Friday, February 29, 2008

life in the camps

(february 28, 2008)

i visited a number of idp sites today, i say sites because the idp camps in kenya are not as you would typically imagine. they are in police stations, churches, fields, showgrounds, and various other types of compounds. one of the best parts of the day was driving around the rural areas surrounding nairobi and watching african life go by. the woman carrying huge loads on their heads, the matatu repair shops, the markets, the dusty towns, the children in their school uniforms walking in lines along the road, the shops called People’s Choice Shop or Miracles General Store or Here It Is Pub, the countless roadside signs for churches and christian groups, the never-ending fields of tea (which is perhaps the most vibrant colour of green), the lorries trudging along (often chock full of people or agricultural products), the ever-present advertisements for milk or phone credit, the barclays atms at the most arbitrary locations, the villages with names like Banana Hill...

in the camps, the first thing that struck me was just the amount of people living in one area and how much they resembled recreational campsites. as usual, the kids stared at me until i waved and then they smiled and probably continued to wonder what the hell has been going on since early 2008. one of them told me (in swahili so i needed a translation from my colleague who was laughing while she explained) that i was the smallest white person they had ever seen. and somehow this gave them license to crawl all over me, twisting my arm behind my back, and covering me in the red dirt that they were covered in. once we established that i was not a toy, we all got along fine and wandered around the camp hand-in-hand. i often wonder if they just want to see if i feel the same way as they do because i remember thinking that same thought when i was young about black people.

of the places i visited today, i was impressed with the camp managers’ organisation, the considerations made for those considered most vulnerable (pregnant and lactating women, orphaned children, and HIV+ people who need to access clinics to receive their ARVs) and the ways in which the communities worked together to make the camps as liveable as possible.
it also made me smile to see that many of the idps were dressed in their best clothes. men walk around in suits and women wear heeled shoes, which is impressive to a heel-hater such as myself. it is admirable how life continues for the displaced people: women cook and wash, laundry hangs, children attend classes, parents discipline their kids, teenagers flirt, women sit around braiding each others’ hair, children play and tease each other, and men sit around and visit.

visiting the camps made the situation kenya is facing more real for me, as i can easily just live in my suburb and go to work and talk about the crisis and then come back home and have no worries about what i will eat, where i will sleep, how safe i am, or what my future holds. it was also nice to be warmly welcomed and to see people acting rather than listen to what needs to be done and where the gaps are, which happens in my days. granted, the locations i was at today are small and manageable and a distance from where the worst violence occurred. surprisingly, visiting the idp camps was an uplifting and motivating experience for me.

on days like this, i love my job and appreciate my life.


La Cabeza Grande said...

I just love your first-person, expressive writing. You've given me a front row seat to places I will never see.

Sandra said...

So, this is a little weird but, I've been reading your blog for a while after Kristen T (formerly M) linked to it one day. I am totally fascinated by everything you are doing, where you live, etc. I am in the process of applying, or trying to decide if I should apply, for a year long job in rural Ghana and am finding myself undecided and without a good perspective on what it would be like. If you had the time (and aren't too weirded out) I'd love to hear about the pros/cons of your experience. My email is Thanks!

lu said...

not weird at all, feel welcome.

and you are in luck, i spent time in rural ghana a number of years ago and am always willing to talk about it!

i will give you a shout at your email address as soon as i have a few free minutes.