Monika Muema, 73, sits at home weaving baskets in the single-room makeshift house she shares with her granddaughter Alice, 13, in Kajiado town. There is a bed on one side of the room and a sofa on the other. A bag of maize flour on the floor provides the main source of food. Monika’s gnarled fingers move in and out of the strings with surprising dexterity, adding neat rows of red, black and white. Afterwards, she packs up four completed baskets and walks slowly to the main road, where she sets up a roadside stall on a corner opposite a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) stop.
Kajiado town is a small Kenyan trading centre, close to the border with Tanzania. It’s surrounded by open grasslands, where Maasai pastoralists tend their cattle. A line of wind turbines turn slowly on a hillside outside town. Hard hit during COVID-19 travel restrictions, Kajiado’s economy is now starting to recover. Close to the centre of town is a compound of a dozen houses. This is clearly a middle-income area. The houses are small but well-made and painted white and blue. A large water tank in one corner provides water for the houses, which are also connected to the electricity grid.
It’s a quiet mid-morning at Bunde Health Centre in Kisumu, when local farmer Alice Mwajuma brings her two children David, 5, and Dahzur, 2, for a check-up. Long antlered cattle wander down the earth road outside, stopping to munch on the occasional patch of green grass. Alice and her boys arrive on a boda-boda motorbike, stopping by a fruit stall on the road outside. The health centre is quiet and cool in the shade of large trees. Blue and white buildings sport graffiti art illustrating health messages, such as the six ante-natal care steps for pregnant women to take.
The focal point of Kaego informal settlement, in Kisumu town, is the boda boda (motorbike taxi) stop at the junction of the tarmac road and the earth track that leads through the settlement. Young men sit on their bikes under the shade of a wooden roof, waiting for customers. Washing hangs on clotheslines, criss-crossing the narrow side streets with bright colours. Schools are out and young children run between the houses, rolling old car tyres or playing with homemade balls made from plastic bags and string. Their cries and laughter mingle with the rumbling of motorbike engines.
It is early Friday morning at Garissa Referral Hospital, the main COVID-19 vaccination centre in Garissa town, where infection rates have recently been increasing. In an open-air shelter, with a wooden roof to provide shade from the harsh sun, two masked health workers set up a cool box full of vaccine vials and syringes, and a laptop to register people coming for vaccination. There is a long bench for people to sit while waiting for their shots, but it is mostly empty.
It is a brutally hot, dry and dusty day in Garissa town, in the arid region of North-Eastern Kenya, when Kaha Hassan brings her one-year-old son Sudeys to Medina Health Centre. Two consecutive rains have failed in the region and only a few scrubby bushes and skinny animals have survived. Goats with visible ribcages roam the grounds of the health centre, searching for something to eat. The morning sun beats down on the sandy ground, drying it out even more.
As the school day finishes in Lodwar, Turkana, a group of boys runs out onto a sandy football pitch between their classrooms. There is a flash of colour beneath their pink school shirts, which some of them peel off to reveal international football club shirts beneath. They run up and down the pitch with tremendous energy, gesturing at each other. Finally, 13-year-old Ezra, wearing an Atletico Madrid t-shirt, gets a clear shot at the goal. He lines it up and shoots. The ball swerves past the goalkeeper and lands behind the goalpost, kicking up a small cloud of dust as it lands. Ezra throws up his arms in celebration. But there is little or no sound from the players, all of whom are fully or partially deaf.
Sixteen-year-old Christine Aleper sits in a Grade 4 English class at Namoruputh Primary School, in Turkana County. It is a hot, dry afternoon and a sudden gust of wind blows dust through the open windows. Christine is much taller than the other children in the class, who range from 9 to 11-years old, and the only one wearing a blue and white school uniform. But the fact that she is learning English at all is remarkable, given her background. Standing by the board, her teacher, Hellen, explains the different types of articles – a, an, the – and when to use them. She asks for examples and Christina stands and reads out: “a ball, an apple, the sun.”
It is late morning in Namoruputh Primary School in Turkana, hot and dusty despite the wintertime. The school is close to the border with Uganda, which is lined by a ridge of high mountains on the horizon where rainclouds gather. Behind a classroom, a large satellite dish has been installed, surrounded by a makeshift fence of thorny branches, gathered from the bushes that punctuate the sandy ground.
Inside, teacher Mwangangi begins an unusual science lesson. He draws a diagram of a flower on the blackboard, but instead of telling the children the names of the parts of the flower, or handing out a textbook, he asks them to Google it. The children bend over their distinctive lime-coloured tablets, searching for images with the right information. Cecilia Akai, 13, raises her arm “Teacher, teacher,” she says. He gives her a chalk and she walks to the board, where she writes ‘stigma’ on the correct part of the flower. After naming all the parts of the flower, the teacher asks the children to research their functions and they break into groups, searching and discussing the results.
In the small garden behind Dandora 1 Health Centre, a tent and table has been set up for COVID-19 vaccinations. Health workers sit at the table checking IDs and registering local residents who have turned up to get their jab – a mixture of teachers, health workers and older people. A small queue has formed, with people sitting on a bench or plastic chairs as they await their turn.
Dandora is home to both a densely packed urban community and one of the largest rubbish dumps in Africa. Outside the health centre, the sounds of children playing can be heard, along with boda boda motorbikes and the Friday call to prayers. A large graffiti mural shows a doctor with stethoscope advising residents to wear a mask, wash their hands, and keep physical distance, under the slogan “komesha korona” (stop coronavirus).