Posted Aug 02, 2009 by 7 Comments

A few months ago, my dad and I went to see a movie. When we arrived, it was a beautiful sunny day. But when we walked out of the theater, it was pouring rain. Heavy, massive rain drops pounded the sidewalk and a river stood between us and our cars.

Of course, neither of us had brought an umbrella, so we were forced to wait. We watched from inside the theater as the water just fell and fell. Eventually, the downpour began to let up slightly, so we gave in and ran out to our cars, getting soaked in the process.

At the time, all I could think about was how big of a hassle the rain was. I didn’t want to run to my car. I didn’t want to drive through massive puddles. I didn’t want to get wet.

But now, after five weeks living in Kibera slum, my perspective on rain is beginning to change…


It’s been a very dry couple of months in Kenya. I’ve heard many people say that it’s the driest it’s been in years. In June and July, the months immediately following Kenya’s rainy season, it has only rained twice.

In fact, I’ve been able to see the effects of this drought first hand on the property of Tumaini Church.

A girl jumping rope in Kibera.  Every time the rope came down, a new cloud of dust would be kicked up.

A girl jumping rope in Kibera. Every time the rope came down, a new cloud of dust would be kicked up.

When I first arrived, the red dirt was packed down and the air was clear. Over several weeks, however, the tightly packed dirt began to slowly break apart into a fine layer of rust-colored dust. Under the bright sun, this dust layer grew and grew until last week when it was almost an inch thick!

With so much dust on the ground, simply walking from place to place kicked up enough of it to make the legs of my jeans red. When kids ran around playing, entire clouds of dust would hang in the air.

I could feel the change too. In my lungs. In my eyes. I started coughing a lot more. Sneezing. Taking my contacts out each night became a highly anticipated ritual of relief.

I found myself checking the sky several times a day, wishing for even a gentle shower to pack the dust back into the ground where it belongs.


But as much as it irritated my eyes and lungs, the drought carries with it far more debilitating implications for my neighbors in the slum.

First of all, Kenya’s electricity grid is overwhelmingly dependent on hydro-electric power. When it doesn’t rain, rivers dry up, dams lose their effectiveness and the city is forced to apply rolling blackouts to conserve the remaining energy. You can imagine that Kibera, with its countless illegal connections and shoddy wiring, is the first place to feel the pinch.

But most people staying in Kibera were living in rural villages one or two generations ago. They are no strangers to a life without electricity. The real struggle begins with a lack of water.

This boy, like many in Kibera, was absolutely covered in dust.  And with prices so high, new shoes will have to wait.

This boy, like many in Kibera, was absolutely covered in dust. And with prices so high, new shoes will have to wait.

When the rivers run dry, so do the public taps. Women that used to get water from a spigot around the corner from their home now have to carry jerry cans several kilometers on their heads. Others are forced to pay exorbitant prices to have water delivered to their house (20-30 U.S. cents for five gallons. No small fee for a person making $1 a day).

But again, the hardy people of Kibera can make it work. They can trudge for miles carrying water. They can bathe with less. Wash with less.

The biggest implication of a lack of water is that things simply cost more.

When it doesn’t rain, the price of food begins to creep upwards. As rural farmers struggle to produce enough maize or beans in the dry ground, they are forced to charge more for their produce.

As the price of food rises, so do the prices of other everyday items. Clothing, tools, transportation… In a community already hard-pressed economically, even small price increases can be devastating.

These three things (a lack of electricity, a shortage of water and a rise in prices) all contribute to an overall feeling of stress and unrest in Kibera. Walking through the slum, you can see it in the faces of shopkeepers and pedestrians.

Fewer smiles. Less animated conversations. Increased irritability. The stress of this drought is palpable.


During the rainfall, my neighbors put out every basin and bucket they had to catch the water.

During the rainfall, my neighbors put out every basin and bucket they had to catch the water.

Last Friday night, however, the skies darkened a bit early. The wind began to blow. Everyone could smell the rain coming, but tried not to get their hopes up (it had merely drizzled the last two times this happened).

Thankfully, this was no false alarm. The dark, massive clouds broke and the rain began to fall. Heavy raindrops pounded the dirt. Pastor Fred and I slogged home through the mud, slipping all over the place and smiling the whole way.

For the first time in my life, I was actually elated that I was being rained on. As I thought of the relief it would bring to the people of Kibera (not to mention to my own lungs!), I was filled with a strange sense of joy.

Pastor Fred and I returned to the house exhausted and covered in mud, and I didn’t mind one bit.


The following day, a new spirit was moving through the people I saw in the slum. Once again, laughter was sprinkled throughout each conversation. Children sang and played, jumping over puddles and dancing. People lined up 20 deep at their local spout to fill jerry cans that had been empty for far too long.

I've never been so glad to see mud!

I've never been so glad to see mud!

I would have never guessed before coming here that rain would play such a vital role in the morale of a community. When I think back to that day at the movie theater, I shake my head at how frustrated I was having to wait 10 minutes to get out to my car.

Now, I’m not going to make some sweeping statement like, “I will never take rain for granted again.” Of course I will. I don’t have to think about electricity or water or food when it doesn’t rain for a month.

But I do know this… The next time I’m looking out my window at a torrential downpour, I am going to think about my time in Kibera. I am going to remember those for whom precipitation is not an inconvenience, but a blessing. And I am going to pray that God would once more send dark, heavy rain clouds to this dry and dusty place…

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Next Steps
    • Check out the latest news about Kenya's current drought. Find out what is being done about it and see how you can help!
    • Even though droughts plague Kenya every three or four years, the government always seems taken by surprise. Pray that this year's drought would open their eyes to the need to take more preventative measures.
    • Take a look at Nairobi's weather for the next 10 days (click here). If there is no rain on the horizon, pray that it would pour anyway!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive 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.

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  1. Amy Sorrells said... 


    August 2nd, 2009 at 8:41 pm  

    This post is breathtaking, both in the utter despair and hopelessness of it, and in the redemptive part of the rains. I love that two of your “next steps” involve prayer, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get over to touch a person on that side of the globe. But the fact that you, as ministers, believe in it’s effectiveness and ability to transcend time and distance keeps me going and on my knees for these people. Second, this post reminds me of one of my (((many))) life verses: Hosea 6:1-3:1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD;let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Though we may not know tangible dust and drought, many of us Westerners know spiritual dust and drought. Yet oh, how we can (and WILL!) rejoice WHEN His rains come and quench us. Peter in Ukraine knows (perhaps not in so many words) all about spring rains and the timely appearance of The King. The people you’ve touched in Africa know about the rivers of abundance Christ Jesus provides. Thanks to you all, more folks around the globe are knee-deep in the blessed muck of His grace and mercy and love. Thanks and prayers and blessings over you all.

  2. eness said... 


    August 2nd, 2009 at 10:29 pm  

    Amen, Amy.

  3. Rob Yonan said... 


    August 3rd, 2009 at 9:56 pm  

    so simple, yet such profound an impact.

  4. Dave Rod said... 


    August 4th, 2009 at 6:51 am  

    I amen Enness’s amen of Amy!

    To us global warming is an inconvenient truth. To our Kenyan bros and sis it is a tragedy.

    The image of you guys walking in joy throgh mud will stick with me for a long time.

  5. Julie Buczkowski said... 


    August 5th, 2009 at 10:28 am  

    Wow, Barry. Even if I had not read the story, I would have been moved by your photos. Beautiful. Thank you!

  6. David Bell said... 


    August 6th, 2009 at 5:45 pm  

    So… three days after this post, I thought of your words here as I ran to my car and got soaked in 20 steps! Thanks Barry. Great perspective to share.

  7. Lavi said... 


    August 12th, 2009 at 5:10 am  

    Barry, Habariaco! it’s such a great thing to read your posts and know that we were there last weeks…I rejoice everytime I see well known places in Kibera…I feel like I’m still there…I didn’t have enough time to read all your posts, but there will be time…so I just want to say “Jambo!” and let you know that I really enjoy your work! So…we are waiting you in Romania. Mungu akubariki!

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