Kibera slumMost people don’t put a slum tour on their list of activities to do while on vacation. But part of the value of peer-to-peer tour platforms is the creativity it offers people who can craft their own unique offerings. And I am always interested in seeing local life in the places I visit, so the Kibera slum tour in Nairobi caught my eye when I was browsing through the I Like Local activities.

Diddy, the Kibera tour guide

Diddy, the Kibera tour guide

I’ve done a few tours and activities while traveling, using various sharing economy platforms. And I have written about the main challenge I see with these platforms: how to weed out the commercial tour companies from the individuals who really just want to share their favorite parts of their home town or their favorite activities. This Kibera slum tour, run by a young man who grew up in Kibera, was fascinating, unique, and incredibly well done. Diddy, the tour guide, is trying to give back to his community and show people the kindness and positive things happening in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. He’s set up his own “business” doing this, but it’s just him listing this tour on two peer-to-peer booking sites. He also works as a DJ, presumably a more steady source of income than the infrequent tour bookings.

The walking tour brought us to an artist collective, a jewelry and trinket making shop, a school for young children run entirely by volunteers from the community, and into someone’s home. We learned about the lack of trash collection in this 4km by 2km area, the short-lived (and very smelly) outhouses and longer-lasting toilet systems that have been built by NGOs, and the way people get water in this community where no water runs into the homes.

One of many schools in Kibera

One of many schools in Kibera

But perhaps most important, we learned that the popular perception of Kibera in Nairobi, as an area ridden with crime and criminals, is utterly false. In fact, quite the contrary, the section of Kibera where Diddy grew up is virtually free of crime during the day because the residents will chase down anyone committing an offense against another person (such as stealing a cell phone) and punish them harshly. Diddy talked about seeing this happen as a child (“mob justice” he called it) and his resulting confidence that the area is totally safe as long as people are around to respond to calls for help.

And people are always around because living conditions in Kibera are not easy. Tin, mud and wood 9m by 9m shacks stacked up in tight quarters make up most people’s homes, as well as shops and other structures. But the sense of community is so strong that when people do earn enough to move out of Kibera, sometimes they opt to stay.  It’s certainly not an easy life, but the people we passed seemed busy, engaged, and mostly happy. Diddy stressed how enterprising Kibera residents are: shops, hair salons, and various services line the streets with everyone trying to hustle somehow to make some money. He pointed out that there are no people on the streets asking for handouts, instead they are all trying to come up with a way to work.

Kibera slums

That’s not to glorify life in Kibera. We saw plenty of kids running around on the dirt paths when they should have been in school, and people with barely enough clothes to wear. Homes lack basic washing facilities and payment is required to use the public toilets, and everywhere there is trash: on the streets, piled in various lots, sometimes slowly burning, always pungent.

The city doesn't collect trash in Kibera

The city doesn’t collect trash in Kibera

I have mixed feelings about doing tours like this one: it seems voyeuristic to go into a community in poverty just to see how people are living. But Diddy has set up an excellent tour that focuses on some organizations in the community that benefit from exposure to the outside. The artist collective regularly does public shows outside of Kibera to sell their work, the crafts factory is selling their wares to support the 15 employees, and the school is always looking for sources of funding from the outside. And everyone we came across (many of whom know Diddy personally) was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Further, humanizing the slums, and dispelling the myths set up to justify the lack of services, isolation and poverty of the nearly million residents of this community can only help with public support for change.