Below is a dispatch from Nairobi, Kenya by M.A. Global Policy candidate, Muna Abdullahi ’13, who will intern this summer at the Dadaab Refugee Camps. Muna’s reflections were initially posted at SPIA Abroad, a group internship blog.
Dadaab Refugee Camps Internship
By Muna Abdullahi
I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself prior to my departure to Kenya, but my name is Muna Abdullahi and I am a 2nd year SPIA student (totally excited). My internship is based in Kenya. I am currently in Nairobi and have been here for the last few days. Presently, I am residing in a town called Eastleigh (pronounced by many Somalis as Islee). A town predominately consisting of Somalis I believe about 80-95% of the population are ethnic Somalis. Driving to the town was a very unique experience. I am reminded of a comment Jim once made in class about how the drivers in Naples, Italy are by far the worst but the cab ride I experienced was extremely frightful. There are no street signs, or traffic lights. The drivers are left to their own discretion and guidance. I almost got into 3 accidents and hit close to 6 people on the drive to the hotel. When I asked the cab driver to slow down he simply turned around and laughed at me, and this almost led to another accident. A result being, complete silence until I arrived at my destination.
The town is extremely impoverished, over-crowded, infested, and beleaguered by a horrible odor. The streets are narrow and very muddy. It rains very heavily here and the pot holes are over-filled with water and because there is a lack of waste management system streams of water floods the streets with human stool. I tried to remain cautious as I walked through the streets, maintaining my eyes solely on the ground. However, my poor attempt to watch out for countless feces and other waste material almost led to getting robbed by a 13 year boy who tried to steal my purse and the camera in my hand. I soon learned to keep my eyes and head up regardless of the material on the ground I am stepping on. I know this sounds pretty gross but my life is too important.
All the women here have their faces covered. I didn’t find this unusual but I think it’s important to note because sexual based violence and the night raids are common. I believe that is too hot to have my face covered here. Although I would argue that it provides great protection against the heinous stench plaguing the air. It is very overwhelming being here because people are constantly walking towards me with their hands out, begging for money. I hope I don’t become poor soon. Men are working in very dangerous conditions with very little supervision or guidance. There are currently two large construction projects taking place in the town and I’ve been watching the men as they work with very little material (very unsafe conditions). The streets are filled with women just lying in the mud because they have nowhere else to go. For about five minutes yesterday I watched a man dig into the trash. I was very determined to learn what he was looking for then my cab arrived and I had to leave. When I returned about 50 minutes later I saw the same man eating pasta that he had clearly taken out of the trash. I am deepened with grief because these are truly the forgotten people. The government has abandoned them and they continue to struggle each and every day to live a little above the subsistence level. Unfortunately, some continue to remain trapped and will possibility never see the light at the end of the tunnel. But on the positive note, the town somewhat reminds me of China town except for being 10x dirtier but people here are all about the hustle, making money then going home. There are no and, ifs or buts. It’s either you do it or you starve kind of mentality. The part that mainly reminds me of China town is the long streets of vendors and the aggressive selling of products. I’m not sure if the mentality is the same. People are also very humble which is very refreshing and uplifting. It’s nice to know that their situation does not define who they are. It’s nice to not hear about first world problems for a change.
I also ended up meeting a ton of family members that reside in this town. I was a bit distraught by this fact at first but I am quickly coming to terms with it. My grandmother whose front yard is a waste field is a very humble, generous and sweet old woman. I spent hours discussing my research with her and she even made several arrangements for me while in the camps.
Tomorrow I make a very long journey about 10 hours to the camps to start my research. I am extremely excited and a bit nervous. I feel more comfortable now than I did back in the states because I’ve been hour’s mentality preparing and talking to family members.
Also, I forgot to mention this but I lived in this town as a little girl before coming to the U.S. I tried to attach a video and some pictures but the signal is too weak. I’ll try again soon but its 1am here so I’m head of to bed for the night.
I hope everyone is well and happy,