Saturday, July 14, 2018

BLINDLY INTO KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP...

Kuir ë Garang, author, poet
NOTE: I would like to write something about myself when it comes to relating to people [friends, relatives and strangers]. But before I do that, I have to start by telling you something about how I went to Kakuma as a refugee and my bitter experiences without my family. This short narrative will not be too descriptive or too detailed.

GOING OUT BLINDLY!

When my mom talked to my dad about the possibility of me going to school in Kenya as a refugee, my dad brushed it aside. We were living in an internally displaced camp, Mangalatore, in the then Central Equatoria. Dad always believed that the war was ending soon and that I'd go to school inside Sudan once the war was over so there was no point going that far and become a refugee  My cousin, Aleer Deng and my friend Chol Agok, had gone to Kenya a year before so mom wanted me to follow them to school. In Mangalatore displaced camp, the available schools were mere placeholders, something to give us an impression that we were in school. 

However, when Commander Majak (now Dr. Majak) went to Mangalatore in 1995, mom knew it was her chance to have me go to Kenya with him. Dad still wasn't for it. However, mom was adamant so she insisted that we went to see the commander. It was the first time for me to see Majak up close as the first time I'd seen him was at our compound gate in Itang Refugee Camp five years earlier talking to my mom. Mom always said that Majak was friends with Kon Atem, her cousin. Dr. Majak is not our blood relative but more of a family friend.

While Commander Majak was very friendly and welcoming, he cautioned us about the problems facing young people in Kakuma refugee camp. He argued that many young people spent time playing soccer and taking part in other teenage indulgences instead of concentrating on their school work. "Unless a child is very disciplined, going to Kakuma would not be of any benefit," he'd said. I would witness that myself once I was in Kakuma Refugee Camp. But mom, for some reasons, believed that I could make it in Kakuma. I was a timid and quiet child so going away alone was much of a surprise to me.  Even my younger sister, Nyibol, used to beat me up when we were younger. 

I'm going to spare you the detail about what transpired following our meeting with Commander Majak. But a few weeks later, I found myself with the commander, his sister's family and another cousin, who is, unfortunately, now deceased. The experiences from Mangalatore through Uganda, back to Sudan, through Natinga, to Lokichoggio and on to Kakuma, was a trying experience I would leave to future writing. 

KAKUMA 

I found myself in Kakuma Refugee Camp among strangers. I didn't know whether there were people I knew in Kakuma refugee camp. The only people I knew well were in Nairobi. Given the fact that I knew no one in the camp, the cousin who came with us had his maternal uncle in the camp so he asked his uncle for me to stay with them as I figured out what to do. Commander Majak had left us at the group leader's house. It was group 46. We had to leave the group leader's house because my cousin's uncle had some feud with the group leader so he didn't want his nephew to stay at the group leader's house. 

The uncle expected me to figure out my food card situation but I didn't know how to go about it as we'd passed Lokichoggio where newcomer refugees had to register before coming to Kakuma. Temporarily, I had a place to stay. What the future had for me, I HAD NO THE FAINTEST CLUE!

Now, it was time to figure out the school situation. Strangely, we'd gone to Kakuma Refugee Camp at the end of April when the schools were about to close so we had to wait for the school to open in May to approach school administrations. We had about a month to relax before the hassles of the school.

Luckily, my cousin had a paternal uncle, who was a headmaster in one of the schools in Zone One so we visited him one evening. With an understandable pride on his face, he promised that he'd find us a spot at his school in grade seven. Without reservations, he told my cousin not to worry about getting both of us a spot in grade seven. 

When the schools opened in May, my cousin and I cluelessly but jubilantly strolled to school. To my surprise, he only put my cousin in grade seven and told me to go to grade six. Feeling let down, I asked him about the promise he'd made us but he told me that my cousin's spot (his nephew's) was arranged before the school closed. Shocked, I reminded him of the first time we visited him at his house and the promise he'd made. Irritated, he asked me to either go to grade 6 or leave. He then refused to talk to me as he was chatting with other teachers in the staff room.

I was lost, hurt and hopeless. I could have tried someone else if he'd told me he couldn't do it before the school closed. The classes had already started but I had no school. Like most people in authority in Africa, he treated me like a nonentity. Who could I complain to? Nobody!

Luckily, after a few months in the camp prior to the school opening, I was able to find out that there were some relatives from my dad's side [Adhiook] in Kakuma that I knew previously.  Through them, I was able to know that in the school in which I was being treated badly, there was someone I knew, Ustaz Wach Duot. 

Ustaz Wach was the deputy headmaster in the school. Jebel Marra, was the name of the school if I remember well. I went to him and recounted what happened. Wach promised me that he'd talk to the headmaster and told me to come back to school the following day -- to the same school. On the following day, instead of taking me to his headmaster, he told me that we were going to Fashoda Primary School. I didn't ask why. I just wanted to be in the class so I followed him. I'm still to ask Ustaz Wach about the reason. But I was happy to be going to grade 7 at least. 

So we went to Fashoda.

Ustaz Manyuon Kuol, a morally upright man, then the headmaster at Fashoda, asked me a few questions about my educational background and then allowed me into grade seven  "as an audience only" where I'd meet those of Gabriel Garang Pioth in 1995. I had no writing items yet we had about eleven subjects. Some generous students helped me with exercise books.

Garang Pioth and I (two years later) would be the only Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) sponsored students in not only Fashoda, but in all of the Zone One schools in 1996 after we sat for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). 

So I stayed with my cousin at his uncle's in group 46 for about three months. His uncle was a generous man. But because I had no food card that could entitle me to the meagre food ratio in the camp, the uncle asked me to find somewhere else to live as he couldn't feed his family and the two of us who had no food ratio card. He said he "could feed one extra mouth but not two" as he had younger children. 

For those of you who were in the camp, you know what it means to feed two extra people who had no card at your family's expense. He had been generous and hospitable to me, but it was time he let me go.  

I was in a fix. It wasn't easy to go and ask to stay with people when you had no food ratio card. The food was scarce so asking people to share with me that meagre ratio was understandably a tall order.

Technically Homeless and without any choice, I had to approach the only people I knew back in Itang.  But what this uncle, who I knew in Itang, told me, would add to my miseries. I'd found a school with the help of Ustaz Wach. But now, I was homeless, literally.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Kuir ë Garang writes for and edits this website. Follow him on Twitter: @kuirthiy

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SELF-ESTEEM AND DISCRIMINATION

As someone who grew up in war conditions and lived as a refugee for a long time, I'm sometimes considered by many people in the 'west' to be prone to (or have) low self-esteem, be poor or illiterate. Living as refugees or displaced persons, who depended on the good will of others put people in a situation where they don't think much about themselves. But that's not everyone though.

As I stood by our front desk at my place work talking about Race and Identity in relation to my book, Is 'Black' Really Beautiful?, the issue of why many African peoples in North America become so over-sensitive when racial issues come up! For many rational people, this owes its origin to slavery and racial segregation.

But one of my coworkers, a person of European descent, was surprised to realize that her 'black' friend, a very intelligent woman, easily becomes irritated by simple things she [friend] considers racist. The friend considers any mention of a watermelon racist; and complains a lot about 'white privilege.' This means that discrimination is considered something 'whites' don't face because of 'white privilege.' In any discussion between 'blacks' and 'whites', 'white privilege' issue comes up!