Tomas Heed

Writer • Musician • Entrepreneur

Kenya day 7 – The escape from Kibera

Now we have reached the final post about our Kenya trip. I’m sitting at Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi. I’m looking back on a holiday week which I think has been more full of experiences than any week before. I wonder if I can summarize what I’ve experienced in Nairobi, but first let me tell you what we have done today.

Today I experienced my first ever panic attack.

Day 1Yesterday

Today is Sunday. You all know what that means. That’s right – church. Since I go to church almost every Sunday, it was a given that we would do it down here. Really? Well, every time a friend marries, I go to church. And when a child is to be baptized, and I cannot find a good enough excuse.

Kibera church

Anyway. The school that we visited in the slums the other day had a church opposite to it. A church in this case is thus a somewhat larger wooden shed with plastic chairs in it. At the front of the room there was a stage, that is a plateau where the trampled earth floor was slightly higher. There was a sound system where the sound level was turned up to eleven, there was a synth with a built-in beat machine, there was a pastor who was talking, a guy singing and three girls singing like a full gospel choir.

When I say that the volume was turned up to eleven, I’m talking about feedback and distortion. For those who are not into musical terms, this means the noise was screeching. The children and I endured it for a little while but then we had to go out on the street outside. It was a nice song and all the church visitors danced and clapped their hands, but we could not remain inside because of the sound volume.

We visited Kibera the first time the other day, that’s the name of the slum area that we now revisited. Then it was pretty quiet and the streets deserted. Today, people were free from their work and the streets were filled with people and commerce. Everyone was looking at us because obviously we didn’t belong there, and people came up and started talking to us. No one was rude to us but I still wanted to keep one eye on my kids at all time.

The priest was happy that we were there and wanted us to go inside and introduce ourselves and they wanted to pray for us and sing all the verses of the hymns so we were at the church for almost two and a half hours.

Lunch in a shed

When we were leaving the church we were heading for a market, but Judith who is the principal of the school Oloo’s Childrens Center had invited us to eat some food that she had cooked. We could not say no, so we went back down to the same shed where we were greeted the other day.

When we were seated, Bernhard – Judith’s brother – arrived with Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and water and Judith brought us rice and lentil stew and a little later boiled potatoes. Now there was an internal conflict for me. These people who earn 45 US dollars a month brings all of this for us to consume and the children happily began to slurp Fanta like there was no tomorrow. I still do not know how I should react to this.

Inside a shed in Kibera


And everything is so filthy in the slums and everything is so strange and I’m so afraid that my kids aren’t clean and we clean their hands with alcohol and chose with care what we eat and this food is cooked in the slums and I have no control of if I or the children will get sick and I cannot say no.

When we finished eating, the children need to go peeing. In the slums, the toilet is a hole in the ground in a shed. By now, I’m extremely far from my comfort zone and I sit in the corner of the sofa, hyperventilating.

When my kids and wife come back from the toilet the other children in the group has walked out to play all by themselves with the Kenyan kids in the slums. My children of course also wanted to go out and play and obviously they should, but I could not let them go out by themselves so I had to follow them. I mean, this place is like a maze, and if someone would snatch hold of the kids and run, I would not have had a chance to ever see them again. They would be gone in three seconds.

Panic attack

I obviously have a control issue, because when I walked out of the shed the combined feelings of insecurity and powerlessness made something snap inside me. I started shaking all over and tears started to pour down my cheeks. Somehow I walked back into the shed and managed to sob out that I needed to get out of there and then we started walking back towards the edge of the slum. My eyes were downcast and tears were running behind the screen of my cap when I walked with my arms tightly cramped around my body.

I don’t know if it was the amount of people out there or just my state of mind, but I felt like the people around me started to act a bit intimidating. People shouted after us and when we approached the edge of the slum, a bunch of guys started walking beside us and talk to us in, as I conceived it, an unpleasant way and almost started to surround us. My wife and I took one each of our children by the hand and started to walk a little faster the last bit.

We got on a bus and went home and me and the kids walked ahead of the others for the last four hundred meters to the apartment and when we closed the door behind us I could finally breathe again. I hugged the kids so hard, and for the first time in their lives they comforted me while I was crying like a child.

It took a while to recover from this excursion – I don’t think I’ve done it yet, but the rest of the day was spent by the pool. The others went to the market without us.

The summary

We talked a bit about this afterwards and Jessica said that people often fall into tears sooner or later during this kind of week. It’s so totally different from what we have back home and I’m so glad that I can get on a plane and just go away from all this misery. How lucky I am to be living as I do in Sweden. I can afford to buy almost anything I want. It is nice and clean everywhere. Children are confident to go to school and we have medical care and welfare.

I initially set out to try to summarize my visit to Kenya. I have seen amazing things, and I have met great people. But I’ve also seen the horrific environments that no one should have to live in. I would not like to have the journey undone and I urge everyone to come here and see how it is with their own eyes.

The trip that Jessica is organizing means that you get to see the real Kenya. The Kenya which is beyond the tourist brochures. I am glad I chose to come here with her and I am grateful that she was with us all week and showed us around. The self-confident way that she was moving around all the people made me feel safer and at times even as a part of the country. I’m glad we’ve been able to show the children a world that isn’t broken if the Internet connection is down for half an hour. I must also say that it has been amazing to see the wild animals in their natural environment before the city completely devour the savanna. But the fact remains.

I will never return.

1 Comment

  1. Vilken upplevelse. Afrika lämnar ingen oberörd. Du har skrivit väldigt fint om din resa!

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