Juxtaposition by Meggan Ireland

July 27, 2010

Looking out the window at work and seeing a family of monkeys just sunning themselves on the grass is something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. Of the many things I have had to adapt to here in Kenya this may seem strange.

Ireland_Slum.jpg

Let me explain – for the past couple of months I have been living and working in Nyali, an upmarket residential area just north of Mombasa town. The houses are big, the gardens are green and for visitors to the area, the choice of accommodation is endless. I’ll admit – I was in two minds when I found out I would be based here. On the one hand, give me running water and a toilet and I’m not going to complain, on the other, I chose FSD because I wanted to experience and learn about development from the inside out. Search for Nyali on google maps and you’ll see a multitude of the blue specs dotted amongst the houses. When thinking I wanted to dive head first into this experience, a swimming pool in the back garden was not exactly what I had in mind. Nevertheless, I kept an open mind and thank goodness I did.

It didn’t take long for the scenery to change as I turned off the main road for the first time with my host mother. We manoeuvred expertly over the bumps, around the potholes, and through the puddles. It hit me that while I may be living in a wealthy residential area, I am by no means living in a wealthy, developed country. In fact, the large, gated, two storey house belonging to my host family is situated on the edge of one of Mombasa’s many slums – informally, and ironically, named Shauri Yako, or ‘too bad, that’s your problem’.

It took a while, but people within the community are starting to recognise the mzungu walking to and from the main road, and every morning and afternoon I ready myself with the hu-, ham- and si- jambos that I will inevitably have to greet people with. The children are still a bit unsure but every now and then one of the less timid ones will approach me with wide eyes and an outstretched hand.

After a half hour matatu ride from town and a ten-minute walk from my drop off point, I never fail to arrive home in an awe-inspired daze. If you took everything here and placed it back in the UK, life would be nothing short of chaotic. Take the transportation for example – nearby is a place called Kengeleni, better known as Lights as it is one of the few intersections with traffic lights to, in theory, direct the many cars, trucks, matatus, tuk tuks and piki pikis that weave up and down Mombasa’s streets. How I have not been in an accident or seen someone the victim of road rage I do not know.

An open mind has definitely done me well here and I continue day after day, hour after hour to see and experience things that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. Some, like the stark contrast between Nyali and Shauri Yako, I am slowly getting used to but others, like the monkey watching me work, I don’t think I will.