Somali Refugees Fill Camp in Kenya
LYNN NEARY, Host:
For many Somalis who have been living across the border, their homeland is a distant memory. Or in more and more instances, anything but home. NPR's Gwen Thompkins has this report from northern Kenya.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Hawol Nagasha Stefanos(ph) is a Somali mother of three who lives in the Dadaab refugee camp. She's 36 years old and came to northeastern Kenya when Somalia's government collapsed in 1991. After 15 years here, she still thinks about her hometown Kismaayo(ph) in southern Somalia and how the Indian Ocean once felt on her skin.
HAWOL NAGASHA STEFANOS: I really like living in Kismaayo. We used to swim in Indian Ocean beach. Kismaayo is a beach town, and also it has a very big land for farming. The life of Kismaayo was very gracious with me.
THOMPKINS: Dadaab could not be anymore different. Dadaab is remote and landlocked, a place where life is scratched out on a dry, flat, harsh terrain of acacia trees and thorn bushes surrounded by razor wire. Where the sun beats down like a thump of a drum and where there's the kind of dust that sent Midwesterners to California during the Great Depression.
NAGASHA STEFANOS: Here what we have only it is peace and education. Nothing else.
THOMPKINS: Dixon Adon Alewi(ph) is a tall, sweet man of 65 with skin the color of a Hershey's Kiss. He's the headmaster of the primary school here called Friends. He's both a refugee and a teacher from northern Uganda. One day in 1987, Alewi saw 420 people massacred in his village. It was time to go. Now he misses a home cooked meal.
DIXON ADON ALEWI: Our main food is (unintelligible), millet, (unintelligible) nuts, peanuts. That's my favorite. That's the one when I eat I feel that I have eaten something. So I wish this thing could be brought to me in the camp.
THOMPKINS: Alewi says that at the Friends School they teach children to want to go back to their homeland to make them better.
ADON ALEWI: Here is the place where you have to learn. And the good thing you are going to learn from this country is what you will go back with it back to your home country. So that's what always me as I'm elder to them have to tell them, you know, that they're not to forget to go back home.
THOMPKINS: But for the thousands of young people in the camp, Somalia is nothing more than a word. Home is the dome-shaped huts made of sticks and stones here in Dadaab. The structures are not unlike the nests of the storks that live around them, tuxedoed scavengers with black wings and heavy white bodies, their stick-like legs making them as tall as parking meters.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPLASHING)
THOMPKINS: On this day, rainwater has gathered in brown muddy pools along the road. Life here suits Mohammed(ph) just fine. He's a 12-year-old Somali boy who's tiny for his age but full of spit. Mohammed was born in Somalia on the border with Kenya, but since then he's never been away from the Efol(ph) camp. Not once. When asked if he knew anything about Somalia or had heard anything about Somalia or even wanted to ever visit Somalia, he shook his head.
THOMPKINS: Not when there's so much fun to be had dive-bombing into the water. Ditto Mohammed's friends and their friends and their friends too.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILD PLAYING)
JEFF WORDLEY: There will always be some people who say they don't actually want to go back.
THOMPKINS: Jeff Wordley heads the United Nations emergency taskforce that's handling the new wave of refugees to Dadaab.
WORDLEY: These people, perhaps we would look at another solution which would involve perhaps local integration in the local community.
THOMPKINS: Ask Aden Adi Mohammed(ph), for instance. He's 70 years old. Ask him if he ever thinks about home.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ADEN ADI MOHAMMED: (Through translator) Not even a day (unintelligible) I dream about Somalia. Even day and night.
THOMPKINS: Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Dadaab, Kenya.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.