Kibera was described to us as the largest slum location in East Africa made up of several villages located in Nairobi, Kenya. Population guesses varied from 500,000 to 1,000,000 depending on whom you asked. We were unsure if we should take a tour of Kibera or not. We didn’t want to take part in one of those “poorism” type viewing shows where local people were set up as display items – but we also remembered what a terrific and informative tour we took in Langa Township, South Africa with Siviwe Tours.
After speaking with a local who happened to live in Kibera & recommended, we do take the time to visit we decided to take a tour. We booked a walking tour with Kibera Slum Tours a local company utilizing Kibera residents as their guides and showcasing local businesses on their tour. Our tour guides Charles and Evans met us at the local Java House. Both young men were born and raised in Kibera and knew their way around quite well.
The tour covered seven areas of Kibera: Toi Market, local women’s shop, bio-recycling center, view of Kibera, bone center, school and a Kibera home. From the Java House, we walked through the second-hand market, Toi Market, where bargaining was welcomed and expected. The Toi Market leads into the main Kibera market where just about anything from food to car parts was available for sale. Most prices within the Kibera market were set, and bargaining won’t get you far. The markets were huge and full of activity. We walked through the main produce and housewares section, which led into the small, almost hidden restaurants. Each restaurant consisted of a tiny, tiny room.
From the market, we headed to the Power Women Group Shop, which was founded by 15 women in 2004. We were instantly greeted by Beatrice and Rosemary, who explained to us PWG’s history and future goals. The women organized to help educate the public about HIV and change the local stigma. Their efforts changed how those with HIV were treated, employed and educated in and around Kibera. The shop had a display of clothing, jewelry, art, some housewares, and accessories all made by one of the women. I did pick up a new yellow paper rolled bracelet to go along with my green, orange and blue bracelets from Rwanda.
From the shop, we turned into the heart of town and headed toward the railroad tracks. The tracks were strangely interesting. There was noticeable construction because buildings are now mandated to be further away from the tracks. And the garbage in and around the tracks was overwhelming. As we crossed the tracks, there was a noticeable difference from more commercial area to residential area.
Our first stop within the residential area was at a Bio-centre, local human waste recycling, and water center. Most of the villages within Kibera have one or more Bio-centres, which serve as a source of recycling and power within the community. They also serve as some of the community’s only source of running water. Resident’s pay one time or monthly fee to use the facilities. Learn more about the Bio-centres.
From the center, we had a bird’s eye view of the residential sections of Kibera. Filled with houses, makeshift schools, churches, and small businesses. The view was full of character and beauty, which for most would be surprising. Our guides pointed out the shared electricity wires between neighbors and how easy fires could breed through the villages.
We headed down the hill to visit a school and Victorious Bones Center where they turned animal bones into jewelry, household items, and crafts. The school was a primary and nursery class housed in an incredibly packed and rundown cement room. We were told this was an improvement on their previous classroom. The kids sang to us, and the teacher was very kind. She explained to us the school and the kids families were so poor that she was not paid for her services.
Next door to the school was the bone center. We found this to be the most interesting but also most uncomfortable part of the tour. The men were great and happy to have us there, but their working conditions were harsh. They needed facemasks to protect themselves from the bone dust and had none! Also, the temperatures inside the building were more than excessive. The sales pitch in the bone center was borderline hardcore. The products they were making were great, but we were not in a position to buy anything, and it should have been left at that. Instead, we sat through a total of 3 sales pitches in a tiny super hot room while we continued to explain we could not buy anything.
The walk ended with a view of one of the bone worker’s houses. There we signed the guest book and chatted with Charles and Evans for a bit. Overall, the tour was fine and we were glad we went. We can’t seem to put our finger on what we felt was missing, but we didn’t feel we walked away with a better understanding of Kibera as a community. However, we did see how close knit some of the locals were in Kibera. The friendly greetings and interactions with the locals gave us a small glimpse.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. The tour is 3-4 hours of walking with some steep hills and uneven walkways.
- Cost is 2500 Ksh / about $24 USD per person (They prefer to be paid in Ksh)
- Bring water and maybe even a snack.
- Bring extra cash if you want to buy souvenirs.
- Make note of the weather. The walk takes part mostly outdoors.
- Bring/wear sunscreen, hat, sunglasses.
- Photos are permitted in most areas. Ask first.
- Real people live and work in Kibera. Treat them as such with respect!
- Bring a handkerchief or something to protect your airways from the dust inside the bone factory. Bring extra face-masks for the workers.
For more information about the tours head to Kibera Slum Tours.
3 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives – The sale pitches at each of the business locations got to be a bit much. We wished we had learned more about the history and dynamics of Kibera and the people who live there.
If you like adventure, outdoors, history, customs you will like this tour.