This is a short description of a visit to the Misisi slum, in Lusaka, Zambia. Although written several years ago, the suffering of people who live “across the railway line” is no different today…
You step across the railway line to get into the Misisi slum. And, when you cross the line, you enter a world of squalor and suffering. Children with nowhere to go and nobody to care for them sit silently along the edges of the streets. Unloved and forgotten, there are no smiles to be seen on their lips, no hope to be found in their eyes. Mothers, seeking to provide for their children, are often forced into selling themselves for a pittance before they can purchase scraps of food. Young men, with no opportunities, no prospects, and no chance, get stoned on the local brew, get into fights, and fall headlong into a life of crime. The streets of Misisi are oppressive; a place where fear and the threat of violence are constant, unwelcome, companions.
There is no sewage system in Misisi. The stench lingers wherever you go and worsens as the temperatures soar. It is the rainy season now, flooding the streets and ramshackle, makeshift houses with water and human waste. This is a place where the rats thrive. Big, savage rats. They are everywhere. Waves of disease sweep mercilessly through the camp at times like this. There is no escape from it. Malaria, cholera, AIDS all take turns to strike down their victims. Yet death is an everyday event in Misisi. And, for many, when it comes it is almost welcomed – a relief from the agonizing, daily struggle just to exist.
I can leave. And I do. I step back across the railway line, leave Misisi and return to a better, safer, world. For its inhabitants that is just a distant dream. Tomorrow will be the same on the other side of the line. Segregation. Deprivation. Starvation. And the desperate need for salvation.