Today I spent the day back in the Mathare slum. In the morning I went with Nick, who I introduced to you yesterday, to one of their VCT centers. VCT stands for Voluntary Counseling and Testing. They set up shop, usually in a church, and have 5 or 6 stations where they do HIV testing. Its completely free to the people and now that some of the misconceptions have been cleared up about HIV here in Kenya, its very well attended.
It was pretty sobering to watch people leave the testing area... some with looks of relief and others in glassy-eyed disbelief. They kept saying today, "No matter the result, its better to know. You either leave knowing that you're negative and you begin making conscious decisions to stay negative or you leave knowing that you're positive and you can take steps to not infect others and begin taking medication to stay well."
One of the people that went with me to the testing site, Alexandra, told me that HIV/AIDS has recently been downgraded from a terminal disease to a chronic illness. I've seen it over and over again here... people near death, have come back to normal life just by getting treatment. Its awesome to see all of the people interested in helping these people find out their status and get treatment if necessary.
Later I went back to the Community Transformers building and watched as dentists and volunteers from Denmark extracted diseased or abscessed teeth from the children of Mathare. I could not believe what I saw. These kids who have never been to a dentist in their lives were so incredibly brave. Some had 3,4 even 5 extractions.
I think what I'm most amazed by is the amount of help Kenya is getting from the rest of the world and yet there is still so much to do. While I've been here I've heard that Kenyans pay more in taxes per capita than any other country in the world. I don't know if that is totally true but it has to pretty high for that claim to be made. Knowing that, its unbelievable that the conditions I've witnessed are tolerated (by the government or the people). Kenya has unreliable electricity and phone lines, tap water that is suspect at best and unhealthy at worst, the worst roads I've ever witnessed and literally millions living in the slums in unlivable conditions while crooked politicians live in luxury from the money they stole from the people.
I heard a saying once that went, "You come to Africa with a hard heart, you'll leave with a soft heart. You come with a soft heart, you'll leave with a broken heart. You come with a broken heart and you'll never leave." I wondered if I would really be affected. I've seen the way people live in Mexico. I've seen the poor in Jamaica and the Bahamas, the homeless on skid row in LA... but nothing can prepare you to see what you see in the slums here.
Here are some images from today. I've been trying to get an image of one of the chickens for days now. They're everywhere. Apparently they're actually owned by people and everyone just knows which chicken is theirs. See that wetness to the left of the chicken? Yeah that's sewage running down the hill from the house above.
I wanted to get an image of the sewer ditches that run through the slums. You can see its just full of raw sewage and trash. These slums are literally built on garbage. Its just layers and layers of trash piled up and houses are built right on top. The garbage fills the street, the sewer lines and eventually goes into the river.
These are a couple of guys on the "Mobilization Team." They go out into different areas of the slums and do funny skits and sing songs about getting tested. Huge crowds gather and when they're done they go out into the crowds and get them to come get tested.
This is Nicodemus. He's on the Mobilization Team you saw earlier. He's trying to earn enough money to get back into school. Even though high school is free you have to pay about 6900 shillings (about $100) at the beginning of the year to get in. For a country where most people earn less than a dollar a day that's a big chunk of money. He's earned about 900 shillings so far.
This boy had just had 4 teeth pulled and was trying to rinse his mouth out of all the blood. He wasn't too successful and eventually had to get sutures to stop the bleeding. I followed a couple of girls through the process of getting their teeth pulled. From the sign in, to waiting, through the procedure and the final result. This poor girl's root didn't come out with the tooth so the dentist had to go digging around her gums to find it. It was brutal to watch. She never made a sound but tears were streaming down the side of her face as he worked on her.
I love this image with her little crooked smile, her face not really working right with all the xylocaine injected in her jaw.
A beautiful Kenyan sky this afternoon. We do not get these clouds in Orange County. I've been driving past this sheep for days and waited until today to shoot it. I wish I hadn't waited. Before today it was tied up like this to a brick outside a convenient store with a sign over it that said "SHEEP FOR SALE." Haha. The sign was gone today. :(
Today was an incredible day. Check out the images to see why.
These first few were actually from yesterday. We went to a Kenyan church and these are some of the people that were there.
This is Nick. He runs a group called community transformers that cares for people dying of AIDS. They also do free testing and counseling. AIDS is an enormous issue here. Its said that the number of people infected with HIV or AIDS might be as high as 1 in 3.
This is the first home we visited today. Judy, who you can see on the bed, has advanced AIDS and has just recently received treatment. Her mom and sister on either side of her also have AIDS as does her 12 year old daughter who is currently in the hospital with AIDS related illnesses. This is one of the nicer streets in Methare, a slum outside of Nairobi. The germans came in about 10 years ago and paved the roads in this section and buried sewer lines. In the other portions there are ditches on either side of the street flowing with raw sewage. Ironically this doesn't seem to be an issue in the residents health. The sewer lines dump directly into a river that the runs through the slum.
Kibera, the slum I was in on the first day is one of the largest in the world with 1.2 million residents. Methare only has a couple hundred thousand. This is Francis. He has advanced AIDS and also suffers from tuberculosis. He was thrown out of his home recently and had to move in with his sister and her son. This normally wouldn't be too much of an issue except for the face that tuberculosis is an airborn illness and is easily spread. These last few are just some artsy fartsy images I took while waiting to be picked up. Lots of texture here.
Here are some more images from the Safari. I can't begin to describe how amazing it was to see these animals in the wild. Its one thing to see them at a zoo or even the San Diego Wild Animal Park, its another thing entirely seeing them in their natural habitat. Hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed taking them.
I know there are no animals in this image but I just love it. Africa, Kenya specifically, is such a beautiful place and this image is so perfectly Kenyan to me.
The elusive leopard. All the Kenyans have been amazed that we got to see one. I'm amazed that he looked right at me. I was praying the whole time that it was in focus. There's nothing worse than an amazing image that turns out to be soft. I lucked out and its a sharp as it gets.
There were a million zebras. So many that we were actually bored of them by the end.
Freaky water buffalo. They're one of the more dangerous and aggressive animals in Africa. As you can tell I was pretty close. I was in the safety of our Land Cruiser though, with our very capable driver, William at the wheel.
Lots of giraffe as well.
I forget what kind of monkey this was. Anyone care to clue me in?
I LOVE this shot of the wildabeast. There were probably a couple hundred within a few hundred yards of this one but this one was all alone and with the dusty air in the back ground and the small trees dotting the land it was just perfect.
We were soooooooo incredibly lucky! We saw pretty much everything there is to see in Kenya (as far as wildlife is concerned) except for hippos, rhinos and elephants. We saw giraffes, a million zebras, monkeys, antelope, impalas, water buffalo, wildabeasts, ostriches, crocodiles, a leopard (which I'm told is the rarest of all to see, in fact, the rangers didn't believe we saw one until I showed them the picture) and most importantly LIONS. We saw a whole pride of lions, about 9 in all.
I've shot wildlife a few times previously and felt like a total failure as a photographer. I don't know why but I found it so hard. Well this time I feel like I finally succeeded... at least with this one image. I'm going through the images right now and I had to share it before I went to bed. I'll share more images from the safari tomorrow.
I can't tell you how excited I am about this image... well about seeing this scene at all, really. It was so amazing to see first hand and I'm so excited that I got an image that actually captured what I saw.
Our fist day in Kenya was incredible. We spent the day in the slums outside of Nairobi. We visited WEEP Centers which take women with AIDS who are on their death beds and get them anti-viral meds and food and once they're well enough they teach them to sew. They learn to make mosquito nets, school uniforms and a few other things. They sell those items and they're then able to buy food for their children, put them in school, pay their rent... basically live.
Many of the women have even saved enough money to buy other "homes" and have become landlords. These centers take people who have been ostracized and turn them into leaders in their community. Its amazing to see the joy on these womens' faces when they tell the story of how they came from nothing to where they are now.
Kenya is one of the most amazing places I've ever been... and the people are what make it. This first man I could have spent the whole day photographing.
Cyndie will be answering emails while I'm away and Josh is in the studio working on images so we shouldn't get behind but bear with us during this time if we do.
Come back soon to see what I'm up to, and if you have any ideas for what I can do while I'm in London, let me know!