i'm writing this on the back of a job description i've printed this morning as i sit on an uncomfortable bench at the unhcr offices of nairobi. i'm in the waiting area, trying to make myself comfortable while simultaneously exercising patience, along with about 100 people waiting to be interviewed to determine their refugee status. i cannot recall a time where i've felt this much hope in one place. people from all over east africa are dressed in their best clothes, anxiously awaiting information that will undoubtedly dictate their future. adults sit quietly and still as children play in the concrete compound, unaware of why they've come here or the importance of the meetings their parents are about to have. men wash themselves in preparation for prayers while women from 15 to 65 chatter in languages i cannot identify let alone understand.
i find myself wondering about each person's story, where they've come from, why they are claiming refugee status, and mostly, where they will end up. i often say that nairobi is a transient city, with people from all over the world constantly entering and exiting this expat community that is host to un and ngo employees, business people, and tourists. but nairobi is also home to another transient community that is often forgotten or ignored, those seeking refuge.
they've come here today believing that the un can help them, they've brought their documents in closely guarded envelopes and folders. they want to talk to me thinking i might be able to influence the decisions about to be made. because i am white. because i have official identification hanging around my neck. and maybe because it is worth a shot if you're future is what is at stake.
i am struck by the sense of family here. fathers (or perhaps grandfathers, age is so difficult to determine among people of other ethnicities) of young girls in matching dresses purchase plates of food for them to share, possibly foregoing his own lunch so children don't go hungry. girls, who under other circumstances would be in their school uniforms, tucked away in their desks in classrooms, are entertaining themselves by playing a game of cat and mouse with discarded plastic bags. brothers try to teach their infant siblings to walk, pacing up and down the concrete slabs, careful to avoid the large cracks and steps and family units, however broken or reconstructed, stick together, waiting for their number to be called. i suppose if you are to be resettled in another country, your family is the foundation upon which you will begin your new life.
one interview, two interviews, three interviews later, people are still here. and this afternoon that is punctuated by the smell of roasted goat meat and the flickering of al jazeera on a muted television will change the course of so many lives. and the the lives of generations yet to come. and this is only one afternoon.