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Mtaani mentality

Sometimes the kids in Kibera sound like a broken record.

“How are you? How are you? How are you?” they sing, following us through Kibera streets, waving their tiny hands.

The stock phrase is directed at Matt Wilder or Karolin Siebert. So too are the adoring eyes, their toothless smiles. Even kids that ordinarily can’t speak can string enough words to say ‘awayu’.

One wonders who ingrains this in them. I mean, these kids can’t tell the difference between red and blue. How then do they tell the difference between black and white?

Today, Matt couldn’t join us on location for a shoot; he had to direct it via phone. The last time we went on location with him, he was forced to part with cash hand outs for the onlookers. Today, the onlookers met us a long way from the shoot location.

Ako wapi huyo mzungu?” they asked, wanting to know where Matt was. They wanted more cash handouts from him.

Matt didn’t join us. The shoot went really well. Everything went according to plan. In fact, we shot in record time (could be that Matt is a time waster).

Usually when Matt joins us, throngs of people tag after the film crew. Sounds of ‘awayu’ follow us for miles. Onlookers demand to be paid for looking. Today, there was little interference from the onlookers. In the absence of a mzungu, there were less than five onlookers. 

Evans, a member of crew, calls this the Mtaani Mentality. The strange thing is that in the absence of a white person –a mzungu– the Mtaani Mentality is reversed, targeted against fellow Kenyans.

For example, today I asked a street vendor in Kibera how much a packet of groundnuts cost.

“Ten shillings,” the vendor said.

The women that sat with the vendor nudged her, admonished her for not taking advantage of me. In mother tongue, they told the woman to sell the groundnuts to me for five times their worth.

Well, these are just some occupational hazards of being in a film crew. People see the expensive equipment and want to exploit you.


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Kibera Film School is a 9 month, full day, intensive course, that is open to youth aged between 18-25 years. More information here -

One response to “Mtaani mentality

  1. As a trustee of Hot Sun Foundation, I have been working in Kibera since 2007. People in Kibera do not ask me for money nor overcharge me. Perhaps because they have seen me for a long time? Perhaps because of my age? (I have white hair). Not being singled out for money or overcharged is for me one of the positive aspects of Kibera.

    A note about Kibera Film School:
    Kibera Film School does have some scholarships. However, there are some fees involved for everyone, including youth from Kibera. We also have part-time courses, that are less expensive that other training institutes.

    Filmmaking is very challenging. Only those passionately committed to telling their stories on film should apply to Kibera Film School.

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