On Kibera, flying toilets and poop.

I have been wanting to write this for a while now. Especially after I read about Peepoo: a biodegradable plastic bag that acts as a single-use toilet for urban slums in the developing world. Inspired by the ever ubiquitous Kibera flying toilets.

Now my post is not about the benefits (or idiocy) of Peepoo, I’ll leave that to the World Toilet Organization . It is about the framing of Kibera and the telling of its stories, which seem by and large to be synonymous with flying toilets and violence.

A few months ago I had the privilege of engaging with young Kibera residents involved in the Map Kibera project and other community media projects. We ended up discussing a wide range of issues…I was particularly interested in why they had joined the project and why they want to continue the work they were doing. Over and over again they expressed the need to share their view of what Kibera was and tell their stories, and most importantly correct the negative perceptions out there about Kibera.

Do all this through a map I asked?

Yes, they replied – people didn’t know for instance about the different “villages” within Kibera, or the number of business, or health resources, and one young man told me – the fact that we have toilets..lots of them. Mapping to them was about giving voice… in this case what they are calling the Voice of Kibera.

I instantly connected with those young people and the sense of pride about being able to tell their own stories…I hope from them we will eventually get to learn more about the real, diverse, full of life, and complex Kibera and less about poop flying all over Kibera.

23 comments to On Kibera, flying toilets and poop.

  • jke

    I once blogged about the Peepoo system (http://kikuyumoja.com/2008/12/30/flying-toilet-20/) because the office I used to work for supported their field study in Kibera.

    As for Kibera: the mapping project is great but else I am very much against most external approaches towards Kibera. But well, maybe I am just too proud or sick of all those NGOs active in the area.

  • Ssembonge

    The Hollywoodization of Kibera does not benefit anyone and it is time we stopped covering our problems in shame. The situation in Kibera is unacceptable and more should be done rather than nit-picking on the good stories.

    For Kibera residents, life in the slums is hell (probably 99% of the time) and I for sure would not want to spend a night in “the real, diverse, full of life” Kibera.

  • Ory Okolloh

    @Ssembonge, no one is talking about the Hollywoodization or romanticizing of what Kibera is or is not. The problems the people face their are well known. You might not want to spend a “night of hell” there, but the fact is that almost a million people do some by choice, others not and their lives are not always about hell…they build, they have dreams, they fall in love, they write, they entertain…that is my point.

  • Lisa

    I second that Ory, i think the people of kibera have the right to tell there stories and your right in saying the problems they face are well known but they are people too and like you said with dreams, ambition, talent and very proud to be a part of the community so why wait for someone else to tell there stories. ( if you want something done do why not do it yourself )
    Good work Ory keep it up we are proud of you

  • Osas

    Ssembonge, it’s clichés like yours (classist clichés, by the way) that constitute good part of the real problem of Kiberians; not so much the well-meaning wazungu gaggle shoven through the slum via a poverty consciousness-raising tour.
    Kibera is not Muthaiga, not Karengata, not even Lavington. But it definitely is not one of the worst parts or estates of Nairobi, by far not. Have a look at Mukuru kwa Njenga, e.g. But even there, locals work to improve *their* place, and it does improve from the rims inward (gentrification).

    Your commiseratingly cocooning attitude does not take the inhabitants for full. Find a stray pet to patronize, if you must, and rather do some reading on Kibera and its peoples. For its history, I suggest you start with Korir Sing’oei.

  • Ben Mtega

    Best description I ever came across of Kibera is the two books by Michael Holman, Last Orders at Harrods and Fatboy and the Dancing Ladies. They don’t hold back on some of the less comfortable sides of life in Kibera but also manage to portray the vibrancy and Ujanja of life there.

  • ejogono

    I spent some time in Kibera in the late eighties. My cousin, a cobbler, was the only relative who could accommodate me during the -often abrupt- breaks in the university calender. It is true that Kibera has diverse realities that should not be over-simplified by focusing on things which are fairly trivial. We have many things of great relevance taking place and the people’s voices should be heard, in their own words. Then interventions will take into account THEIR CONCERNS not those of others!

  • Newwoluci

    I think that the negative part of Kibera be it true has been blown out of proportion for example some say it has a population of about one million but according to reset figures that is a gross over estimation of Kibera’s population. There are success stories out of Kibera for example the Sinai project a joint effort by the government of Kenya and the donor community to provide people living in slums with better and affordable housing. This is the picture of Kibera that we should be painting not focusing on the negative for cheap publicity, it only benefiting the so called activist. When Prof Wangari Mathaii was fighting for conservation of Karura forest , women rights, democracy and all she did not need to travel to Europe and the Americas to tell the world about it nor did she spend all her time in big conferences having small take with people who have zero interest in a better Kenya . If you say that you are an activist be a foot soldier take your high hills off and get hold of a shovel and let’s go and clean Kibera.

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  • [...] Pundit on Kibera, flying toilets and poop: “I have been wanting to write this for a while now. Especially after I read about Peepoo: a [...]

  • [...] Sensitive to external perceptions and Kibera’s negative reputation, Kiberans appreciate any image that portrays it in a positive (or at least “normal”) light, and this map does exactly that. (This is a constant subject for debate; for example, see “On Kibera, flying toilets and poop.”) [...]

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