Donna Canali spent three months working as a field coordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Dagahaley camp near Dadaab, northern Kenya. More than 270,000 refugees who have fled war in Somalia live here, but they face such alarming shortages of food, water and adequate shelter that many are considering returning home to the Somali war zone. In this second of three extracts from her diary, Canali describes life as an aid worker in Dadaab. April 1 Roadblocks, stonings and a dead chicken Our cars were blocked on the road and stoned three times this week. The first incident was a direct attack on MSF – one of our cars was accused of running over a chicken! The situation was diffused when Abu, my liaison officer, with his gentle soft-spoken manner soon had people clearing the road of the thorny branches which intimidate even land cruisers. Fortunately, although those involved were shaken up, no one was hurt. (Well, I did get a thorn in my finger and it hurt like hell). The instigators of the stoning were apparently a couple of young men who applied for jobs with MSF but weren’t hired.   The second roadblock was targeting the humanitarian agency responsible for provision of water in the camp. Since we use the same road we got caught up in it. And the third incident ended up being a bunch of young kids, on school holidays with nothing to do, just looking to repeat the excitement of the previous encounters.    And the chicken? Although our driver denied running it over, someone sure did and, being humanitarians, we offered to pay for it. After first asking an outrageous price, ultimately the family said they did not want MSF to pay. Instead I promised to pass on the message to other nongovernmental organizations to slow down, especially near the schools. The refugees declared their respect and gratitude for MSF and promised they would never interfere with our work again. And I’m sure they meant it because they said the same thing after each stoning.   April 9 Warlords and extortion   There is a refugee woman who built a small stand across from our clinic to take advantage of the pedestrian traffic coming to and fro. She sells a few items, including mira ( otherwise known as qat – green leaves that are chewed or brewed in tea as a stimulant) and uses the proceeds to help support the orphans she cares for. She was shaken down today by a man, rumoured to be an ex-warlord from Somalia. He approached her and told her she had no right to build a stand there. Then he and his young thugs started tearing down the simple structure. When she pleaded with him, he said she would have to pay if she wanted to keep her business. She gave him all the money she had, 500 shillings (about $7) and a kilo of mira and he went away. At least for the time being. But this is not an isolated incident. Stories of corruption are rampant. As if the refugees don’t already have it bad enough.    April 10 The heavens open It finally rained – twice in the last week – and today we are having intermittent sun showers. The first downpour was preceded by major winds whipping the sand into a fury, and filling the atmosphere with a gritty brown curtain that brought visibility to almost zero, totally blocking out even the glare of the security lights. The thunder was rolling and as the sand settled a bit the electrical light show in the sky created a dramatic backdrop to the children scurrying over the desert sands carrying jerry cans (water containers) across the darkened landscape to try and get water from the nearby village. Then the deluge started. Whipping the plastic sheeting off some of our tents, overturning chairs and plastic tables and turning the compound into one big mud puddle. We gleefully welcomed the sting of raindrops on our skin and cautiously stepped through puddles, wary of snakes.    In the camp the less stable huts collapsed or developed major leaks that turned the dirt floors to mud, leaving many to huddle together on floor mats trying to protect themselves from the driving wind and rain. ‘Flood areas’ in the camp that weren’t meant to hold huts were, not surprisingly, flooded. But of course these ‘green areas’ do house families because there isn’t room for them elsewhere.   Three days ago the second rain occurred. On my way back from a security meeting in Dadaab, 30 minutes from Dagahaley, gleeful children were frolicking in the river that replaced what we had euphemistically referred to as a road. They flagged me down to take their picture.   The rain is creating many watering holes for the animals. This should temporarily ease the water problem a little since there will be less motivation to break pipes to create areas for animals to drink. But it does nothing to address the underlying water shortage in the camp. More boreholes are needed to pump up adequate water supplies. The decaying infrastructure, full of leaks and breaks, has to be replaced. If there was enough water for everyone the petty corruption at the water taps might cease to be a problem.   I named the bat that hangs out over the sink I use. Her name is Stella. She wiggles her paper-thin ears when I talk to her. Bat poop smells just like mouse poop.   And speaking of wild animals, in the last week I saw a fox and a pair of ostriches. I chased a poisonous camel spider out of my tent and two people in the compound got scorpion bites. A hedgehog found its way into our office and large families of mongoose (or is it mongeese?) roam around our tents. No lions yet but I am forever hopeful. April 15 Pirates, food shortages and a return to bullets in Somalia    Today the refugees were on strike and refused to go for their food rations. The rations were cut back 30 per cent or more. In part this was due to the hijacking of the ship carrying food for Dadaab by Somali pirates and in part by bad road conditions. I talked to dozens of people today who told us that they and many others were looking for a way to return to Somalia. They said it was better to face the bullets there than life here in Dadaab. The lack of water, shelter, sanitation, and now the cutback on already insufficient and inappropriate food rations was more than they could take. They were angry and desperate. No doubt about it, the Somalis here do not support the Somali pirates.     We announced to our community health workers this morning our intent to step up our advocacy work, including bringing in people to record stories to help put a human face on the people here. This group, who usually sit quietly reporting on their activities in the camp, became very energized, talkative and fully engaged. They said that no one in Dadaab ever advocates on their behalf and we will have many people wanting to tell us their stories.   It seemed that before we were even five minutes from the health post people were already coming up to us to tell us their story. The first man said he fled the violence in Mogadishu six months ago after the big slaughter in the meat market by Ethiopian soldiers. His wife was raped. They had no money but fled with their children and managed to get a ride on a truck to a town along the way to the border. The community there raised money to give the family transport to Dadaab. “But it is awful here,” the man explained. He and his family did not get a plot of land or even plastic sheeting, their shelter is totally inadequate and they don’t have enough water. “Now they are taking away our food. I am going to find a way back to Somalia, almost everyone on our block is looking for a way back to Somalia.”    As we continued our walk a woman led us to her household and showed us their cold, unused cooking area. She said they had been out of food for four days. Their food ration lasts only 10 days instead of 14 because they have to sell some of it to buy items such as sugar to make the food more palatable. Two of the children under three looked weak and too thin. When I checked their MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference) it showed they were malnourished. We took them back to the health post and discovered they had recently been discharged from our therapeutic feeding program (for severely malnourished children) and enrolled in our supplementary feeding program (for moderately malnourished children). But after a few days without food it was clear they needed to be reassessed. The mother said she wanted to go back to Somalia.   On our way back to the health post a packed matatu (minibus) pulled up alongside of me and a woman motioned me over. She showed us a piece of paper and explained that she was on her way to the UN to report the rape of a girl during the night. I looked into the stunned eyes of the young victim squeezed into the packed bus and urged the adult to bring her back to our health post for follow-up.    Today a psychiatric patient who was tied to a tree at one of the huts we visited escaped. The family heard he went to the market. An hour later as we were approaching our office, hundreds of people were filing out of the entrance to the hospital next to the market. We heard that a psychiatric patient had just killed a man. The dead man was to leave that day to be resettled in the U.S.    Today was one of the days that I felt my chest ache as tears welled up and I squeezed my eyes shut to keep them from falling. Then I smiled and shook the hands of the young curious children who were asking, over and over again “How are you? What’s your name? How old are you?”   No land, no water, no food, no shelter but you know that you are in the 21 st century because almost everyone has either a cell phone or someone in their family does. And, there is good coverage. Ah, the little ironies of life.   Wishing for peace in Somalia and hope in Dadaab, Donna in Dagahaley

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