NOTE: We finally have a little bit of internet and I wanted to share a little update from Kenya so far. I’m going to structure my posts a little differently this time (last time I would just do daily recaps…). Since this trip is a very different one than the last two and since, because of security and privacy issues with a few things that I am unable to share, this time I’m going to share posts either from individual experiences, a lesson learned, share a project we are working on, or even just my random thoughts on something that have come to mind either while I’m here or afterward. I just wanted to give you that context as I start sharing some of my trip to Kenya.
The smell was unlike anything I’d ever smelled. The sight was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Trash, just piled on top of trash, piled on top of older trash, that was piled on top of even more trash. It seemed to go on forever. Miles and miles of land just covered in trash.
This is the Nairobi landfill. The Dandora dump.
Maureen and her husband Oliver, our guides, along with our security guards, wanted to bring our team here first thing. This was how we started our day on Tuesday.
Maureen is the Kenya director of Rehema (Mercy) House. I had her on my podcast, along with Kristen Welch, back in October and she has now become a dear friend.
Maureen told us of being a young girl growing up in the slums of Kariobangi. She told us of time spent walking over to the dump and picking through the trash looking for food. She searched for anything that she could potentially eat or take back for her family. Maureen is a remarkable transformation story. She is one of the most intelligent, driven, and capable people I have ever met in my entire life. She is someone I aspire to be like.
Being able to see first hand things that she experienced helped me to know her more. We just spent the morning listening. Asking questions. Ears open. This morning was not about us. (It never is). It was about learning.
As we continued to walk through the trash, I’d see broken bottles, empty pill containers, clothing, hair, tattered baby dolls, and things that were completely indistinguishable. The smell continued to get stronger and thicker as we walked further into the dump. Not knowing where to really step, we just kept walking.
Maureen shared with us that many of those who live in the nearby slums come to the dump to rummage through looking for items they can pick to sell in the market. Women, men, kids. They come to grab anything and everything. If they think they can sell it or use it in some way, they pick it.
When we got deep into the dump, we saw huge dump trucks dumping more trash. We’d watch as people would run and rush towards the fresh pile of trash, hoping to get the best items. Whoever gets the best items to sell makes the most money…
This is work for these people. These beautiful men and women are going to work.
One woman walked by us as she carried what had to be over 100 pounds worth of bags on her back. The bags fell and she struggled to retie them. Oliver helped her gather her bags back together and we watched as she walked away. From behind, you could barely see her feet… just the large bags moving away from us. They said that depending on what she had in those bags, she may be able to make a few dollars.
As each man or woman passed us, we would smile and say “Jambo!” (which means “hello” in Swahili). One woman stopped and I asked her name. I didn’t understand much of what she said in response, but Maureen translated and said that she said, “God is good.”
We learned that the government is trying to close and shut down the dump. I felt so conflicted standing there. The dump was no place for a person… the stench was horrible, it’s making people sick, there are, essentially, gangsters that “run” the dump. Women are raped, babies are trashed. It’s truly a hell hole.
Yet, it’s also an entire way of life and source of income for so many people. Thousands depend on the dump to survive.
All I could think was, “What do you do?”
I don’t know the answer. I don’t think anyone does.
I was sharing this with a friend and she said, “Just goes to show you how gray the world really is. There’s very little black and white.”
She’s right. It’s something we have to wrestle with. What’s the alternative on either side? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I can’t get it out of my head.
I share this with you not for you to pity these men, women, and children. I share this with you not to share with you a “tough story.” I share this with you to make you think. To make you ask questions. To have you also wrestle with this.
Because it’s up to us to make a difference. We aren’t going to fix the problems of thousands, even millions, of people overnight. But what small changes can we make in our own lives that have a ripple effect? What do we do once we know what the reality is for these precious and beautiful brothers and sisters?
What do we do?
I don’t know. I don’t know the answer. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to find one.
This is a little video I put together of our first full day in Kenya…