I don’t take photos in Kawangware

Surprisingly, I (sometimes) do more than just think about comic books and high fantasy. As I noted on a previous post, I have been interning in Nairobi for the past seven weeks. Specifically, I work with community-organizations in Kawangware, one of the largest slums in Nairobi (and that’s saying quite a lot, mind you). And, well, it is my favorite part of the city. By far.

However, I have almost no photos to show. Which might be considered weird, since I have (literally) hundreds of photos of the safaris I’ve been to, and I usually take a lot of photos anywhere I travel to.

But that’s just the thing. Kawangware is not a safari. It’s not somewhere I travel touristically to. It’s a slum. Full of colors, noise, smells, and A LOT of people.

To be sure, I think photos of Kawangware should be out there, because it’s a side of Nairobi (and of Africa!) that we in the West don’t see that often. I really believe Mzungus in Nairobi and elsewhere would benefit from knowing how life is like in the slums.

But I don’t think it’s my role to take those photos. I was recently reading a brilliant entry by Jeremy Everett in Talk Poverty about the (dumb) idea of “being a voice for the voiceless” and it really hit home:

[W]hile they’re muffled, hushed, pushed down and left out—they are not voiceless. They do not need our voices; at least not in the way many people think they do. What they really need—these folks who are working two jobs but are unable to make ends meet, or deciding between buying groceries or paying the electric bill—is for us step out from behind the microphone, make room at the table, and give them a chance to speak.

Now, I’m not a professional photographer. Far from it. So the photos I take are for entertainment and for sharing with my peers and friends. On the other hand, I have friends here in Kawangware who have good cameras and take really good photos. I mean, like, seriously good. Whatever my intentions, if I take a photo in Kawangware, it is still a “hey, look at this interesting part of my trip!” I’m supposed to be working for an organization that aims to empower youth in Kawangware, and it’s very clear to me that my photos ony empower myself. The photos that my friends here take? Those are photos about their lives, their interests, what they find beautiful, amazing, or noteworthy. I’d much rather see those photos than my own. I’d much rather listen to them than speak.

And that is why I don’t take photos in Kawangware.

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