Kakuma and Nairobi
Saturday morning was hectic. The transport truck to carry our 1600 kg of equipment to Nairobi showed up early. It was fortunate though, as Josie and Paul, even with the students, would have been challenged to complete the final packing and loading. Doug, Landon, and Colin, who were already experts on packing and repacking the gear from their December program in central Turkana took command, and we had the truck on its way for the two day drive to Nairobi. Erin, Franklin, and Randy took the morning to search for wrist knives and other Turkana “accessories” in the Turkana market, but the market is usually not busy until the afternoon, as the Turkana walk from great distances to get into town. By 11 AM, everyone but Josie and Paul were on the road south to Lodwar and then Nairobi. Personally, I would trade three more days in Kakuma and a direct flight out of Kakuma on UNHAS – UN Humanitarian Air Service – any day over a repeat of the Lodwar/Kakuma drive.
In any event, a weekend in Kakuma is not to be missed! Following my last lunch together with the IsraAID refugee and Turkana students, and lots of good byes, Josie and I started walking on one of the main “roads” into Kakuma 1, heading toward Franco’s for a hot coffee, though Josie could not quite get it why anyone would opt to take a stroll on one of the dustiest roads, in one of the hottest places in Africa, to drink hot coffee of dubious provenance under a baking hot zinc plated roof. And the roads are very dusty.
After walking through the mud brick housing and thorn fenced compounds of the Lost Boys from Sudan, one takes a sharp left through the massive corrugated tin gates that close at 5:30 PM, and open again at 6 AM, and one enters the Ethiopian Market area. Past a large public sign board with crowds looking at the latest course offerings or UNHCR emigration interview schedules, another sharp left, step into a dark room and onto a polished mud plastered floor, and one has arrived. As the enjera and other food finished long before, Franco’s is nearly empty of customers, and service is quick. Of course Franco’s is empty of Franco as well, as the story is he opened a restaurant in New York City years ago. And even the Ethiopian refugee artist who did the interior design ran off years ago caught up in a scandalous relationship with a Ugandan refugee.
Customers do come in and out for tea or coffee, and over a half hour one can hear spoken, without leaving one’s seat, Swahili, Arabic, Amharic, French, Turkana, and a buffet of tribal languages that do not register for me at all. But eventually it is time to move on, and do what one does in a market in a refugee camp, go shopping! First it is to the Congolese shops, a mini-market area within the Ethiopian Market, where they carry the craziest batiked fabrics. And then, a bit of food shopping. We are invited to a refugee’s home on Sunday for a farewell lunch as this Sudanese refugee is giving up on Kakuma, and will try his luck on getting home. Few refugees eat lunch, and no refugee has food to spare or for entertaining, so this is something special. What do you bring to such an event? A bottle of wine? Chocolate? Try a kilo of rice, a half kilo of sugar, and 2 liters of cooking oil.
We then pick up a few mangoes for personal consumption, wind our way over to the Somali Market, and head home. Though it is the dry season, and the streets are dry, there are many puddles on the sides of the packed dirt roads, probably about 650 of them, because that is how many water tap stands there are in the Camp. We run into an NGO worker driving through the Somali Market distributing antibiotics to combat trachoma, an easily preventable disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. All you need to do is wash your face! Left untreated, it causes blindness. In the Camp the percentage of people with trachoma is 44% - yes, that is 44%!
Back to the puddles, I overhear a conversation with the health care worker that the clinics and hospitals are packed….over 7,000 cases of malaria this week….over 6,000 cases last week. I can’t restrain myself and interrupt, as we are standing next to a Camp Green Lake sized puddle. “What about digging a soak pit at each tap stand?” The puddles at the tap stands are mosquito incubators, and the large number of people gathering at the tap stands provides obvious vectors for malaria to jump from person to person. A “soak pit” is simply a small bucket sized hole in the ground with rocks or gravel. The response to my suggestion is that digging 650 pits is an incomprehensible expense. Who will dig? Who will pay? The problem with a day off in Kakuma is that one has time to look up from whatever is keeping you busy during the week, and think about all the craziness that surrounds you. We have challenges here that even Stanley Yelnats did not face.