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in words, sights and sounds

Posts tagged Poverty

Photograph of rural woman in Nairobi, carrying a sack on her head

She was standing on the corner of the busy Moi avenue in Downtown Nairobi, with that determined look in her eyes. You’ve got to be determined if you want to survive in this place, particularly if you are a woman who does not belong to the wealthy few.

Poverty is a bitch

Absence of wealth does not only mean having less money, less food, crappy or no access to health care, education and basic services. It also means having much less ability to protect yourself, your family and your belongings from harm in a violent place. The fairytale-like tourist experiences we may have or have had surrounded by breath-taking wildlife and nature has little to do with the lives of ordinary Kenyans. Particularly not with the lives of ordinary women. Life is harsh and oftentimes brutal – a fact that shows when you look into this woman’s face.

Little to smile about

With every bloody murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery I hear about, I understand more why so very few women (and men, for that matter) around the city are smiling. There is little to smile about. The mutual mistrust is tangible and almost omnipresent. To illustrate my point, the 12 year-old daughter of a lady I know left the family dwelling for the outhouse at 2 pm one day last year, and never returned. She was ‘stolen’. Quite a ‘common thing’ to happen people told me, especially when the victim is ‘healthy-looking’.

Human and organ trafficking are lucrative businesses, particularly in a country where police work has much room for improvement. However, despite the abundance of such horror stories, I cannot get used to the level of violence in this city and the absence of measures to deal with it.

Photograph of market scene: man sitting in front of hundreds of containers and buckets for sale

If it is one thing that I have learned during my time in Kenya, it is that one can sell absolutely everything. I am no longer throwing out empty bottles, milk containers, plastic bags, used paper, cartons, crown caps etc… as some of the less affluent Kenyans I know are happily taking my ‘trash’ to get some money for it in the market.

‘Recycling’ is not something that people have to be coaxed into for environmental reasons as in richer parts of the world. Here it’s a necessity and the most natural thing to do, given the striking poverty in the country. And, yeah, the gentleman in the above picture is not selling ‘trash’ but high in-demand items for the average Kenyan. Although the richer parts of the capital Nairobi – with large ‘fat cats’ and expat communities – might suggest otherwise, and despite the country’s impressive economic growth in the past few years, Kenya remains among the world’s 30 poorest countries.

elderly woman searching trash bags for useable items

The number of New Yorkers depending on food stamps has reached three million: a sad record-high. However, social workers believe the reality is even worse than the numbers indicate as food stamps are only handed out to people who are willing to leave their fingerprints for identification purposes. A requirement which discourages many from applying for food stamps in the first place. Hence, the sight of people searching trash bags for useable items is becoming more and more common.

Woman at Amethyst Women's Project Stand - Mermaid Ave

Like everywhere in the world, social hotspots are particularly negatively impacted by substance abuse, drug-dealing, forced prostitution, domestic violence and the ramifications of HIV/AIDS. The woman in the photograph above does advocacy work for the Amethyst Women’s Project.  AWP mission is “to restore hope and dignity to the lives of women adversely impacted by substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence and to protect and preserve family systems in South Brooklyn.”

The mini library

Urban Librarians Unite (ULU) collected many thousands of children’s books to help replace library collections damaged by Hurricane Sandy last fall. ULU also set up so-called Mini Libraries in front of libraries that were closed due to storm damage. The above photograph was taken in Coney Island, South Brooklyn.

View of lower lower Manhattan from Williamsburg