I met Diddy a few years ago while traveling in Kenya. One of our friends met him while he lived in Nairobi at that time. He highly recommended to meet Diddy, hearing his story while walking through Africa’s largest slum, Kibera. Diddy’s home.
It was impressive and gave me a great insight in a life I didn’t know. A world difficult to grab when you grow up in a place there is no shortage of anything. This was exactly the type of experience I am always looking for while traveling.
Besides being a tour guide, Diddy is also a very inspiring person who became an Afro-electric dj, hip hopper and has a passion for soccer. As I am living in Nairobi now myself, and supporting Diddy via I Like Local, I thought it would be nice to meet Diddy again and share his story with the world. Hoping to inspire others to explore a country beyond its standard tourist attractions.
A boy from the slum
Diddy arrived perfectly on time while I was already enjoying my morning coffee. I immediately recognized him and was greeted with a big hug. It was great seeing him after 2 years. I was really curious how he was doing, but also to hear his complete story and how he was able to change his life.
Diddy grew up in a family with three siblings, all born and bred in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. His actual name is Vitalis Odhiambo, but his parents gave him the nickname Daddy, which his friends later changed to Diddy. Together with his parents and sisters, Diddy lived in a small room in a plot with other families. “We lived in a room not bigger than 9×9 feet with a small kitchen and one room. As the only boy in the family I was allowed to use a long small chair to sleep on. My sisters had to sleep on the floor. My mum was a vegetable seller and my father worked as a security officer.”
Photo credit Lucas Steuber
You might think that the harsh life in the slum would reflect on its people, but Diddy shed a different light on it when I asked him how he experiences Kibera. “I like the smiles of the people in Kibera. Kibera is a city in a city. People are taking care of each other and it feels like one big family where everybody is making the best out of it. You will never feel alone. Not only this characterizes Kibera, also its creative and innovative mind. People are forced to be innovative and find ways to earn money. It is this vibe that I like a lot about my neighborhood.”
From an early age his parents could only bring food on the table, nothing else. For any other items like clothes the kids had to organize it themselves. “I first started working by collecting metals and charcoal and selling it to vendors. With this little money I was able to buy myself some clothes. It made me responsible at a very young age”. Later on I worked in construction building and at a car wash. It was this point in my life that changed everything.”
An ordinary Sunday
“It was a Sunday, I remember. I was walking home after a very tiring weekend. The weekends were always busiest at the car wash. I was just talking with my friends when we met a mzungu (Swahili for white man) with his Kenyan friend. As I have always been interested in foreigners my friends and I invited them to come and sit with us. Jeff (from Canada) told us they were visiting Kibera as he was really interested in learning more about it. I suggested to take them around and show them life in Kibera. So we did. We shared stories. Jeff left fulfilled and we exchanged numbers. This was the moment that things got moving. Jeff introduced me to his friends and friends of friends.
In the beginning I didn’t ask money for showing them around. I just lived from the tips I got. Later on I was able to ask some money for it. With the first money I received I took the bus to down-town Nairobi and printed flyers and business cards, and created a Facebook page.”
A memorable experience
Romains place in Kilifi where Diddy stayed
“This Facebook page was the source of letting my dream, to visit the Kenyan coast, come true. As my parents were poor we never had the chance to travel. One day a guy called Romain contacted me via my Facebook page to invite me to come to the coast and stay at his place for free. This was a dream coming true! The only thing was that I had little money, maybe only to cover transportation. Romain was very generous and I didn’t have to pay for my stay at all. This was my chance! I hopped on the bus and the next day I was there. Wow, I was so impressed by the sea, the climate and its vibe. I loved it and was feeling very blessed! I stayed for 2 days.
This was 4 years ago, 2013. Something I will never forget. From then onwards my tour was picked-up by more people.”
The deeper message
People often have an impression and opinion about slum tours. Me too. I was a bit hesitant as I didn’t want to bother or offend them. I remembered when I did the tour with Diddy in 2014 that I asked him what the people living in the slum thought about us. White people. Visiting their neighborhood. I could imagine they would feel intruded.
“This perception is what also makes promoting my tour very difficult, explains Diddy. Many people have a pre-judgement. Even here in Nairobi. I noticed this when I was visiting several hotels to promote my tour. Many didn’t want to promote a slum tour to their customers as they thought I was only making money out of it while having a negative impact on the people. This is absolutely not the case. The people in Kibera are used to foreigners walking around as we have more than 2000 NGO’s working there. Most of them employ foreigners. So the sight of a mzungu is not rare. At the same time, I am generating income for my community with my tour and people really appreciate this.
Photo credit Daniel Lombardi
What I try to share with people joining me on my walk through Kibera is its story, the life and its people and giving them a real insight in daily life here. I work with many social projects in Kibera and include them in my tour as well. In this way it is not only me who benefits, but I contribute to my community at the same time. People will meet some amazing local artists: from painters to jewelry makers. They will have the chance to interact and exchange stories. I try to bridge the gap between cultures.
With the money I earn via the tours I am able to pay the school fees of my daughter and niece of whom I take care as well. A few years ago I also started working as an Afro-electric DJ.
I hope that one day I earn sufficient to not only take care of my own family, but to help and support my fellow youth as well. Provide them jobs, and money so that they can build their future.