The first time I visited Mathare was five years ago…
Mathare overwhelms you like a river in flood, its smells, its narrow spaces, its people, it’s too much to take in.
The slum is a unique organism: it grows and evolves; it lives by its own rules, more often than not incomprehensible to anyone that does not live there.
For foreigners visiting Mathare it is really difficult to understand how anyone can live in such conditions. Last year I made my mind up that it was time to finally comprehend this “ecosystem”. I decided to explore its every angle, every nook and cranny! Allow myself to be transported by its population, the people who were born, who live, work and will probably die there.
Homes built on foundations of waste accumulated over the years. Dark sinister corners. Rags, rubbish, sewage… and then, them, The Children! So many, anywhere, everywhere, in groups, alone. Cute, brazen and curious to meet the Muzungu, The White Man.
Mathare could be summed up in two words: “everything” and “nothing”. Everything: hairdresser, bakery, laundry, school, mechanic… Nothing: Water, electricity, rules, organization. An organized chaos in continuous expansion….
The aerial views are deceiving. Impossible to fathom what is happening under those tin roofs or what happens in those endless dark alleys. The only way to fully understand is to immerse yourself in their daily life, cross the thresholds of their impoverished abodes, enter those dark alleys. Zooming in won’t give you the answers, you need to experience their life on your own skin.
That’s why I chose to enter their world, to interact, to experience their hardship first hand even at the risk of being rejected or worse still provoking a hostile confrontation with these people.
Mathare is difficult, sometimes dangerous, and should always be treated with great respect. By doing so, Mathare it will open itself to you without prejudice, in a direct and uncompromising way.