Global Somali Response Update 3: On our way to Somalia
Liboi Town 11 am, Monday 18th July 2011
The five of us clutch onto our tools of trade; cameras, pens, paper, mental snapshots. We are desperate to document the things we see, desperate to scratch them with a stick onto the sands of time.
What I’ve been seeing seems too big for my eyes, and I tussle back and forth in my mind, trying to find words to put it down. The nomad ahead of us seems to have the same problem with his camels.
He tugs and tugs, begging his camels to take the few remaining steps to the water pump. The nomad and his camels have walked all the way from Somalia. They are here to have a drink of water before they take the long walk back. But a few metres from the water pump, the camels decide that they have had it. Enough is enough.
Ahmed looks out into the distance, his eyes a chasm through which bits of the past slink. This airfield holds a lot of heavy memories for him. It was once a refugee camp. When he first fled Somalia, the young Ahmed was received here. Now, nineteen years later, he is back, a successful filmmaker eager to see what he can do to help the refugees.
Beyond, a group of refugees emerge from the horizon. The little ones are perched on donkeys, the older ones urge the donkeys on. Most are barefoot. The skin over their soles has burst and sand nestles in those crevices, burning, edging closer and closer to their bones.
There is no energy to do things abruptly; even drawing to a stop requires deliberate effort. We offer them water, biscuits, some milk for the little ones.
They continue to stare at us with their piercing eyes. I wonder, is there a problem? Why won’t they eat or drink? Have they no idea how to open the packaging, or have they simply no energy to do so?
We reach over to do it for them, even lift the bottles to the little ones’ lips. A little girl closes her eyes when the drops touch her tongue, screams when I remove the bottle from her lips. Another little girl laughs. She is so happy to see us.
The oldest woman in the group holds onto a shrub for support. She can’t stand on her feet anymore. She arches downwards, slowly, slowly. When she sits, she doesn’t seem to feel the thorny twigs digging into her flesh.
We ask how old she is. She doesn’t know. What she knows is that they have walked for 22 days. What she knows is that the woman next to her left Somalia with six children. She abandoned two children of them on the road to Kenya; they were weak and she was weak. They were about to die and she couldn’t carry them anymore. Two more children died. She now remains with just two of them.
She struggles with the water cork. Abdisalam opens it for her. The little bottle shakes in her hand.
“For 22 days we avoided walking on the main roads,” the old woman says. “Today we were desperate. We thought we were all going to die. We walked on the main road and prayed that we would meet someone to give us water.”
The sound of car tyres crashing sand grabs our attention. A white SUV zooms towards us. It belongs to an NGO. It slows down. There is surprise in their eyes at the sight of us with the refugees. They are thinking, are these people actually talking to them?
The driver hoots in greeting. The passenger waves a hello. They rev up the engine, hoot again and disappear inside a cloud of dust. A truckful of soldiers slows down. The soldiers raise their guns in greeting. They belong to the Transitional Federal Government Forces. They also rev up, disappear into the interior of Kenya. Another truck of Kenyan soldiers greets us and rushes towards the border with Somalia.
“Don’t they see these dying people? Why won’t any of them stop?” Matt asks.
Deeq always plays the devil’s advocate. He says, “Well, the soldiers are also hungry.”
One of the girls stares unflinchingly at me. I look away. When I look back, she’s still staring. Her eyes grip mine like a vice; her gaze jerks me against the donkey cart. I pry my eyes away, look down at the sand.
She won’t make it. She is too weak and Dadaab is too far.
“Can’t we give her a ride there?” I ask Daud.
He shakes his head. “That is smuggling. It is illegal in Kenya.”
“But she’ll die!”
“Why do all the NGOs focus on Dadaab only?” Deeq asks. “Most people die on the stretch between Somalia and Kenya, before they reach Dadaab. We need to save these people here!”
He places his hand over his eyes, looks towards Somalia.
“We need to get there,” he says. “There are more of them in Dhobley; we need to reach them.”
By Claudette Oduor