Most of the songs in the Kawere repertoire seem to be praise songs for patrons who had invited the group to perform. These songs can be thought of as pre-internet age social networking. The singer usually starts by introducing himself, goes on to introduce the object of his praise, as well as the patron’s relatives, friends, and neighbors, before explaining the nature of his relationship to the patron in question. For example, in ‘Muma Ben’, the song starts with an introduction of ‘Muma Ben from Saye Konyango’, then introduces Muma Ben’s family, and ends with praise for the hospitality the singer received when he was invited to Muma Ben’s house. If you were to map out all of the relationships outlined in the Kawere Boys singles in our collection, and if you had a deep understanding of Luo culture, you could get a good idea of the social networks the Kawere Boys relied upon for their livelihood.
From his experience as a founder of Global Voices, an aggregator of citizen media from around the world, Mr. Zuckerman says he has learned to value the roots laid down by a community of bloggers.
In Kenya, he said, bloggers were important commentators and reporters in 2007-8 on a disputed election, and people would ask why there were so many bloggers in Kenya.
It turned out, he said, that “Kenya has the second-most bloggers in Africa and that mostly they are not writing about politics; many are writing about rugby.” There was, he said, “a fascinating latent capacity — people who knew how to use the tools, knew how to write well, to tell a story with words and pictures.”
The Russia-Georgia war, he said, offered a contrast.
“Suddenly a bunch of people flocked to blogging tools,” he said. “We had never heard about of lot of those people. A number of people were manufacturing blogs from whole cloth for propaganda purposes. It was hard to know who they were, if they were credible. In Kenya, we knew who they were; we knew their favorite rugby team.”
This organization, and this sanitary pads project, comes as a result of many years of working with girls in Kenya, seeing problems, and searching for solutions. And it comes from living in Kenya for more than seven years now, and revising the way I see the world in light of new information and new experiences.
When I worked for five years with former street children, our organization’s biggest costs per child were bread and sanitary pads. I realized this was a national problem, that girls across the country went through horrible things during their periods.
This to me was a question of social justice. The poverty that mires 64% of Kenyans is unjust. To allow girls and their future families to sink further into poverty because they lack the funds necessary to stem the flow of their monthly menstruation and sit out of school four days a month—I cannot be the person who knows but remains on the sidelines. I believe the words of my high school mentor, Denise Fuller, who said, “the easiest words for someone to say are ‘I don’t know’. Because, once we know, we are required to do something.”
One billion people live in slums. Their numbers are supposed to double over the next quarter-century. So: Who are those people — and what must their lives be like?
The Norwegian photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen has spent a good deal of time in Indian, Kenyan, Indonesian, and Venezuelan slums, and his website, The Places We Live, features dazzling 360-degree photos of homes and shanties, navigable and altogether immersive, along with audio recordings made by the inhabitants. Prepare yourself to gape, gasp, laugh, cry, and experience every emotion in between: In Mumbai, you’ll meet the Shilpiri family (15 people crammed into a tiny space through which floodwater and garbage regularly stream). In Nairobi, the head of the Dirango household takes great pride in his cramped abode, giving a tour that takes just seconds. “You have to visit somewhere before you judge,” he explains. Thanks, Mr. Bendiksen, for starting us on the journey.