Here's a new story up at Earth Island Journal from my reporting trip to Kenya last year.
The way people tell it, life in the Kakuma refugee camp was once like living in fields of dust. It was hot, they tell me, and ruthlessly spare. No trees, little water, nothing to do but stay inside and wait. The camp, currently home to over 98,000 refugees from all over East Africa, was initially set up in 1992. It is situated in Kakuma town in the vast Turkana region of Northwestern Kenya. “Kakuma,” rather appropriately, is the Swahili word for “nowhere.”
Until a few years ago, the dry season's dust storms would keep people inside for hours, and the heat restricted movement for a good part of the day. Kakuma's reputation precedes it. Refugees in Nairobi who've never even been to the camp say they wont ever go there. “Too hot!” they say. On the day I arrived, two concerned refugee acquaintances in Nairobi called to make sure I was managing all right in the heat. It can reach 44 degrees Celsius in Kakuma — that's 111 degrees Fahrenheit. Recently, though, this once-reliable weather from hell has begun to change.
I'd just arrived at Kakuma, having flown over the expansive flatness of the Turkana region and landed lazily on an airstrip of dust. Caroline Opile a public relations officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) was giving a brief tour through the camp in the UN vehicle, air conditioner cranked high. We banged along the dirt roads, carved up from the recent rush of rain, through the surprisingly active town center which was replete with salons, Internet cafes, restaurants, and clothing shops. More