September 23, 2008 Kenya , Travel

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.



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kenya047.jpg 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.

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kenya049.jpg 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.

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kenya053.jpg Circumcision anyone? kenya054.jpg

kenya055.jpg 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. kenya056.jpg

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kenya060.jpg 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. kenya061.jpg 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. kenya062.jpg

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kenya065.jpg I love this image with her little crooked smile, her face not really working right with all the xylocaine injected in her jaw. kenya066.jpg

kenya067.jpg A beautiful Kenyan sky this afternoon. We do not get these clouds in Orange County. kenya068.jpg 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. :( kenya069.jpg


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[September 23, 2008] Leslie said:
Hi, I have never commented on your blog before. I have been following it for quite awhile, though. These pictures are beautiful, heartbreaking, and so devastatingly important. Thank you for posting them.
[September 23, 2008] Cindy said:
Hi Michael, I recently came across your blog and have been so moved by it. Your photos are stunning!! Looking forward to seeing more of your work! ~Cindy
[September 23, 2008] Jan Henry said:
Michael - these pictures are amazing! Breathtaking and heartbreaking at once. We hope you'll do a slide show for church when you return. Safe travels... Mike & Jan Henry
[September 24, 2008] Brian Khang said:
Dude you are just cranking out awesome photos. Are you making a photo book with these? You should.
[September 24, 2008] Sheila said:
These photos are so incredibly moving. You did a spectacular job capturing the essence of Kenya. I feel the emotions through the photos - you are a true artist
[September 25, 2008] Trista said:
Michael..these images are breathtaking! They look like they're straight out of National Geographic..amazing job!!!
[September 28, 2008] Shannon Leith said:
Hey Michael, I was visiting the Bridge today to see my brother Ryan play in the band... and was really moved by your photos. I'm a photographer too, and just got back from a trip to Malawi! Needless to say, I was incredibly moved by your images and by your stories, and was encouraged to hear about the weep centers, and all the other programs that you guys saw. One of my favorite images that you showed is the one of the dentist working on a patient. WOW. Michael! You really captured the light, the situation, and the need so well. I also liked your perspective of showing the joyful, bright side of Africa------ because it's definitely there, and it's neat that you are bringing that back to people here. Anyway, I admire your work, and if you ever need help with anything, let me know. All the best, Shannon
[October 2, 2008] Jennifer VanSuydam said:
Aww, the sheep makes me sad. Poor thing, being tied to a rock.
[October 3, 2008] Lawrence @ Furious Photographers said:
Just wanted to say that you have some wicked photos!
[October 5, 2008] Karli Tanner said:
Michael, you always amaze me with the images you capture. There are beautiful stories in each of these shots. Thank you for sharing these. Great work!
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[December 9, 2016] African safari tour said:
I grew up in a place like that, one of the biggest in Africa. I grew up in Kibera slums. It did not kill my morale but made me what i am today.