John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
Studies of the Maasai, the Luhya, and Nairobi's Urban Fringe
Glimpses of Family Life I 
42. Lillian and Yvonne : 617-624 | Belita Katela : 625-630
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Glimpses of Family Life (a): Lillian and Yvonne : 617-624
617. The interior of Lillian's home is typical of dwellings in Kibera made of iron sheets nailed to wooden poles. With no insulation it can be hot in the day and cold at night. It has just one room, which serves as a combined bedroom, sitting room, kitchen and bathroom ... in a space roughly 3 metres square.
618. This is the sitting room area. The cardboard box is used to store clothes, a bit like a chest-of-drawers. Lillian gave birth at age 60 to a daughter who is mentally retarded. She cannot leave the girl and go out to work because she is afraid her daughter will be sexually abused. So she struggles to survive. How she manages to pay the rent is both a mystery and a miracle.
619. A lot of her clothes are hung up to avoid creases and reduce the need for ironing. Those in the box are carefully folded and stored alongside chemical repellents, to deter rats and cockroaches which would otherwise feast on both the cardboard and the clothes (and stain the ones they don't eat). The cockroaches here are monsters, 10 or even 15 centimetres in length!
620. Their bathroom and pantry cover the wall opposite the bottom of their bed. The large black tongs hanging beneath the shelf next to the frying pan are used to remove hot pots from the stove when she cooks ugali and such like. (The ring slips over the top of the pot.) The cups with their tooth brushes and combs are on the right next to the greeting card "To the One I Love". Bathing is accomplished effectively using plastic bowls which are then emptied into the street.
621. The kitchen fills the space between the bed and the bathing area. The tank holds water for cooking and washing, and the stove burns kerosene (paraffin). The water will have been collected from a local standpipe, using jerry cans.
622. Other material is stored under the bed or hung from the walls and the ceiling. Lillian shares the bed with her daughter and a younger girl she is caring for. She worries a lot about her daughter Yvonne who is now growing into a young woman and faces the danger of abuse by men who would take advantage of her limited mental capacity.
623. The two of them stand here between the back of the house that they rent and the stone wall built by the residents of an adjacent wealthy suburb -- to separate their two communities and hide the slums from view.
624. This is the view in front of their home, facing the railway. When Yvonne was younger her mother also used to worry that she would be killed by a train. The wood, transported by truck and by train, will be sold as firewood and is carefully guarded meanwhile as a defence against theft.
Glimpses of Family Life (b): Belita Katela : 625-630
625. In a society where people are on the move and everyone struggles to survive, "normal" marriages (as they would be understood in the Western World) are difficult to sustain. Fathers are slow to accept responsibility and many children are raised by single mothers. This woman Belita Katela is a traditional birth attendant and has raised 11 children on her own, from 11 different fathers. She is illiterate but has survived by reselling charcoal -- which explains the colour of her hands. The TV was given to her by a son. The cloth on top of it is used to hide the set when any local official calls round, since the electricity is obtained illegally.
626. Belita and her daughter Beatrice sell charcoal and operate a hair salon on the street in front of their house. Beatrice is a single mother with 3 children of her own and works hard to earn a living, while Belita helps care for the smallest member of the family.
627. Their home was made from mud plastered over a basic wooden frame. The young woman in the picture is cooking ugali over a jiko or charcoal stove. Ugali is made from corn meal and water and looks and tastes like a cross between porridge and mashed potato. Note the water on the floor and the bed in the background.
628. On this bed four adults sleep at night together with three children. You can tell from the lock on the right that we are actually looking through the doorway into the house, which shows how small it is! Judging by the message on her t-shirt (which displays the name of a welfare organization) Beatrice gets some support from the local child care centre -- most probably in the form of corn meal and milk.
629. In the same way that local operators tap into Council water pipes, so enterprising individuals tap into local power lines and sell electricity to people in the community. These 240 volt wires are buried underground to hide them but they are frequently in a poor condition, and the cause of many house fires and some electrocutions. Watching TV or boiling water can, therefore, be a dangerous practice here. The external clay walls of her house are lined with sheets of cardboard from old packing cases and with its improvised forms of wiring Belita's house could easily burst into flames.
630. Belita shares her house with three of her daughters and their children. The rolls of plastic above the stove are used to cover the mud walls, keep out the damp and help keep their clothes clean. Belita Katela is a woman of obvious dignity, proud of her home, and invariably in good spirits regardless of her material circumstances. She is an outspoken advocate of local self-help initiatives and was actually chosen to represent Kenya at a worldwide social forum in New York.


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