I am walking through the slum on narrow, slippery paths that
weave between the close, close dwellings. Underneath my feet is the
dense mixture of mud, garbage, plastic bags, and sewage that makes
up the foundation of Kibera, Africa's second largest slum and home
to as many as 1 million people. I keep thinking to myself that open
sewage and a badly cut toe are a terrible combination.
Because of my wounded foot, I find myself very aware of the
footwear on the people around me. Most of the people I see are
picking their way across the garbage in cheap, plastic flip-flops.
A few have battered, ill-fitting shoes. Many small children are
barefoot in this toxic sludge, though the smell of human feces sits
densely in the air. I saw one child in a pair of Toms shoes, and it
made me grateful and amazed that their promised shoes actually seem
to reach kids in a place like this.
We're being hosted by a pastor who has given his life to working
in a corner of this slum, a corner that houses the poorest of the
poor. In the midst of this sludge, he has built a church, a school,
a feeding program for children, and a shelter for girls who need to
escape from the slum altogether. While tiny by American standards,
his church is a spacious, solid, dry haven in the midst of the
dense housing. He greets every child we pass with joy and
I have carefully bandaged my foot in a waterproof dressing and
layers of gauze and tape and have on sturdy, closed-toe leather
shoes. Small children have nuzzled in next to me on all sides
during the church service, with two little ones leaning in and
resting their head against my side. The little boy on my left is
wearing a pair of mismatched flip-flops. One is brown and at least
three inches longer than his foot. The other one is blue and is
broken in half. His toes hang off the edge of the half-sandal. One
of the children tried to clean the splatters of mud off of my legs
as we sat and listened to the sermon. Another kept stroking my arm
and counting my freckles.
I'm tired after today's walking through slums. Not so much from
the distance or physical strain of the walk, but more from the
weight of it. I am humbled by people like Pastor Imbumi who walk
into this every day, who walk in to be with those whose feet are
planted in this place every day. And I am reminded that all of
these feet are just like mine - needing protection and a safe,
clean place to walk.