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.

Nairobi exotic Nairobi

It’s pretty amazing to think I’ve been in Nairobi, Kenya for almost a month now.  Just yesterday, as I was eating at the Carnivore Restaurant, I couldn’t believe that the exotic jungle atmosphere was really Kenya and not/not Disneyland.  After all my experiences in Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, I never thought I would have ended up in Africa.  But what a surprise and wonderful gift.

Nairobi is an amazing city – at least the small part I have seen – which to be fair – is one of the ritziest areas of this sprawling city of 3 million.  What an amazing place. The whole area is hilly and windy with huge trees dripping with gorgeous flowers:  the jacaranda tree has beeyooteeful purple flowers, then there are the red cactus like flowers that droop downwards.  Birds of paradise and gorgeous hibiscus are planted all over the place.

As we get closer to rainy season, more and more flowers are sprouting and the area is turning into a giant lush conservatory of vibrant colours.  Soon to be a conservatory with very muddy floors because of the small rainy season set to arrive around mid Oct-Nov.

Lots of exciting things have happened since I arrived.  I’ve moved from guest room to guest room – I still haven’t unpacked my suitcase.  I’ve lived on the compound in Dadaab, about 1.5 hours north east of Nairobi by plane and site of the largest refugee camp in the world.  What an exciting time and great exercise as I trudged daily in thick sand to and from the living compound to the eating compound to the working compound and back several times.  Seeing the scorpion was a high point…experiencing Eid again with my Muslim friends in this mostly very Christian country…finding fellow coffee drinking compatriots amongst a majority of tea-drinkers…and naturally, as always, looking for and finding great places to eat, coif and pamper myself.  And just today…I know my female friends would agree…I found the most perfect pair of red shoes completely by accident and on sale!!!!

Work has been great, busy as usual with wonderful people to work with and from whom to learn.  I’m doing regional communications and reporting on the drought situation for Horn of Africa countries from the IOM office in Kenya.  The job is wide-ranging – from getting photographers and producing video documentaries on Dadaab projects; producing with a great team, a series of daily, weekly and monthly situation reports, to writing up talking points and background papers for the big boss in Geneva; and putting the finishing touches on strategy papers to help with funding proposals and writing reports to donors on how IOM is doing fantastic work on the ground.  Which we are: helping refugees/migrants – transporting and relocating them to better camps with more services, doing medical assessments and primary care, plotting, demarcating land and setting up tents, and most importantly, liaising with host communities as sensitivities arise due to the drought and scarce resources.

This week I’ll be moving into my first Nairobi apartment – an amazing puff pastry of perfection apt that is completely new – unlived in by no one except moi.  Do you know they have cute little fridges here that lock?  I also have a great combo washer and dryer in the same appliance.  Can’t wait to try that out.  The European style furniture is exactly the simple clean lines I love.  The apt comes complete with wifi and specialized cable channels so I can get BBC and Al-Jazeira.  I know I shall be very comfortable there in the very few hours I don’t spend at work or travelling!  Pictures to come when I have my house-warming party…I’m already starting to plan!!

Here are a few pics.

JJ rolling around in the sand_Dadaab_Aug2011

These are refugees waiting to move from outside a camp to another one where full services are offered such as water and health

The humanitarian early morn convoy to the camps_Dadaab, Kenya