Sunday, August 30, 2009

It’s tougher to find time for this stuff now, so sue me if my entry today is brief or scattered.

Like I said last time, Willie got on board for sound, but not until the second day. So that explains the pic of me strapped into Marco’s sound gear on that first outing. Kind of nerve wracking to be slammed into a wall of life like Kibera AND do your first ever day of sound recording, but I’m told i pulled it off. I actually really got into it, even though I was probably holding the boom the wrong way and had sore arms to show for it later on.

But that’s not even trippy compared to the wake up call of a certain little blonde girl, who passed out in the car on the way to Kibera, and woke up in my arms, walking in the middle of a super dusty slum packed to the gills with people, including kids practicing their best “how are you” chants to us as we walked by. The first thing she said was “something’s a little bit stinky.”

Kid, I said, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

But first a step back. We got dropped off at the UN HABITAT building at the mouth of one of the slum entrances, and were greeted by Vincent, Dixon and a host of other dudes who are all participating in Camilla’s project. They’re amazing guys, each inspirational in their respective ways. Vincent’s just come on board the project, but one of the many other things he does is prevent kids from getting into crime, not as a cop or anything, as a role model.

They are our point of entry into the slum, the local dudes who legitimize our presence and help us get deeper. They all firmly believe in Camilla’s project, and so, by extension, us.

Seems like a good jumping on point for what Camilla’s project actually is: the Peepoo bag.

There’s no space in Kibera. 1.5 million people live in a tiny area and do a pretty good job of surviving their poverty and lack of privacy. There’s sure as hell no room for toilets, let alone any kind of system to deal with the sludge that’s left in them. Instead people use plastic bags to shit in. They tie them up and throw them away, earning the monicker: flying toilet. The bags tend to get disposed of in Kibera so every health risk stays. It doesn’t take a genius to look at the crowded conditions and figure out the danger of all those people living in each other’s shit. When you figure that 2.8 billion people live without sanitation facilities, in poverty, it’s not a stretch to believe that half the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from sanitation related disease.

What Camilla’s bag does… http://www.peepoople.com is turn the problem into a solution, and to a bunch of solutions at the same time. First, the bag itself, designed by her architect partner to function as a safe, disposable toilet, made from the only grade of plastic that fully biodegrades. It’s designed to be clean, efficient, and nice to look at. People really like them. Here’s what it does: provide a safe alternative to people with no other options, and give the opportunity for communities to clean up their streets, their air and their dignity. Then there’s the genius of what it does: turn shit into fertilizer. With a small quantity of UREA at the bottom of the bag, all the pathogens in the shit are destroyed over the course of a couple of weeks once it’s buried in the ground. In a place literally covered in shit and badly in need of fertilizer for food, the Peepoo bag is a stroke of genius.

So, back in Kibera, it just makes sense that these guys are behind Camilla and the project. It ain’t the elders who are going to change things, it’s the next generation, like Vincent. (The elders were actually on us for cash for allowing us to film there). For him the status quo sucks, and he’s actually doing something about it.

But back to DAY 1. Like I said, Siri woke up in my arms and was a superstar in her adjustment to the situation. She scampered onto my shoulders and had even more people looking at her and trying to touch her skin. But we moved like that through the first leg, until we got to the first meeting point with some of the other young men helping out, a huge dusty soccer field getting ready for a girl’s match. We followed everyone inside a building at the opposite side of the field, and shot a meeting to discuss the implementation of the next phase of the bag: bumping up the scale and distributing them to families.

Like in every slum, it takes about half a second for the area to fill up with kids looking into the camera and making lots of noise. Long story short, my first day as a sound man was punctuated by cursing the mic for picking up every voice outside the door, and the slam of a soccer ball on the wall all of 1 foot away from the mic I’ve got turned up high to pick up the conversation in the room. Soccer sucks, I said to myself.

Meanwhile it turns out that a warrior shepherd has been leading Siranna to his herd of cattle and letting her stroke them.

She later got on the … bullpen? Of soccer players practicing by the side of the actual field, which was actually a dustbowl. It turns out that it was the first time anyone, and I mean anyone had seen a white baby in Kibera, so while she’s doing her thing there’s a whole crowd, to match that of the football game, watching her.

She eventually got spooked because every kid there wanted to touch her skin, but if she was otherwise conscious of the audience she didn’t let on. I gotta confess, part of me was thinking “what an amazing experience for her” while the other part was watching her like a hawk, ready to jump in, knives out, any second. But that’s just the daddy in me. The reasonable me was enjoying watching her new pink dress turn red in the never edning red Kibera dust.

Our next stop was deeper in Kibera, to visit an old lady who’s been part of the bag’s pilot distribution and testing project. She’s taken her bags to the garden she cultivates, on the only spot of open land I’ve seen in the area, on the outskirts of the houses and cesspit dumps. But today was just her home, getting to meet her, see where she lives and make sure she’s cool with being a character. She’s a hell of a personality, tough but not jaded, calloused but warm, dead serious in the eyes, but with an awesome sense of humour. She’s in, and in long term which is what we were hoping for. It’s not everyone who’s gonna be brilliant at talking about the bags of their own shit that’re going intro the earth, to help grow food for their grandchildren. But we got ‘er.

The journey back to the van brought us past a never ending stream of children and livestock, barbers with amazing handpainted signs, coal sellers, people hanging laundry, cooking, hauling goat shit out of the few gutters there are and into the middle of the street, corner stores and stands with people selling batches of tomatoes. You can’t turn your cheek without hitting someone else. Hopefully it’s a someone, and not a something.

Sirianna walked back most of the way, and had a full procession behind her by the time we reached the van. By that point we were all pretty much ready for a break. The crush of humanity is exhilirating, but exhausting. We would have more photos to show you, but taking them in the slum is a sensitive affair, so we have to make do with the back drops behind us. For today at least.

Or rather THEY do. Siri, we decided, was safe enough in there as long as we were with a large group of respected locals and she deigned to stay close to us. Even so, between the dust and lord knows what kind of unsanitary cuts and abbrasions that could happen, it was a no brainer choice that she, and by extension I, wouldn’t be going in again. Sucks, but that was kind of the plan from the outset. I was just kind of hoping that reality on the ground would dispel any reservations we might have had and allowed us to bring Siri in there in all good conscience. Helas.

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