I have, this week, concluded 50 tons of CAI donor funded food distribution tour at the Somalia – Kenya border region, alhamd’Allah. This project was initiated and executed within 3 weeks after the decision was made to do something, anything, when images of dying and malnutritioned children appeared in the media. It was, for me, unconscionable to simply express pity and remain inactive. All credit for this very successful program goes to Allah (S) for the taufeeq and opportunity to serve at His pleasure, our very generous and ever ready donors and the team put together by Dr. Muhsin Sheriff (Docta) of local Kenya NGO CHEPS for arranging, assessing, planning, travelling, actual distribution and all other incredible, at times seemingly impossible logistics this scale of project demanded; CAI is profoundly indebted to all of these for the incredible opportunity.
The following narrative of the trip is first hand, through my eyes and I take full responsibility for words used in describing events, not very civil for some readers, perhaps. Sometimes, there are no ‘nice’ ways to describe stark realities. Who knows, you may enjoy the chronicle.
Ouch, ouch, ouch!
I find Nairobi quite chilly on arrival morning of Aug 16 and shiver in spite of a warm sweater on me, having flown in from nice sunny and warm Florida; perhaps my tolerance level is low after 27 hours of flying / waiting, lack of sleep? This feeling is more than compensated by warm hospitality at Dr. Muhsin’s home where I rest a bit before we embark on our drive to the border area of Somalia, to Dadab, some 250 miles away. A Toyota 4×4 has been donated for our use by the local MP of area in distress, Sirat Mohammed; joining me are Dr. Muhsin Sheriff of CHEPS, Mohammed Abdi Noor, ex Red Cross Kenya boss who is originally from the area and has very strong connections and 2 armed Kenya Police Force personnel and the driver, off course. Abdi Noor is a volunteer, the rest are curtsey of MP.
It is not long before we leave the relative green of Nairobi and hit a dirt road so bumpy, we seem to resemble yoyo toys let loose with a super hyper child. I see my first animal carcass and want to take photos but Abdi tells me to wait, I will see plenty more ahead. Our Sunni brothers are fasting so we stop by the road at magreeb and feast on dates and water and dry hamburgers. It turns abruptly dark, we wash and I join others in prayers, led by Abdi Noor. Ouch, ouch, ouch! The dirt floor is full of dried thorn balls, I clear a spot with my feet but ouch, there are more thorns when my knees and palms touch dirt and yet again, when my forehead touches soil; hope Allah accepts my prayer, I am more intent on avoiding pain. Abdi Noor completes prayers in record time; feel of pain shared, perhaps?
Seven hours after leaving Nairobi, we drive into Dadab and rest at a surprisingly nice, comfortable hostel with running water, western toilets and a shower. There is some confusion with our food distribution plans next morning. Dadab, you see, is home to 3 ‘official’ refugee camps, each originally meant to accommodate 30,000 people for a total of 90,000; it now has over 480,000, with 2,000 new arrival every day. UN agencies provide food rations to registered refugees only, but give (some) water to all. Our aim is to target the non-registered indigents for relief. Our local contact is Sheikh Mohammed Al Farha, a jovial man, always smiling and talkative. Al Farha is highly respected locally and as we are to soon discover, invaluable in arranging the distribution outside Dagahley refugee camp next morning. We take a tour outside the official camps at Dadab; I get my first glimpse of gut wrenching scenes of wretched people so repeatedly displayed on TV screens back home. In a huge cleared space, throngs of refugees in pitiful conditions line to receive food rations from other Muslim relief agencies already in action. The adults are in bad condition, yes, but it is the children that twitch my heart asunder. Almost all women, gaunt and harassed, has a dirty, runny nosed, face full of buzzing flies and malnutritioned toddler wrapped in a dirty kanga on her back.
We drive to Dagahley in the afternoon and meet with the local Mufti and his committee of volunteers; I am much impressed and relieved. They have the system down pat, organized and disciplined, with a no-nonsense approach to fair distribution. All new arrivals have been identified and issued with an ID card; they will receive at least a months food grains according to the size of family members. The quantity of food looks dubious, to me, seems far too little, but Abdi Noor and the Sheikh simply shrug their shoulders, is there an alternative?
Camel meat – a wish fulfilled.
After magreeb at a kerosene-lamp lit local mosque, we break fast at a local ‘restaurant’. It is dark and difficult to see but can tell (and smell) the table and chairs around an open eating-place is in squalor, full of roaming cats on a lookout for scraps thrown their way – I don’t care; I am famished. I dig in to the plate of samosas (no Al Shabab influence here…as yet) followed by heap loads of boiled meat, delicious! I casually remark if the local people eat camel meat since there are so many of them animals around and express a desire to eat some. I am greeted with polite smiles with Abdi Noor informing me my wish has been granted – I had just consumed meat of a young camel. Really? I feel he is pulling my leg, but Sheikh Al Farha assures me it is camel meat indeed that digests comfortably in my guts. Wow! The service is great however, with Omo (powdered clothes washing soap) dispensed from a torn bag for washing away camel-meat greased hands, water poured from jugs right besides the table onto the dirt floor, scattering the disappointed cats. We are even provided scraps of torn newspapers for wiping our hands and lips.
Sleep and rest that night in a ‘guesthouse’ is a major gut wrenching challenge. It is made up totally of loose, rusting tin (banda), which rattles alarmingly whenever the wind blows. There are about 5 rooms of various sizes, one with 16 beds on all dirt floors; there are beds in the corridor as well, under the open sky. We are given a 4-bed shed; I (very carefully, closely) inspect the dubious looking beds. The bed sheets look like they have not seen water or soap in months, same with greasy looking pillowcases. I shudder; there is however, thankfully, a mosquito net over the beds – a gift from the Malinda Gates Foundation.
View photos here.