Dear Diary- Kakuma Refugee Camp

It’s 1am and I’m sitting here in a lovely double bed in the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services) house in compound 1 of Kakuma Refugee Camp. It’s hard to believe that I am really here. We got the bus from Lodwar at 8am this morning and what a journey it was- anyone that’s been to Africa will know that no bus journey will ever be uneventful but this trip really took the biscuit!

After waiting an hour, until every last seat was filled, we set off North…only to stop minutes later to pick up more and more passengers, who were crammed in and placed sitting on upside down beer crates, head rests from the bus seats or unstable buckets! As I watched in awe the woman beside me began to brest feed her little new born baby, until we heard a commotion outside. Two Turkana men were attempting to lock their herd of goats in the luggage compartment under the bus! Can you imagine that happening in Ireland?! Hilarious!

As we sat there exasperated by the bumpy journey, hot and sweaty from the unrelenting heat and hungry (as always!), we noticed a cattle lorry drive by crammed full of school kids, to say they were like sardines in a tin would not do this image justice…it was unreal. How they didn’t all crush each other or suffocate was an absolute miracle…it’s quite unbelievable what ‘safety’ standards are here in Africa…if they exist at all! Although the site was pretty horrendous, we then began to hear noises coming from the truck, sounds of joyous singing and laughter! It seems even travelling in a cattle lorry won’t put a damper on the African spirit!

Eventually after filling up the bus with what looked like vegetable oil, a hectic last-minute push of extra women onto the already crowded bus and a few screeches from the poor goats in the luggage compartment..and we were on out way! But alas…nor for long as we broke down halfway to Kakuma! The engine over heated and there was billows of smoke everywhere. We all got told to evacuate the bus in the middle of nowhere while the driver threw some bottled water over the engine to cool it down, and we were on our way again!

Kakuma itself is a dirty little town. The feel, the atmosphere and the smell was pretty awful and sort of gave us the chills. We really didn’t feel comfortable or safe there. There is such a melange of ethnic backgrounds, cultures and nationalities wandering around- Somalis, Sudanese, Ethiopian and Rwandan refugees.

We found Sister Stellas house after about 20 minutes only to discover the sisters had just been robbed and held at gunpoint last night… for the 4th time this month! They were all very shaken and were giving police reports when we arrived. This is the point when we met a guy from Kiladare who offered to look after us and show us the refugee camp. Strictly speaking we were not allowed in without work permits issued from Nairobi, but with him and keeping a low profile it should be fine!!

It was fascinating to see the inside of a Refugee camp, home to over 80,000 refugees. To see the World Food Programme tents, the UN jeeps everywhere and representatives form so many charities or NGOs that I have only previously read about in the News. The camp has been there over 15 years, so many people have been born here and lived in the camp all their lives. It is all the know.

We met some young Kenyan girls at the HomeCraft centre and had a very engaging conversation about love and about life, about customs and traditions. They could not believe I was NOT married. I could not believe, at 16-17, that they all had children!! Many of them told us that they had children just to prove that they could, as many of the men would not marry them unless they could bear many children!  The idea od getting a job and going to college (as I was doing) instead of getting married seemed absurd to them! We got invited to a party to say farewell to the current UN chief in the camp which was a whole other kettle of fish compared to anything we have so far experienced in Africa.In fact, it was almost like not being in Africa, just for the night.

 

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8 thoughts on “Dear Diary- Kakuma Refugee Camp

  1. Hi Janet,
    I just loved reading this post. It came across like a portion from a novel. However I must commend your efforts at going through such risks to visit some parts of Africa that Africans would be scared to visit. What I would be interested to read also are some of the fascinating things that exist in these areas that are not as daunting as bumpy bus rides, robbery, terrible refugee camp conditions etc. You know you could spice the report by also highlighting some of the rich heritage of the people… that is if they have any!
    Good luck with your adventures!

    1. Hi Kingsley. Thanks for your informative comment. These blog posts (any starting in ‘Dear Diary’ are a series that I am rewriting word for word from an old Diary I kept in Kenya when I was 19, which is probably why I only wrote about the dangerous or exciting events!! If I were ever to write a novel, or put all my adventures into a book, I would be sure to include more context; religion, politics, history and of course local cultures and traditions- as every African community, region and country is so rich in these things. Janet

  2. I love these diary entries. You know, I almost tried to become a Jesuit Volunteer, but I was afraid they would reject me. I went to a Jesuit College, and although my grades were fine, my behavior was very un-spiritual, if you know what I mean. I am convinced that at least half of all Jesuits are atheists. They say that the more educated you are, the less likely it is you will believe in God. Well, these guys have degrees coming out the ying-yang. Anyway, I totally admire the Jesuit order. They are super intelligent and caring people, the Sisters of the Jesuits too. It’s just that pesky Catholic dogma, so anti-feminist in every way. Oh well, what can you do? It seems YOU’VE done a lot! I so admire you.

    1. Haha you totally should have gone for it! I volunteered with catholic missionaries in a catholic run school even though I’m not even Catholic…but shhhhh! 😉

  3. Wow. It is hard for me to exactly imagine what must be running through your mind when you are in such a place. We all have heard about these refugee camps but to stand in the same ground and sense the life on ground must be a feeling altogether different. If I were there I would constantly feel bad for so many but I know they are not looking for anyone’s pity, they are just trying to get along with their lives.

    1. Yea many people were born there or had lived there all their lives. There are schools, markets, health centres everything in there…it was really quite a shock!

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