Things they don’t tell you about Dadaab, Kenya – Part 2

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.

Dadaab Update – Part 1

Your roving reporter is now back in 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. Only about 100 kms from the border of Somalia, Dadaab has been home to many refugees since it opened 20 years ago. As the conflict and the drought continue, vibrant lives go on as people are born, die and get married in the camps.

Things they don’t tell you about working in Dadaab:

• Even though the whole place is full of thick red sand, there is grass, shrubs, trees with a rich and vibrant bird life. I haven’t seen as many of the colourful birds as I do in Nairobi but the birdsong keeps me company as I work and live here.
• How beautifully stretchy mosquito nets are which makes it easier to expand the holes.
• That if you need to eliminate potential mosquito highways in your net, the best thing to do is to twist the netting really really thin then make a knot.
• That mosquito nets come with frills on the top – so cute! Maybe one day someone will market a full range of coloured nets to match your bedroom décor.
• Sometimes the black houseflies are more annoying than the mosquitos. They’re real “people flies”, wanting to get close to you ALL the time. Reminds me of being in the Australian outback.
• How for some reason, the sheets are always sandy – which is especially great after you’ve moisturized and gives another meaning to exfoliation.
• The most amazing looking critters still get into the room even though you have plugged up every hole.

Coming to you from Dadaab, Kenya
November 2011