The shanty stands forlornly between two symbols of affluence: a small airport, Wilson Airport, and a decent middle-class residential estate, South C at the edge of the shanty, one can see airplanes cruising on the runway after landing or while gearing up for take off.
From a vantage position, the corrugated iron shacks are a far cry from their neighborhood, an eyesore in an otherwise modern setting. Perhaps that is why the shanty is called Mitumba, which means secondhand in Kiswahili. And no doubt, Mitumba has all the hallmarks of an abode for second rate citizens; those who see and smell "wealth," but like the biblical Lazarus, live on scraps falling off the rich man's table.
Ms. Elizabeth Ndila, a vendor for Kenyan street paper, Big Issue, is one of the thousands of people who call Mitumba home. Ndila has lived in Mitumba since 2002, having moved from yet another city slum. She laments about the struggles of the poor in Nairobi's shanties.
"Life's a nightmare here. We work very hard but get very little in return. Everything is expensive and costs money, even going to the toilet costs money here, you cannot go to the toilet without money," she explains.
But Ndila is no stranger to the vagaries of poverty. Life hasn't changed much for the 38-year-old since she arrived in the Kenyan capital over a decade ago in search of a better life. She has always been on the move either working or looking for a job. Over the years, she has done menial jobs in a factory packaging tea and with families as house help, rarely earning more than 2 dollars a day.
Despite her seemingly unchanging fortunes, she has never lost hope and is sanguine that one day she will cross over the stone wall and live her dream. The stone wall divides Mitumba slums from the elegant brick-walled and tile-roofed South C estates.
"The people who live on the other side (of the wall) are just like me. Who said I cannot live there? One day, I will live there, or buy a piece of land and build a decent house too," she says with conviction.
Ndila lives in one of the shacks with her husband, Nicholas Wambua, and their two children. Her husband works as a football coach for street children with an organization which aims to lure the kids off the streets and drugs. Like thousands of others, they are squatters and do not know when the owner of the land which they occupy will come calling with an eviction order.
Before then, however, Ndila hopes that life will have changed for the better. And she fully understands that crossing over the barrier wall will take more than words; only hard work will give her the financial muscle to jump over. That's why she wakes up at 5 a.m. every day, and after preparing breakfast for her family, departs about an hour later to engage in the often futile search for menial jobs.
Before she was recruited as a vendor for the Big Issue, Ndila would usually spend her days moving from house to house looking for families in need of someone to (hand) wash their dirty linen. This was not a sure job as there are many women eyeing the same.
Today, as a vendor, she is among the lucky few as she is assured of putting food on the table. "Every time I sell a copy of a Big Issue, I earn Sh75 (slightly less than a dollar), half the cover price of the magazine," she reveals, a smile on her face. "I always sell, one or two copies every time I go to the field."
Her spot is at Karen Shopping Center, an upscale residential area more than six miles from Mitumba. There is nowhere to sell the magazine close to Mitumba as the Big Issue management has not acquired a vendors' license to trade in the area.
Usually, she cannot afford to pay bus fare to her sales spot, because the fare ranges from Sh30 to Sh50 depending on the hour.
She walks instead.
"Money spent on bus fare to me is wasted money. I have kids to feed," she said. The walk to Karen is never a lonely journey. There are scores others making the six-mile trek from Mitumba; construction workers, housekeepers, guards and a fellow Big Issue vendor. "We chat all the way, you never notice the passage of time," she said.
On the way, she always restrains herself from the temptation of selling to pedestrians. She actually tried it once, and promptly fell into the hands of the local government officials as she did not have a license to trade there. Fortunately for her, they heeded her pleas for mercy and released her.
But even at her sales spot, selling the Big Issue is not a piece of cake.
"It's always a struggle," she said.
"Most people don't know the Big Issue and they tell me to explain what stories it has. Some people want me to give them the magazines for free, blaming the economy. Some will tell you straight on the face they don't want it. It's always frustrating," she said.
"But along the way you get some good people who understand the essence of the Big Issue and they become your faithful customers."
When she is not selling the magazine Ndila sells necklaces which she makes with a friend using pieces of paper and beads. Despite her frustrations in marketing the Big Issue, Ndila hopes that the magazine will finally help her attain her dream. "I think if I continue selling this magazine, I'll get good money and buy a good house."
And that might not be far fetched. The Big Issue was revived in June after a two-year hiatus, and management is confident it is on the right footing and might break even in the near future.
"We want to make the Big Issue the big thing. We want to make it a voice for the voiceless people. We want to make it a popular magazine among Kenyans," says Ms. Lilian Maingi, Big Issue's editor and project manager.
By Njoroge Kinuthia via Big Issue Kenya