The following is a poem I wrote about seven years ago. I originally published it on a separate blog that I have since deactivated.

Driving home from school, our bus would sometimes take a detour through a slum. What was weird about the journey is that the slum was situated right next to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Nairobi. You couldn’t really see the slum from within the neighborhood, but once you got into the slum, you could see the mansions in the backdrop of the rows of shacks. There was a very stark contrast between the beautiful and the modest houses.

One afternoon during my trip home, I was staring out of my window looking at the sea of faces. There were people busy cleaning and cooking, children running about, and chickens clucking by the side of the road, occasionally startled by the vehicles and children they failed to pay any attention to. As I sat there, I came upon a woman sitting outside one of the metal shacks. She startled me out of my zoned-out state because she stood out so much. She was as much of a stark contrast to her environment as the mansions that hovered behind the shacks were. She was incredibly beautiful. What made me think about this moment for so long after was the fact that it was surprising to me to see her there. It revealed to me something about my own biases – how I didn’t expect to find beauty in such a place, as though beauty is only constricted to a certain group, class or location. But it also revealed to me that beauty is completely coincidental, and it can be found everywhere. You just have to pay attention.

Beauty in the Slums

 

Her auburn hair was as autumn:

Rusty and fine,

fragile, yet tough

as it filtered the wind.

Her lips,

curved into a blissful smile,

bestowed shame on roses;

In my mind, they spoke sweet soliloquies,

or sang songs of sentiment,

or simply,

beguiled its victims

with sensuous words of poison.

Her eyes seemed opaque

fatigued and desolate

as they drifted past the surroundings.

She looked, but did not see;

no one could see.

 

I caught but a glimpse of her

as we trekked the tarnished road.

Her fingers were long and dainty –

perhaps, in another life,

she would have played the piano.

But for now,

she plays with hair,

twisting fibers into sleek long trinities.

It was all she could do.

 

She was beauty.

A victim of circumstance.

 

© Shiku Wangombe