Africa, the Poorest of the Poor and Cell Phone Technology

Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, outside Nairobi in Kenya was the site of my recent visit to Africa. I am going to let these photos tell the story better than my words could tell you about the living conditions and level of poverty there.

Neighborhood in Kibera

Local hotel

Children hanging out

The streets of Kibera

Drainage/sewage ditch smack in the middle of the school ground where we worked. These run all through Kibera, everywhere.











This little dude was so proud of his juice box on wheels pull toy

other varieties of pull toys











local pub

These images only begin to tell the story. The sights, sounds, smells, the sense of life and commerce happening so remotely far from anything we are familiar with can only be experienced first hand.

My reason for showing these pictures is not to expose the poverty so much as to help express my astonishment as I became aware that, like home, at the school we worked in every teenager had a cell phone in his pocket. They were checking them all of the time, just like at home. If one of their number hadn’t come to the session we were starting they would ring him up. “He’ll be here in a few minutes.”

The reality for these kids is that they don’t even eat every day. Sometimes it’ may be that they eat once a day, if they are lucky more than once, but some days not at all. They don’t have electricity except in a few places brought in on scary looking little wires, so how they charge the phones is a mystery. Certainly, I was told, they don’t have monthly plans. They somehow procure a phone and then put minutes on it as they scrounge up shillings.

When I pondered this with one of my colleagues, saying to him, “They don’t even eat every day and they have a phone?” he mused that somehow being in touch with one another is more important than food. This helped me begin to understand.

Next we go to the Maasai Mara. Here the Maasai, a pastoral, nomadic people, live on vast plains alongside the wild animals. Here are some shots of them, their village, their lifestyle.

Maasai village

Maasai villagers










Common sight on the Mara, Maasai wandering across the open plains



I could upload a few more pictures, but I hope you get the idea, and I am guessing that you probably know what I am going to say. These guys have cell phones! One of our members saw a Massai warrior sitting on a rock as we drove through the plains TALKING ON HIS CELL PHONE.

A native American elder that I once worked with remarked while using a Bic to light the sacred fire that we had all worked for days to prepare, “If my ancestors had had a Bic they would have used one.”

And this seems to be the case with cell phones. I don’t know what to say to comment further or interpret, I’m just telling the story. “Connection is everything” is all I can think.




2 Responses to “Africa, the Poorest of the Poor and Cell Phone Technology”

  1. Jeanne Day Says:

    Did you learn how the cell phones got to those places? Were they donated? Where would the money have come from to “order” them? And the mystery that is almost as big as where the phone came from is how the charge them!
    I think the Maasai village looked like a much better place to live than Kibera
    I liked the Native American elder’s comment. Of course it is true; we all use whatever is available to meet the need at hand! In fact, that’s the way Kibera looks–whatever the wind has blown in becomes part of a dwelling. Makes my heart hurt to see these pics.

  2. Tayria Ward Says:

    Cell phones are for sale everywhere in the world, apparently, even in Kibera. And there is commerce there, the hotel, the pub, clothes, food – like everywhere – but at quite a different level than we are used to, so the families earn money in such ways. The Maasai village is nothing like slum life. Not crowded, obviously, not condensed, not filthy. They eat well for the most part, have water and are clean.

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