Visiting slums

Someone at the opposite house is selling their flat. I saw the housing agent’s car and signs on the door as I came back from a walk.

Houses, the places we live in, flats, small rooms, large villas, log cabins, tents. Some time ago I went through a phase of defining what home means to me. I came up with an idea of some sort of spiritual place, not so much a physical building or flat. There is something to the saying home is where the heart is.

But then I remembered something.

I saw one of my all-time favourite exhibitions The Places We Live in 2008 in Oslo, Norway, at the Nobel Peace Center. Photographer Jonas Bendiksen had visited houses of people who live all around the world: in Nairobi, Caracas, Jakarta and Mumbai. You may know that these towns have large slum areas around them. This is what the photographer had captured: people and houses of the slums.

And it was not your usual photo exhibition. Literally, you stepped into a house with four walls, there were some chairs available or you could stand. Photographs were projected to each of the wall from the outside. The people you saw actually talked to you: telling their stories, with all their hopes, dreams and fears. You were in their house, sitting in the middle of the floor.

We were able to visit each town and their people for about 20 minutes each. I sat there like a stone, mesmerized by the brilliance of it all. I walked from one town to another, taking in the experience and thinking about my own living conditions every now and then.

And now, today, having seen the housing agent’s car on my home street, it all came back to me. I guess home is where the heart is, but I really wish homes could more often be where you have sanitation, clean drinking water and electricity, too. I was appalled to read on Daily Mail that many people in the UK think Facebook is pretty much as important as clean water.

The study, by London’s Science Museum, asked 3,000 adults what they couldn’t live without and Facebook ranked fifth, with flushing loos ninth. Being on the internet came second, with sunshine the clear winner. Having clean water came third in the One Poll study, owning a fridge fourth and the NHS sixth.

Despite this UK craziness (internet before clean water, seriously?), what makes the topic of this post so topical is that exhibition is available online, by Magnum Photos. I never knew this. How did I not know?

What I do know is that I’ll visit Kibera, Dharavi, Kampongs and Barrios again. You should, too! If possible, take your family and friends with you.

♥ In the meantime: Tori Amos will be playing in Helsinki in 15 days.

♠ Song of the day: Teddy Thompson, Take Care of Yourself.

2 thoughts on “Visiting slums

  1. Ten yers ago I did slum work in Pune, India for six months. I myself lived comfortably in a rather posh part of the city, Koregon Park, right next to the Osho ashram – talk about contradictions! – and witnessed the social unjustices of the world first hand. Every day, for half a year. I will never forget this life transforming experience of mine. What amazed me the most though, was the dignity with which the people living in the slums were able to carry on their lives, amidst all the poverty and deprivation. Like you, I feel priviledged to have had the opportunity to see it, and to think and reflect.

  2. Must have been interesting, thanks for the comment! I think the photos of this exhibition talk the same language as we do here – it’s a rare opportunity to meet people from places most of us never will visit. If we’re going in the direction where Facebook is more important than clean water, it’s good to get some perspective.

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