From Kibera to Mara

Dec 4, 2007 by

From Kibera to Masai MaraIN JULY I flew into Nairobi to write a series of newspaper and magazine articles on the Orthodox Archbishop of Kenya. Towards the end of my three weeks there, I accompanied the Archbishop to a church service in Kibera—the largest slum in Africa with an estimated population of one million, all living in an area the size of New York’s Central Park. During the liturgy I set off with some locals on a walk through the shantytown. There is something unavoidably repugnant about a white man wandering through an African slum with a camera, even if he can claim a journalistic motive. Nonetheless, it didn’t dissuade me from taking plenty of photos, though I did try to be discreet (my mid-grade ‘prosumer’ camera cannot approach an SLR in depth of field and image quality, but one of its advantages is that the detachable LCD monitor and powerful optimal zoom allows for photographing on the sly). A few days later I went on a three-day camping safari in the Masai Mara game reserve in hopes of witnessing the annual wildebeest migration. Initially I intended to post a photo essay from either Kibera or the safari, but I’ve decided to include both, with alternating photos. One might argue that juxtaposing images of wild beasts side by side with slum kids shares something in spirit with the khaki-clad imperial good old boys of the early 1900s who traveled into Africa to hunt big game and ‘encounter the curious naked savages.’ That may be so. The white man’s burden remains with us, not as Kipling conceived of it, but as an inescapable historical baggage of racism and upturned-nose colonialism that every white bears with him every time he steps onto African soil. It seemed especially appropriate, for cynical reasons, to juxtapose the two sets of photos after I read that there is now a tour guide outfit in Nairobi that offers “slum tours,” or as they also put it with alliterative and wordplayish flair, “Pro Poor Tourism” (doublespeak in structure as well as content). For a compassionate fee, the adventurer can tour some of the most impoverished areas of Africa and snap photos of the bipedal wildlife through the detachable roof. On its website, the company gushes on about how it “came up with the new noble idea of Kenya slum tourism” and assures its readers that “through tourism business” it wants to help make real its dream of “an Africa without slums.” Of course, one could argue that all this is in keeping with, or even an improvement on, the essence of the African safari. After all, normally on a game drive you hope to see predators in action; on a slum tour you have the chance to actually become one.

To see the photo essay click here:  PHOTOS: From Kibera to Mara

Constantine Markides

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