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Questioning the Kibera Discourse: Articulating Representations and Lived Experience in a Nairobi Slum
Unformatted Document Text:  KIBERA DISCOURSE 17 or join gangs. Another woman who was attending college told us that because of the presence of theft, “life in Kibera is not good to me” (I23). Even though young people attending school are not currently looking for work, most are pessimistic about their prospects for getting a job after they graduate. One 17-year-old who had spent his entire life in Kibera stated he was praying that he would be able to move out of Kibera someday because, “we don’t see anything good for our futures” (I07). At the same time, children recognize the stress that unemployment places on their families. As one student stated, because of unemployment, “my parents are suffering” (I19). Bodewes (2010) found that Kibera men often feel stress and shame about their unemployment, which leads them to turn to alcohol for relief. As I learned, alcohol abuse is common among working-aged men, which only adds to the stress and shame felt by their families. In addition to unemployment, several respondents discussed how poor sanitation and difficult environmental factors can be detrimental to residents’ health. One respondent mentioned several times that hygiene is a significant issue in Kibera, and because of that, “people are attacked with different diseases” (I24). Several talked about Kibera as a dirty place. To this point, one woman added: “Sometimes when the rain rains, then it is difficult to get even water in our house. And we even get sick because of the diseases” (I14). In Kibera, rain can turn the earth into inches-deep mud and sweep refuse and human waste from huge trash piles onto walking paths. Heavy rain also can cause sewage water to rise up and flood homes near the Nairobi Dam. So for a number of respondents, these issues with unemployment and sanitation define their life experiences in Kibera. As one man stated poignantly: “We have different classes of life. We have those who live, we have those who struggle, and also we have those who survive. So me, my class is I always survive” (I31). To be sure, there are many in Kibera who see themselves among the survivors. For them, life in Kibera is quite difficult, and the daily burdens are great.

Authors: Ekdale, Brian.
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or join gangs. Another woman who was attending college told us that because of the presence of 
theft, “life in Kibera is not good to me” (I23). Even though young people attending school are 
not currently looking for work, most are pessimistic about their prospects for getting a job after 
they graduate. One 17-year-old who had spent his entire life in Kibera stated he was praying that 
he would be able to move out of Kibera someday because, “we don’t see anything good for our 
futures” (I07). At the same time, children recognize the stress that unemployment places on their 
families. As one student stated, because of unemployment, “my parents are suffering” (I19). 
Bodewes (2010) found that Kibera men often feel stress and shame about their unemployment, 
which leads them to turn to alcohol for relief. As I learned, alcohol abuse is common among 
working-aged men, which only adds to the stress and shame felt by their families.
In addition to unemployment, several respondents discussed how poor sanitation and 
difficult environmental factors can be detrimental to residents’ health. One respondent mentioned 
several times that hygiene is a significant issue in Kibera, and because of that, “people are 
attacked with different diseases” (I24). Several talked about Kibera as a dirty place. To this 
point, one woman added: “Sometimes when the rain rains, then it is difficult to get even water in 
our house. And we even get sick because of the diseases” (I14). In Kibera, rain can turn the earth 
into inches-deep mud and sweep refuse and human waste from huge trash piles onto walking 
paths. Heavy rain also can cause sewage water to rise up and flood homes near the Nairobi Dam. 
So for a number of respondents, these issues with unemployment and sanitation define their life 
experiences in Kibera. As one man stated poignantly: “We have different classes of life. We 
have those who live, we have those who struggle, and also we have those who survive. So me, 
my class is I always survive” (I31). To be sure, there are many in Kibera who see themselves 
among the survivors. For them, life in Kibera is quite difficult, and the daily burdens are great.

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