“I am a citizen of heaven, my visa stamped in blood.” Rachel Jones
My family is one of the few who are in Dadaab refugee camps since early 1990s. Our story goes beyond Dadaab, stemming its edges from Ethiopia, setting its home in Somalia, and throwing its shadows to Kenya.
My parents had hitherto lived in Ethiopia before they sought sanctuary in Somalia when skirmishes amongst Borana, Gabrii, Gujii and Garii sent them away from the country, starting a journey which would find them in Dadaab camps, though they never envisaged they would spend decades in a refugee camp.
Shariff Hussein, my father, settled in Luuq, a small town in Southwestern Gedo in Somalia, where his first children, Maryan and Ibrahim, were soon born. Then war promptly broke out when the Siyyad Barre regime was ousted in 1991. My family again moved to Baidoa. Here Dhaahiro was born.
The war soared to menacing heights as the months wore away, becoming more perilous and more uncertain. The increasing killings in the country left Shariff Hussein in great distraught, forcing him to think at length about the matter, and peering into the future of the country, it was ostensibly clear to him that he only had to make off. He took an ultimatum to journey away to Mandera where the UN Refugee Agency provided essential services to the first set of refugees from Somalia. This was however met with antagonism from my mother and other family members.
‘Everybody was against my decision. People claimed that I was bewitched, but I also wondered why anyone would want to stay in a place where there was war,’ my father, now an octogenarian who lives in Ifo refugee camp, recalls.
A few weeks later, Shariff Hussein, started a journey from Baidoa to Mandera. It was a long journey with many hurdles, unforgettable challenges which my family still remembers today. Bandits took away the little food they had carried from Somalia. They also had to trudge on foot for several kilometres until they had finally reached their destination. There is however one episode which everyone will remember forever:
One morning my family found themselves bound in a cannon’s mouth as they cooked breakfast under a tree where they had slept the previous night, and they would have been annihilated if one of the gangsters did not notice that their target was a family, not the enemy they had so much craved to stamp out.
The gangsters detained my father fleetingly: Why did he take the children on a journey in such a dangerous road? Did not he know that they would be killed if erroneously thought to be the enemy? They offered him suggestions, and finally he was set free.
This occasion, my mother says, was a day she will never forget. Our history was nearly wiped out, forever. My family eventually arrived at their destination. They were warmly welcomed, but it was not all roses.
A sea of snags
My family faced unexpected challenges in Mandera. Measles and malnutrition attacked the children. Dhaahiro, my sister who preceded me, died in the camp. There was hardly any food. My father also became completely blind and needed surgery.
He was admitted in a hospital in Dadaab. Just a few weeks later, when he was appointed for a surgery, UNHCR closed its operations in Mandera. He was referred to Dadaab in Kenya, where he agreed to go. But there was antagonism from my mother and her family once again.
They claimed that they did not want to go to a foreign land, a Christain nation. My father also had a good reason to go. He was blind, so he wasn’t not be able to support his family. This was reason enough to coax my mother to succumb to his demands.
My grandmother agreed to accompany my mother who feared for the future. Now they did not have to trudge on foot. UNHCR took them from Mandera to Dadaab, safe and sound. This was a big relief.
Dadaab was not bad after all. My father underwent the eye surgery. He could now see that Ifo refugee camp was a long stretch of a dry land where the wind is so strong that it can carry the tents in its wake
A few months later, I was born. I was the first in my family to be born in a refugee camp. There is a boy and a girl who are younger than me. Both of them were also born in Dadaab refugee camps. My parents are still in the camps.