First impressions of Dadaab

(This post is late in coming so it’s a collection of some notes over the course of the past two weeks)

It rained today. The sand is stained red and tiny droplets inch off the leaves. I woke this morning to hear it, only to think my mind was fooling me. It was the wind in the trees or my neighbors shower. I should have known it was rain, there had been more flies in the canteen than usual. A sure sign, our project manager told me, that it was going to rain.

But in other news, this is Day 5 in Dadaab. Day 1 and 2 were a flurry of visits to our educational centers in each camp, barring Ifo 2, where the program manager frequently ‘gets a bad feeling’ and thus doesn’t go to. 

Security: It’s different than Kabul and I need to adjust my concerns. Instead of worrying about an attack on our compound (which is possible but unlikely), I worry about kidnapping. It’s a worry I’ve met before but in Kabul I was awarded some small privileges as a sort-of-Afghan-looking person, which decreased the worry, perhaps unrealistically. IED’s are not unknown here, nor are makeshift landmines, though they have fallen out of favor in the past months. There are no guarantees in this work, and it’s important I remember that. 

Politics: The recent attacks in Kenya signify that people are upset, not just the attackers but those who now feel unsafe. With what end, I’ve yet to discover. At least one of the attacks the government came out and said it was not al-Shabaab, though I have my doubts, as does the article linked above. I’ve asked my colleagues and it seems that there are old hatreds between tribes, or communities. Where one has been privileged over another. Or more to the point, the two in power (which also corresponds with political parties in some way) have been privileged over everyone else. Not knowing anyone’s tribal background, nor all that interested in asking, I am left wondering why do these hatreds continue? After a brief chat off the dance floor on Friday night with a UNHCR protections officer and former secondary school teacher I learned that there is no civics or government class taught in high school here. Could it be that simple? Since that conversation, I’ve seen the government textbooks for high school, so I know there are courses taught, but perhaps it’s more to do with tribe and identity than I can understand without staying here longer.

I did get to go dancing with friends the first Friday night I was here. While I’m trying hard not to compare Uganda and Kenya, the music was the same (with some new songs) and the dancing, mostly, was too. I’m happy to be back to this corner of the world. It smells good, burning trash, diesel and red dirt. I can’t explain how good that smells. Homesickness for another place.

I live in Geneva, aka Dadaab headquarters. It’s pretty, green, with sand everywhere. There’s a warm breeze making it feel almost like somewhere close by is an ocean. It is close by. Relatively. “The field” for those who work here, are the camps, many Kenyan national staff live and work right next to the 5 camps that sprawl around this tiny Dadaab town. A middle of nowhere bump in the road that by happenstance became this, the largest refugee settlement in the world. Pictures of the camps to come, though honestly, they look the same as all these pictures here.

I’ve been delayed on posting anything resembling a blog post (this is a bit stream of consciousness, there should be a blogging word for that) because for the past 7 days, I’ve been involved in filming a Teacher Training, both for my research and hopefully of entertainment and interest to the learners and trainers. 



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