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“I must be out of my mind!” That thought has run through my head all day. Here I am, a 26 year old white guy, and I’ve decided to live in East Africa’s biggest slum for five weeks. What???
You read that right. As of 5pm yesterday (Kenya time), I am living in Kibera. I will be eating the food, sleeping in shacks and staying with different individuals and families across the slum for more than a month.
I will be primarily hanging out with the staff of Tumaini Church, a small plant of Nairobi Chapel. I will be doing the World Next Door thing… following them around, asking lots of questions and undoubtedly learning a whole lot in the process.
Now, it would be easy to make it seem like I am totally cool with the idea… to convince you that I am some brave and fearless Indiana Jones type, ready to eat bugs and trek into uncharted territories without so much as a second thought.
But let’s get a few facts straight:
Fact #1 – I am just a kid from the suburbs.
Almost my entire life, I have lived in suburban Indianapolis, and it has definitely shaped my values.
For many years of my life, I viewed “roughing it” as going without video games for more than 24 hours. “Adventure” meant trying out some new coffee shop instead of heading over to Starbucks again.
Granted, I’ve had the chance to do some crazy stuff over the past few years (like hike 10 miles through the desert near Somalia, sweat like crazy in a Ukrainian sauna and take a 22 hour train ride across India), but that doesn’t change the fact that I am a suburban kid at heart.
If you had told me 10 years ago that I would one day be speaking Swahili, bathing from a bucket and eating ugali with my hands in a Kenyan slum, I would have laughed at you… and then run away looking for hand sanitizer.
Oh, and I’ve never exactly been “Mr. Adventurous Eater” either. I used to have trouble eating anything off the bone. Brussels sprouts made me nauseous. Warm soda was an abomination.
Sure I have grown out of many of these tendencies, but let’s face it. I am still a suburbanite.
Fact #2 – I am as white as they come!
Whenever I walk through a slum, kids see my gleaming white skin and come running. Shop owners chuckle and point. An mzungu (white person) is just plain out of place there.
When the sun is out, there is always the slight possibility that a group of mzungus will enter the slum as part of a missions trip or aid organization. But that’s during the day. I will be living there. How many shop owners in Kibera have seen a white person walking around after the sun goes down?
Obviously, being white in the slum makes you stand out. And even though I’m getting a little better at ignoring the stares, it still really gets to me from time to time!
Fact #3 – I am going alone.
This is not some adventure by a big group of Americans. I will not be marching into Kibera with the mzungu patrol. When I lay awake at night, clutching my knees and weeping softly because of how much I miss cheese, there will be no other westerners to hold me.
Of course, the good thing about being alone in this is that it forces me to trust my hosts. If I get lonely or sick, I will need to turn to them. And even if I head out of the slum a couple of days a week to see my interns, I will still have five days a week of full cultural immersion.
I don’t care who you are, that’s not easy (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones).
So there you have it. Three facts that should convince you of one thing: living in Kibera slum for five weeks is going to be quite an adventure for a suburban 20 something like me…
I really must be out of my mind!
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.