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Idiots Bahati Ya Mjingi Episode 6 Outside the Night Train To Mombasa
The Idiots have recently been introduced to an alternative use of the word “sandwich.” For sixty years they’ve been completely satisfied with its primary use, the reference to a hand held victual involving bread wrapped around some other edible.
Recently an innkeeper referred to an online review as a “sandwich” – a review that starts out saying good things, then contains a not-so-good thing, then ends with more complimentary comments.
In a similar circumstance, the Idiots were having a serious discussion with friends and Idiot He said “So I don’t forget… I have three things I want to say to you…” The friends immediately looked at each other and said “Oh no – a S^^^ Sandwich!” They expected the Idiots to tell them something uncomplimentary, but to attempt to minimize the sting with positive comments before and after.
This is apparently common parlance. Sometimes the Idiots feel very old.
The Idiots are not terribly fond of the sandwich. If something is not very nice, it is a good idea to put it up front if it needs to be talked about - and if it doesn’t need to be talked about, one should just button it.
So no sandwich here - getting the ugly out of the way right up front.
The Idiots know something about poverty. They experienced it early in their married years – but with their extended family, education, and future occupational opportunities, they knew it was a short-term challenge for them. They always knew that they had it pretty good compared to the truly poor.
Over the years, they’ve observed urban poverty… the unemployed and underemployed tryng to negotiate the challenges of providing for their families and always finding the income to be less that the outgo. From Beijing to North Minneapolis they’ve seen how urban poverty can become a cruel jockey driving one’s behavior with a lot of whip and no finish line in sight.
And they’ve seen rural poverty, people working the land… land that is too little or too unproductive to meet the needs of those farming it. Tiny patches of corn or beans on the mountainsides of Peru or the red earth of Tanzania or a bog farm on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota mark the labor of people working 7 days a week, 12 months a year, to produce crops that don’t equal out to a year of sustenance.
As horrible as these types of urban and rural poverty are, there always seems to remain some hope. Through hard work and education - and sometimes luck – there is the hope of escape. These poor live on the fringe of society… but with the possibility they might join the mainstream and have “enough.”.
But there is a third kind of poverty – the poverty of the Dispossessed. One finds them in developed countries in both urban and rural settings… … usually individuals, often mentally ill or chemically addicted… often homeless… the final refuse of our consumer economy.
The Dispossed have nothing. They don’t own property and usually have few material goods. They have little or no education. They have no opportunities. They have no hope of escape. There is one simple drive… to find enough food, water, and a bit of shelter for the next day.
How horrendous, then, to know that there are whole populations of Dispossessed. Not the mentally ill homeless person sleeping on a heat grate, but families… thousands of families… making lives where there is no way to make a living.
The Idiots know of the hundreds of thousands who live in dumps and attempt to find the basics by going through the trash of the affluent. And they know of those that live in permanent refugee camps with no alternatives in sight. This is the poverty of documentaries and moving testamonials to the human spirit.
The Idiots have seen the documentaries and have been moved. But they’ve never seen the poverty of the Dispossessed in person in such a dramatic way as they did on The Night Train To Mombasa.
It makes sense. Railways often have a wide right-of-way. The land between the tracks and the adjoining property owners is something of a no-man’s land. As long as the railway runs without impediment, they can ignore squatters.
The “squatter communities” along the railway as the train departs Nairobi are extraordinary in their squalor. Shelters of cardboard and sticks are common… a tarp roof is a luxury. There are whole villages made from discarded metal storage containers. One camp was made of derelict trucks, with families living in the eroding cabs of rusting vehicles. Sometimes families simply claim a section of dirt or grass an lay down a blanket, hoping to survive another night,
At night these communities resemble hell. The residents are ragged, often barely clothed… dirty. Water comes from ditches or is carried great distances. There are fires everywere… for cooking, for heat, for light and protection. With no water and no electrical grid, people scrabble for every basic need. It is clear there must be some kind of economy… money and barter… but for most it is a daily struggle to find enough before finding a spot to rest before doing it all again the next day.
Probably not a lot of French Existentialists in these camps – but many would understand Jean-Paul Sartre’s observation on the practical application of existentialism to real life: “The choice between life at a subhuman level and death is really no choice at all.”
The Idiots passed through miles of these squalid camps in the dark hours as they left Nairobi and again on the other end as they approached Mombasa in the morning hours. It colored their experience. They did not begin to capture this special kind of man’s inhumanity to man in their photos. They next few shots merely hint at the true nature of evil.
End of sermon… and on to more pleasant views! Much of the land between Nairobi and Mombasa is rural. Much of it appears either unused or lightly used for grazing by wandering pastoralists. Other areas have small farms combining traditional construction and farming methods with the slow influx of modern implements and materials. Some areas sport the huge fields that indicate corporate farming. Corn and agave (for sisal fiber) stretch for thousands of acres.
A whistle-stop in rural Samburu to drop off our BBC friends, off in search of a key interview for their program which is scheduled to be aired on Radio BBC this spring.
Life along the railway… just a few of a couple hundred shots Idiot She took from the train window.
What is there about a train that makes children want to wave? It seems to happen everywhere. For the last few hours into Mombasa, the Idiots saw hundreds of kids along the railway, waving at the passing train passengers. They were not begging – the begging children cluster at the spots the train has to stop. These kids just seemed to want to wave or show off karate moves… or just make contact with a wider world.
One photo representing hundreds of kids…
A good ride… interesting way to see a slice of Kenyan life… but the Idiots were pleased to see the old Mombasa train station, looking like an old postcard, welcoming them to Kenya’s oldest city.
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Idiots Bahati Ya Mjingi Episode 6 Outside the Night Train T
Jim -- Your account of the abject poverty -- and photos to illustrate it -- broke my heart. I do a lot of volunteering with an organization that works with incoming refugees, and their accounts of life in the camps are truly horrendous. Phyllis
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Cute pics of the kids
Do not know why, but it is W W
The last 2 pics are sad, so very sad, mostly due to Kenya, like most western countries, have no reason to have poverty at all
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