I have been 3 days in Kakuma 4. The newest part of Kakuma refugee camp in Northern Kenya. And after that I took one day to reflect and write down the interviews from the recordings. It’s the evening, I have been working on 5 individual interviews and one focus group interview with 8 people and when I was walking to the other end of compound to get my food, I felt that I need one more day. I need time. I can not go back and listen next 25 people. Not tomorrow.
So, where should I start?
Yes, people live in „real houses“ here. Each family is given bricks and roof material and wood. To put up the standard mud-hut. When walking through the camp, here and there one can see roof or bricks. Or people digging the soil for walls.
Yes, the camp is next to the town and at the same time in middle of desert. From the town centre you take tarmac road, cross the bridge, turn right and soon you’re in the beginning of a road which seems endless. There are no security guard and no gates. However, from 6PM to 6AM, the refugees are supposed to stay in camp and others to leave. And police is tough. At 6.10 PM they are on the roads and stopping the motorbike taxies which are late on their way either to leave or to return the camp. And the rule is being followed. The main highway to Kakuma 2,3 and 4 was totally empty of people and motorbikes at 6.30 PM. Don’t ask me why I know it J While Kakuma 1 is almost next to the town, then Kakuma 4 is surrounded by desert views. One can spend 15 minutes on motorbike just to get from Kakuma 1 to Kakuma 4. If the guy is fast. 185 000 people. New arrivals every day. Hundreds, thousands of people waiting at the reception centre to be given the plot and building materials.
I stay at one of the compounds for the NGO workers. People have simple rooms, bed, net, table, chair, shower, sink, toilet. Fan. To circulate the air of 39 degrees. In the mess we have cosy sitting places, TV, tables and empty pool. Cause after it was built and also used by the staff, it was forbidden, as there is scarcity of water in the refugee camps and it would not be nice to swim around at the same time 500 metres away from the refugee homes. Yeah, camp is basically behind our compound. So I take motorbike taxi to get to any place in the camp. Although I arrived to the compound duing the 4 days holiday, I saw many people working through their holidays. Workers are professional and show concern for the situation. If there are too many new arrivals who need some shade, the employees go and build it when needed, even during the free day.
The employees are calm, helpful and happy. Compound is safe and sometimes even too safe (try to get in without your visitor card…). Gates with security guards.
Anyway. On the fist day I had no idea how should I start my research. I mean. How to „approach“ the people. Then. I used the previous experience. Which means that I took motorbike, asked him to go to Kakuma 4, then to find a block leader (each part of camp has few zones and under the zones little bit more blocks, that all have their leaders, one leader and one chairlady). So, we stopped the motorbike and asked from the first random guy for the block leader. He showed us the direction of house. Few more times asking and we were at the right place. The block leader was relaxing at home. When he saw me, he was very helpful and offered me any possible help. So next 3 days I walked around with him, interviewing more than 20 women. He translated my English into Nuer and Arabic language and helped with other interpreters. Everybody knew him, so I was welcome everywhere, could ask any question and and could take any photo I wanted.
The life that refugees live in the camps can be very different. Kakuma 1 was built in 1991 and the first arrivals live in the part that is called Kakuma 1. As they have lived there for years, it has turned into a lively town with different town parts such as Ethiopian and Somali. When I asked my Somali taxi driver to find change for my 1000 KES (9 EUR), he just stopped and aksed the first guy who took out quite a lot of money from his pocket and gave us the change. So. Yes. There are people who have lived in the camp for more than 20 years and some have very comfortable life with their different businesses inside the camp. Each block has its water point and each part of Kakuma has its own free hospital, primary schools and at least one secondary school. People are the most thankful for the education, water and security. Which leads to the problematic question…of…food.
Whatever I ask the refugees about, the discussion usually ends up talking about food. The rations have been given out once a month. In the beginning. For each family according to the number of people. People say that the rations last for about 15 days. Ater this. They ask neighbours or borrow. And give back when they get new rations. That goes for the people who have no business to support themselves. Seems that however small additional business people have, it is a huga advatange. It is forbidden to get firewood from around the camp and the hosting community, the Turkana people, are serious about this question. „When they find you taking down a tree, they can kill you or rape you“. There is an agency that gives people firewood after every 3 months. Which is too less. They have nothing to cook with. And they sell their food rations to cook. Moreover, because they have been given maize, they need to grind it into flour. This also costs. They need to sell the rations. To buy shoes. Sell the rations. Sanitary needs. Sell the rations. Books, pens for children. Sell the rations.
Those who have opened their small caffee, shop or have small plot with vegetables are very thankful and positive, as they are doing well compared to so many.
So, tomorrow. I go to the reception centre to see how the new arrivals are transported to their new homes.
I have very contradictory feelings. In one hand, I would like to tell the refugees that look at all these things that have been given to you and be thankful. But when I was about to make that statement, I was invited for lunch. I shared the daily refugee food with the block leader Thomas and I could not eat more than few spoonfuls. He ate all. Cause that was it for today. The food didn’t have much taste, leave alone nutritians.
I wonder if the people who live off from food rations ever eat vegetables. Then I felt like taking this food to the fancy Nairobi office and ask the people who make decisions to eat that for a week. Cause I even could not for one meal. However, as I said, the people working here are very hardworking and concerned. I hope they have got enough appreciation.