living with HIV) that can cause nightmare situations when we invite the media around. I am going to entirely avoid that quagmire--you can see photos of m2m staff and clients on the website.

I've decided to split my experiences into two posts--this one will cover all the photos I took while I was standing on my own two feet, and the second post will include all the photos I took while leaning out a car window.

The view from my hotel room: jacarandas, office buildings, and lumber. Nairobi was beautiful in many ways--the light at dawn and dusk was especially incredible, and there were tons of amazing birds. I realize that not everyone gets excited about birds, but I like them.

View #2 from my hotel (unfortunately, not my room), which was situated next to the Israeli embassy. And I thought the Americans were serious about security. When we went to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner, guards searched the undercarriage of the car for bombs, which hadn't happened to me since I visited the UN Special Court in Freetown. There's obviously a lot of tension in Nairobi due to the US embassy bombings in 1998, the bombings in Uganda last July, the recent US travel warning for Europe, and Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia (among a host of Horn of Africa/East Africa/global issues and conflicts).

Our offices in Westlands. Note the ubiquitous Land Cruiser/large SUV situation. They're everywhere because in Nairobi traffic, you always come first.

The view looking out from a health clinic in Riruta, a disadvantaged neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairobi.

A general store in Riruta. This reminded me of Dakar and Sierra Leone--these little kiosks or spaza shops are everywhere. All you need is a generator, and you can run a business out of anything.

One of many multi-story cinder block apartment complexes in urban slums and disadvantaged communities in Nairobi. It was explained to me that these are often built by the Chinese (who are very busy in Kenya and across the African continent building all sorts of infrastructure). This one was in Dandora. It was built with some financing from the World Bank to offer better housing. It's now home to Nairobi's garbage dump.

The back end of a health clinic in Dandora (you can see the building pictured above in the background).

A UN-donated Ambulance for a clinic in Mathare (please note that I do not know enough about the Kenyan sociopolitical context to know if the violence characterized in the link was as "tribal" as depicted--I tend to feel extremely wary about simplifying issues to that level). For site visits, we spent most of our time on the outskirts of slums and not deep in the shanytowns (which you can see in the Wikipedia entry linked above). What I found the most strange about the slums that I did see was how permanent they were--people were not expecting to get better housing anytime soon, as I feel South Africans living in informal settlements and township areas often are (even if that hope is a bit too optimistic given there's a housing shortage of 20 million homes in South Africa).

Another apartment building. This one is is in Mathare, which was characterized by locals as so dangerous that we (wazungu/toubabs//pumoi/foreigners/etc) were not allowed to go around the corner from the hospital to buy a Coke.

The labor ward in a clinic in Mathare. There hadn't been water at the hospital for two months due to the Chinese-led construction on Nairobi's roads, which meant that this hospital could not admit maternity patients. The hospital serves three surrounding slum areas, of which Mathare is only one. The hospital has a catchment area of 750,000.

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