Touring the Kibera Slums in Nairobi

Kibera home 

I'd like to think that as a travel devotee I do my best to step out of the tourist bubble and immerse myself (as best I can anyway) into local daily life wherever I go. Of course what that experience looks like varies immensely depending on the destination's terrain, weather, politics and, probably most significantly, its level of economic development. 

In Nairobi, I was of two minds about stepping fully into local life. Not because I was nervous or hesitant to do so, but because I was a bit unsure of the best way to go about it. With 44% of Kenya's population living below the poverty line, day-to-day life is full of hardship. And Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world (and the largest in Africa), is renowned for providing a very real dose of this harsh reality. But something about wandering through this pocket of the city as a privileged tourist didn't sit very well with me initially.

On the edge of the city

In the end, after much internal debate, I decided to do a bit of research and found a tour I felt comfortable with: Kibera Slum Tours. The company hires guides that live in Kibera, ensures the money goes back into the community and aims to demystify the slums. 

I booked a morning slot and found myself on a private walking tour with the lovely Steve. The perks of shoulder season strike again! As soon as we arrived, I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the community. I can now understand why it's often described as a city-within-a-city. It's an incredibly self-sufficient pocket of the world as I immediately noted from our first stop: the mammoth local market filled with everything from coal to fuel local homes to clothing to fruits and grains for supper and plenty of mpesa kiosks for mobile payments. Read more about these here.

 Coal for sale to fuel local homes 

Coal for sale to fuel local homes 

Passing this shopping hub, we wandered through alleyways and into Kibera's more residential pockets where rows and rows of tin-roofed shacks line the streets. It costs the equivalent of £6 a month to live in one shack and some crowd as many as eight family members into a standard 12ft x 12ft space. 

Next, we visited the small factories in the heart Kibera where I met and chatted to a few of the men making jewellery from cow bones as well as some of the older women selling their handmade crafts. 

Of course there were much harder-hitting moments of the tour: the sheer amount of rubbish found throughout the village, particularly near the kids' play areas nearly brought me to tears. And the stench from the so-called flying toliets (human waste thrown into plastic bags which are then dumped on the street) because of a lack of proper sanitation was hard to bear. One latrine is typically shared by 50 shacks. And Steve's stories about how swiftly and easily the development funds for Kibera can get funnelled into the wrong hands literally made my blood boil.

Rubbish near homes and train tracks

In the end, I'm glad I did the tour. Despite feeling like a voyeur at points, the visit was a stark reminder of my first-world privileges as well as the fact that community spirit, resilience and kindness thrive (sometimes even more strongly) even in the hardest of circumstances. 

And if this sort of tour can help change the perceptions of Kibera and other similar slums, raise awareness around poverty and encourage visitors to spread the world, volunteer or even channel funds into the right places, then I'm all for it. 

My lovely tour guide

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