It is 9:00 p.m. local time and I am lying in bed, nearly too tired to type. The cold shower I just took renewed me for the time being. I was so disgustingly filthy that I probably would have been removed had I tried to enter a public structure in a developed country. I was passable, however, by local standards, but my personal standards (which crumble year to year) left me dreaming of the shower all day long.
It was a long day today, like most, starting at 6:00 a.m. to shoot the early morning light. Today I was in Nairobi’s largest landfill working on the African side of a story I began many years ago in Asia called "Trash Life," which follows the lives of landfill scavengers. I hate shooting in landfills; the smell, the taste and the knowledge that these people live this life day in and day out is overwhelming. More on that subject soon…
I'm staying in an international aid compound within the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya near the Sudanese border. I am here to shoot a story for the International Rescue Committee, which is trying to deal with a famine that was recently declared a national emergency and is beginning to claim lives with little relief in sight. The region also continues to face an ongoing refugee crisis and the more than 50,000 residents in this camp are struggling to cope.
Kakuma is a one-hour flight and one and a half hour drive from Kenya's capitol, Nairobi. The road between the airport and the camp is plagued with robberies and carjackings, so I rode in a tense but ultimately uneventful United Nations convoy to get here. I am a bit frustrated, as I was not allowed out of the compound to shoot in the camp when I arrived due to the fact that the camp is on a Level III security alert and they probably think they would be held liable if I disappeared and was hacked to pieces.
Refugee camps offer varying degrees of surrealism and this one is no different. Dinner is served in a large hall from tin hot plates with built-in Bunsen burners. In the corner of the room there is a hand-built wooden security cabinet that houses a small TV that plays gangster rap videos to entertain the diners. The food is a mix of what I imagine the camp staff thinks is a good compromise between local dishes for the local staff and western dishes for the foreign staff. Tonight the featured item on the menu was spaghetti with lamb chunks, which tasted worse than it sounds.