Hunger, home, and life in Dadaab through 8 year old eyes


In yesterdays post, Michele, leader of the study tour, shared with us about Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Today she tells the story of Abdifatah, an 8 year old boy who traveled with his family from Somalia to Dadaab, fleeing drought and famine.

It’s become a reality to me that ‘home’ is a relative term. For me, home has always meant a place where my family is or where I tend to spend most of my time. It’s the place I know the best and is filled with people I love the most. Right now for me, home is an antique-looking apartment in downtown Tacoma, Wash. I can see a park from my living room and it’s always brilliantly sunny. Home for me is an escape from the world.

Last night, halfway around the world from my home, 8-year-old Abdifatah slept under the stars on the outskirts of the Dadaab refugee camp with his mother, father, and two younger siblings. More than two weeks ago, Abdifatah’s father, Mohamed, made a difficult decision. Having spent his entire life farming maize and sorghum, Mohamed  fled from his home. The rain hasn’t come in years, making it impossible to grow crops. “We left because of the draught” said Mohamed, “and because there is much fighting at home.”

Hoping for a better life for his family, Mohamed packed what little food they could carry and began walking from Kismayu, a city in southern Somalia, toward Dadaab, leaving behind their home and belongings. Abdifatah, the oldest child, said that he was very scared along the way. “There was little water and I was very thirsty,” he said. They walked for 15 days drinking a little tea in the morning and a bit of maize, as the merciless sun beat down on them every step of the way.

Today, Abdifatah sat with his family among hundreds of other refugees waiting for their name to be called. It’s a sea of people, each with a unique story of finding refuge in this extensive camp. Sensing a lack of hope in this place, I was humbled by Abdifatah’s comment about being here: “I just don’t want to go back. I just want to stay here.” He then sat up a bit straighter, his face lighting up. “And I want to go to school!” he exclaimed. This was the one moment I saw pure joy in Abdifatah’s face.

A tall man wearing a blue vest ushered them into the next waiting area. Other families were carrying bags of belongings and food however, Abdifatah’s parents carried their youngest children, leaving no room for personal possessions. Mohamed, a weathered man, shook his head. “We have nothing,” he said. At 44 years old, Mohamed, a father and husband, is starting his new life in an unknown land, with no way to care for his wife and children. I cannot help but think of the helplessness he must be feeling, unable to provide for his family, and at no fault of his own. 

I sat with Abdifatah’s family under a small enclosure where they waited for their number. Later in the day, they will walk along red dirt roads following thorn bush fences to a massive warehouse where they will gather enough food to last three weeks. They will also be given a number, indicating which lot they will soon call home. If they’re lucky, they will receive a tent near a latrine and running water that they will share with hundreds of others.

Ignoring the cries of his young sister, Abdifatah showed me around his new surrounding.I asked him how he is feeling about being here and he replied: “I am surprised  to be here after walking for so long. I am happy. But really all I feel is hunger.” When I asked if he will miss home in Somalia, he looked at me with heavy eyes and said, “No, I feel like I am home now.”

As Abdiftah walked away with his family, I gazed out at the incredible expanse of starved landed in front of me and I thought about my lush home on the other side of the world. I imagined if my home was a place of so much fear that I had no other choice by to flee, grabbing all the food I could carry. My home could become a new location every night—just a place to rest under the stars, surrounded by the calls of wild animals close by. My fears and hopes and emotions would be an afterthought to the gnawing of my stomach, left empty and unsatisfied by a cup of tea many hours ago?

For now, home for these people is a tent in the middle of the dessert. They are seeking to overcome the drive of the hunger in their bones, pushing them away from their homeland and into a foreign region called Dadaab.