MOSHI, Tanzania — “Shikamoo Mama Kishe,” a girl says as she balances a bucket of water on her head, crossing the railway line. This is the ultimate form of respect in the Swahili language, and a way to greet elders in Tanzania.
“Marahaba,” Mama Kishe responds. Born 57 years ago in Moshi, Tanzania, Fudasia Kishe is a well respected member of her community. In fact, she’s respected everywhere she goes in town. For the last 36 years she’s been working as a nurse at Mawenzi hospital in Moshi, while going out on her own time, and on her own dime, to provide palliative care to people suffering from HIV-AIDS.
Three years ago Kishe decided to try something new. With all the tourists visiting Moshi, mainly for climbs up Africa’s highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro, she decided to begin providing a different kind of service in Tanzania, one that would be hard to find anywhere else in Africa.
Kishe began bringing visitors into the slums around Moshi with her to see how the poorest Tanzanians live. For two to three hours a week she will bring people along on a “social reality tour,” which is what it’s referred to on pamphlets and posters around town.
“I work in Njoro, Kaloleni, Majengo, Karanga, Kiboriloni and Pasua. These are the slums of Moshi,” she says.
Walking along the railroad, not even five minutes from the centre of town, Kishe mentions how this relic used to connect Moshi to Arusha, once transporting goods and materials throughout Northern Tanzania.
“All this railroad does now is connect one slum to the next,” she says, referring to the former industrial areas in both cities located along the train tracks, which are now areas home to thousands of residents living in extreme poverty. “If you look to one side of the tracks you’ll see town. On the other all you see is industry, many of which are shut down.”
When Kishe enters Kaloleni, a slum adjacent to Moshi’s thriving commercial district along Nyerere Road, pleasantries are exchanged between her and local women. “People respect the work I do here,” she adds.
The wafting stench of a nearby leather tannery turns into the sweet smell of coffee beans, one the area’s surviving industries, as Kishe passes through Kaloleni. Constructed at the edge of the forest, this low-rise slum is situated amidst a backdrop of Moshi’s most beautiful natural scenery, namely Mt. Kilimanjaro. But not long into the tour, it becomes evident why this small settlement of mud huts with corrugated iron roofs is such a serious hazard to the health of its residents.
“Kaloleni is next to the municipal landfill site,” Mama Kishe says, as smoke rises from burning mounds of trash in the distance. “This causes very serious health problems for people who live here, especially the children.”
Reminiscent of the 2010 BBC documentary Welcome to Lagos, Kaloleni residents sift through the garbage to find anything they can use, from discarded household items to scrap metals.
Nearing the end of the Kaloleni slum tour, at the municipal dump, kids and men are seen rummaging through the rubbish. The smell is so intense it begins to burn the nostrils. “These kids don’t even notice the stench anymore,” Mama Kishe adds.
Suddenly, a man emerges from the smoke and begins to scream obscenities in broken English. Mama Kishe shakes her head and continues her tour.
“Some people around here have no regard for their own safety or the health of others,” she says. “It’s up to Moshi’s municipal council to educate and inform slum residents as to the serious health issues associated with working here.”
Kishe returns to her home in the nearby slum of Njoro, which means area with spring water in Swahili. It’s the only slum in Moshi where residents have access to water run-off from the nearby mountain, making it a nice, lush area to grow crops and live comfortably.
“The tour ends here. Home sweet home,” she says. “Karibu [Welcome].”