How do you explore a slum?
Most travel guides will warn you: slums are dangerous. The chances that you will face prob-lems, that you will be robbed or worse, are significantly greater in a slum than in a village or in the city centre. The warnings in the travel guides are quite right. The human energy that a slum makes so dynamic, also makes it dangerous. Young, poor and enterprising people will easier explore their physical and moral boundaries, than old, rich and wait-and-see people.
Some shanty towns you should simply avoid. A particularly murderous slum is Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. Also Sadr City, in Baghdad, Iraq is not a place to visit on a holiday. In Africa, especially the slums of Kinshasa, Congo are known as dangerous no-go areas.
Most of the slums though, can be visited without significant risks. In Dharavi in Mumbai you can calmly take a stroll. Although Tondo, in the Philippine capital Manila is plagued by drugs, you can linger around for days, and you won’t have a dull moment. It’s more or less the same in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, around the large Mercato market in Addis Ababa, Ethio-pia or in Ndirande slum, Blantyre. Increasingly, this also applies for most of the Favela's in Latin America.
Nevertheless it is wise not to explore a slum while carrying around expensive cameras and heavy daypacks. Wise, but particularly interesting, is to explore the area with someone who was born and raised there. He or she can introduce you to residents, show you around in hidden alleyways, temples or enterprises, and protect you when you face difficulties. En-quiries in your hotel or guest house will show that there is always someone around who grew up in the slum nearby.
Explore a slum by foot. Behind the closed and darkened windows of a Four Wheel Drive you'll certainly feel safer, but you will experience almost nothing of the full life in the slum. Because maps are hardly present, you have to walk around in a slum according to your sense of place. Even with Google Maps on your phone, it is often difficult to find your way there. The road pattern in slums are not only badly covered, the roads are sometimes so narrow that they hardly can be recognized.
A golden rule for any visitor of a slum is respect for the privacy of its residents. A family of five, living in a single room apartment with the front door wide open to catch some fresh air, is usually not amused when walkers stop and stare into their private sphere for minutes. Somebody who is cooking in front of his house, taking a bath, or participating in a religious meeting, is not asking to be photographed. One of the most effective ways to meet the in-habitants of slums, is by simply taking part in their daily routine. By sharing a drink in a pub, chatting at the corner of a street, shopping at one of the many marketplaces and by attending a service in a church or a prayer rally in a mosque.
© Photograper unknown. Tourism, Ndirande, Malawi. 2015
© Photograper unknown. Wedding, Maginjiri, Malawi. 2015