Your roving reporter has just returned from Dadaab, in northeast Kenya, the site of the largest refugee camp in the world with close to half a million people plotted into five camps. With two security incidents on Saturday (one IED in a Dadaab camp and 2 grenades thrown in a church 2 hours away killing and injuring 7 people), security problems have more or less stopped all humanitarian activities in the Dadaab Refugee Complex except for the livesaving activities of food, water and some health care.
My list continues of the things they don’t tell you about Dadaab.
• A shower feels like a wonderful luxury after the heat and humidity of the day. Our version translates to putting your head under a stream of water pouring from a pipe high in the wall. And the marvelous thing about it is you never have to adjust the water temperature because the one faucet always provides the right amount of water heated during the day in the large water tanks on the property.
• Falling asleep to the sounds of one of my IOM drivers and all round handyman practicing his tenor saxophone on the stoop of our compound to a jazz tune flowing out the windows and the door.
• Tusker beer, the African brew, is actually quite good. Especially in 37 degree heat, sitting under a tree by my favourite water tower at the outdoor restaurant.
• The electricity goes out in Nairobi at least a zillion times more often than it does in Dadaab, a town about the size of gnat compared to the capital of Kenya at 12 million and growing.
• Internet connectivity is just as bad in Dadaab as it is in Nairobi but the IOM tech guy in Dadaab is a genius and has fixes for everything. With my history of technology bumbles, he is my hero and is #1 on my speed dial! (Case in point, I broke my phone at 10:45 pm the night before heading to Dadaab. While there my laptop, my wireless mouse, my internet and my flash drive all developed non-working “issues.” Thanks to the genius IT guy, I was still able to work).
• Even though life is difficult here for humanitarian workers, especially if you’ve been here day in and day out for two months straight working 6 or 7 days a week, you make the best of it, enjoy the bits you can, laugh through everything else and always keep in mind that beyond the fence, the fully armed guards, the barbed wire and the broken shards of glass there are people who are living their lives in tents, with meagre food rations, just adequate water and a whole lot of uncertainty hoping that one day the drought and the insecurity will end and they will be able to return to their homes and their extended families in Somalia.