Concluding our “How Are You” series, documentary team member Bob Davidson shares about the lasting impact from his time spent in the Nairobi slums. Below are some of Bob’s last reflections on the culture, community, people and overall experience from this life-changing trip.
(Un) Final Reflections by Bob Davidson
As I sit on the plane to Chicago reflecting on my time in Kenya, a variety of emotions and thoughts that have surfaced. Some are obvious. Some are trivial. Some are unfinished. Here are a few words/phrases that I leave with…
Some of you may remember Kelsey from the “Held Hostage by Apathy” campaign promoted to raise funds for the production of our second documentary. Based on the results from this campaign, author and world traveler Kelsey Timmerman spent one of his nights in the slums of Nairobi. Below is a glimpse into Kelsey’s experience with the documentary team. Kelsey offers a personal insight into the idea of faith, and the lessons learned from the beautiful people met in the slum communities.
Faith In the Poor by Kelsey Timmerman
I covet your faith. I’m not sure if that breaks any of the commandments or not. It probably breaks several. Still, I do.
My time with Life in Abudance was awesome for several reasons. One of them is that I had a chance to be around people with such strong faith.
Documentary Team Leader Justin Ahrens provides 11 observations made from his time spent filming in the Kibera and Mathare Valley slums in Kenya.
* Approx 80% of the citizens of Nairobi live in some sort of slum dwelling.
* Everyone likes to be called by name, no matter where you live.
* A local health worker visited a house to check in on a sick child. When entering the house she found the 6 year old making a meal for his siblings, because their mother was dead in the next room.
* A child’s smile and joyous laugh is a beautiful thing.
* Many African families in the slums try to have more than one child due to the likelihood of one dying.
* Taking time to hold, hug or touch a child’s hand can change their day…and yours.
* 1 meal a day is a good day, but the meal is typically the same thing over and over and over and over…
* A life without dreams is not a life but an existence.
* During the rainy season people, mainly children, run the risk of being swept away due to inadequate infrastructure between the river and homes.
* Without money for health care, parents often give their children local or herbal painkillers in order to help their child cope with the pain instead of getting adequate care. Usually the kids just get used to or live with whatever health issue they have, which in turn can be something that kills them.
* The poor are worth our time, prayers, and resources, and we need to SEE them.
As we continue our “How Are You” series throughout the week, we will be sharing the reflections of author Kelsey Timmerman and Bob Davidson giving their observations from these communities.
If you missed the full reflection from Justin Ahrens we would encourage you to check out his blog post here, regarding his Changed Mind having spent time learning from the people in the Nairobi slums.
Graphic designer and illustrator Von Glitschka provides a great overview of life in the Nairobi slums. As a member of our recent documentary team Von gives both factual and observational insight into his experience.
Von has set up his reflections as a visual journey seeing the conditions and meeting the people, we invite you to come along.
Slum Life by Von Glitschka
I’m struggling with knowing how to write about this experience? I want to share it with everyone, but I feel wholly inadequate to do so. I’m not even sure where to begin?
The last week and a half I spent in the Mathare Valley Slums in Nairobi, Kenya was an experience that has touched me deeply. And writing about it now brings me to tears as I think about the various interactions I had with the people there.
So I hope what I’m about to share will give you a new perspective on life in the slums.
Mathare Valley Slums Nairobi, Kenya.
The population of Nairobi, Kenya is around 3 million. And the slums which the city encircles both in the Mathare Valley and Kibera makes up 80% of that population. So the majority of the Nairobi work force comes from the slums.
I was part of a team of around 12 people filming a documentary about the work that Life in Abundance is doing in the slums in Nairobi. My roll was mostly related to grip and gaffer duties but I was able to work with the kids from the slums too which I’ll share more about later this week.
Justin Ahrens, Principle and Creative Director for Rule29 Creative, as well as an LIA board member, shares about his experience from his time spent in the slums working on our latest documentary project. Read below as Justin Ahrens answers the question, How Are You?
In the states, it is extremely common for a person to ask another, ‘how are you?’ We do this as greeting.
I’ll walk into a 7-11, look the cashier in the eye, and say ‘Hi, Ruthie, how are you?’ I really ask the question to be polite and she answers with an ‘I’m fine’ to be equally polite. The truth is that we don’t really know each other well enough to ask the question, or to respond, honestly. After this brief exchange of niceties, we’ll go about our business and part ways – either of us not any different because of the interaction. It’s fine. I’m fine. She’s fine. We’re all just fine, thank you very much.
Somehow, this shallow politeness has manifested itself among children in the Nairobi slums. When a white person walks through, or even drives through the slums, children sitting and playing along the roadside will stop what they are doing, look you in the eyes and yell, ‘HOW ARE YOU!?’
Taken back, most of us would simply reply, ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ Most of these kids haven’t been fully versed in the response, so most simply just keep repeating ‘HOW ARE YOU’ until it almost becomes a chant. But some, who have obviously interacted with outsiders before, will reply, ‘I’m fine.’
If you spend enough time in these communities, the words will ring in your head. I would liken the sensation to lying in bed the night after being on a cruise ship. In the same way your body sways though your bed is still, my head rings with ‘How are you – I’m fine’ as if I’m standing next to these children, though they are nowhere to be found.
Sure, after watching these children living in the slums play together and run wild with joyful exuberance through the contaminated waste water, one could easily conclude that these children are, in fact, ‘fine-er’ than children in the USA who sit around, get fat, whine and watch tv. I’ll give you that one, but I’d argue that these American kids aren’t fine, either. We’re not fine, none of us. I’m not fine, and neither are these children. Ruthie at the 7-11 isn’t fine either. This is easier to articulate in the slums than it is in suburbs, but ultimately, we aren’t fine as a condition of the brokenness of this world.
The synonym of fine is satisfactory. The antonym of satisfactory is unsatisfactory.
That seems more like it. We are living in unsatisfactory context, though we don’t even know how to articulate it. This is a rather simple conclusion to make when standing in the slums with children, a rather trite conclusion when standing in my grassy suburban back yard, sipping a cup of coffee. And yet, what I feel changed me most from this experience was much more than the realization of our commonality in this regard.
In years past, after spending extensive time with tremendously hurting people, the question I would have normally posed to our group and staff would have been, ‘so, what are we going to do about it?’ Now, I believe the appropriate question to ask is this, ‘what is the spirit of God doing about this reality – and how can we serve alongside?’ It might sound like I’m mincing words here, but think about it.
The first question places the focus on us – I’m going to ‘save these people’, whereas the second statement places the focus on Jesus – because we know that he is the only one who is able to bring about life change, both for the rich and poor, alike. Perhaps the first step in better understanding and responding to the plight of the world’s poor is that we realize our own brokenness, manifested in obviously different outcomes, but equally tragic nonetheless. In so doing, we may realize our very own need for mercy and will then reciprocate, accordingly (Luke 10:37).
It seems unlikely for an experience like the one we shared as a team in the Mathare Valley to leave one unchanged. In the same spirit as my reflection above, others from our team have wrestled with the reality, and attempted to put words to their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In a series of forthcoming blog posts, we will be sharing their insights in the hope that their reflections lead you to a place of personal reflection. We invite you to join us for the next two weeks as we hear from team members Justin Ahrens, Von Glitschka, Kelsey Timmerman and Bob Davidson.
Perhaps, through the process, the experience will change you, too.
How are you? I’m changed.
Though the country is in the midst of a long standing, presently peaceful, civil war, many changes are expected in less than six months for Sudan. In January, a referendum vote is to take place that is likely to have a dramatic impact on the future of this country. And yet, in the midst of this national political activity, seeds of transformation are taking root in Rumbek, South Sudan.
FACT: In many parts of Africa, the production of food depends upon the intense physical labor of each family. When large areas of Africa are dislocated by war, especially southern Sudan where a civil war has been going on for 25 years, or adults die from the scourge of AIDS, fields cannot be worked, and food cannot be produced. Unpredictable weather patterns and drought are another set back to the production of crops.
I walk by, and see her.
In the midst of hundreds of other children I’ve seen this day, she catches my utmost attention. I stop walking and bend down, just long enough for our eyes to meet. She can’t be more than 18 months old and her little round belly reminds me of my daughter at that age, though this little girl’s belly is distended from malnourishment, something my little girl will likely never experience.
- FACT: It is estimated that over 85 million people live in the vast country of Ethiopia. Regarding age structure in this country, only about 3% of the population is over the age of 65. In the US, about 13% fall into the 65 and older category.
This leaves about 46% of the population ranging between the ages of 0-14, and 51% between 14-64, with a median age of 17 years old in Ethiopia. In the US the median age of the population is 35 years old.
The high rate of HIV/AIDs and the spread of other infectious diseases, in combination with minimal health services, is a major cause to the youthful demographic in Ethiopia.
Fact found from CIA Factbook.