Dandora. More than 2.5 square kilometres of land, covered in waste and rubbish, inside Dandora slum.
Together with those of Korogocho, Kariobangi and Mathare, Dandora slum was born in Nairobi’s north-eastern part many years ago. These areas are now inhabited by about 1 million people, living in shabby houses, in metal sheet shacks, often with no light, no sewer, no water. An enormous group of people, surrounded by the out-of-control and senseless evolution of this African megalopolis, which builds luxury malls and “Chinese” highways just some kilometres away from the slums.
When you enter a slum in Nairobi, you are hit by a reality which will remain stuck and clear in your mind forever.
The first impression is sour, as the smell hitting your stomach, like a punch. The smell of the rubbish, left under the sun for days, for years, fermenting. The smell of the excrements, of the stagnant rain, of a river which is the slum’s cesspool, where every waste is thrown away. A smell constantly chasing you and which will never leave you, even in your memories.
Then, there come images which shock you. Filth and rubbish, everywhere: rubbish with no more organic remaining, plastic, everywhere, never dying. Your sight loses itself on an infinity of metal sheet shacks, some built with bricks, where, in few square metres – 15, to be clear – up to 10 people can live. Houses and people, one close to the other, in a senseless tangle and in an unstoppable continuity: you enter an alley, and you find immediately another one, and then another; a multitude of uneven streets, leading to lots of hovels and battered yards; holes in the ground which have never been fixed and little gutters, which were born naturally to take sewages towards the river.
Here people survive, lacking hygiene, water and electricity, herded in tiny spaces in an unbelievable way.
However, a spontaneous joy contrasts the degradation surrounding it. It is astonishing when you see smiling faces and people dealing with daily tasks: a woman vigorously washing the clothes in a plastic bucket and hanging them, clean, in a dirty street, another woman selling bananas and mangos, sitting on the ground, men exposing their goods, all second-handed ones, inside little metal sheet shops, and children, lots of children, playing, tumbling and running, always smiling, in the middle of mug, of rubbish, of filth.
After smell and sight, your mind is filled with a sudden sense of fear. Fear of the ignorance of the place. Fear of the new, of what you can’t predict or control, because it is so different from your habits. A physical fear of a clash, maybe caused by a kind of “opposite racism”, or of an attack, by a drunken person, an old person or even by a child. You keep your goods close to your body, you look around you, worried, even if you are accompanied, you don’t film, because you fear being robbed.
All is scaring: the place, the people, the diseases.
All so alien and witnessing that, in the welfare era, places like this can still exist.
Once upon a time there was – and still there is – one of the biggest dumpsites in Africa: Dandora.