Today I started going through my photos taken in Kakuma. And I felt so many feelings. But overall it was not easy. Before today I had always worked with the data and photos collected in a systematical way. But today. After I had successfully defended my thesis in Sweden on the economical self-reliance of South Sudanese refugees in Kenya I could just open the folder with photos. And to look them not as a researcher, but just as a co-human.
I thought that 5 weeks is not enough. But I would say that it is not that much about how many days one has but how these days are being used. The living conditions in Kakuma were not easy. Heat. Floods. Monotonous food. Mosquitoes. Scorpions. Snakes. And the overall experience. There were days when I did not feel like going out.
Like the first days in the camp. I was tired of the journey and of the permit application procedure and so overwhelmed with the actual thing…the refugee camp, compounds, rules and all these 26 agencies that were called by their abbreviations. Sometimes there were so many abbreviations in one sentence that I actually did not get anything. I remember being in my strongly below mediocre room for what I payed 18 EUR per day + food and transport to the camp. Which made my daily cost in camp about 25-30 EUR + the 350 USD research permit and travel cost. And this was a self-financed trip. I remember feeling so overwhelmed. I was alone in a huge compound and I actually did not remember the way out of it. I did not understand where are the recreational areas, where gates, where can I get food… Yeah, and somewhere is the camp also that I should find and where I should somehow interview hundreds of people. First three days I was not productive. I just tried to get over of all this. Also the rules and permits…questions and demands. I though that after I have 2 permits from Nairobi, it is all settled. But no, in Kakuma I never knew where the new regulations or rules pop out. As long as it was concerning refugees, it seemed OK, but when it was about agencies, it all got complicated. There were days when I was so tired of the constant approvals that I had to get in order to just do one interview, it could take more than a week.
But then there came time when I had “my own” motorbike taxi drivers and “my own” block leaders and people started recognizing me and greeting and I knew my way through different procedures and I could easily plan things. Temperatures dropped and I got an air-conditioned room. I had my small traditions. The chef of the small cafeteria cooked special eggs for me and was missing me when I skipped one meal at his place. We had the soap watching tradition and even transcribing interviews became a normal part of the day, like a habit. And then at some point I did not have these days any more when I did not feel like doing my research. I made friends in the agencies and observed their work, I traveled with them and things actually felt easy. I was getting into it, but also I was getting tired. I could have not gone on so intensively for long time. I think 5 week is not bad time. Maybe 6 weeks would have been better and next time I definitely will do more observation of the daily life and agencies work, because talking is one thing and the actual reality is often different. I got a really good input from the observations.
But. Back to the “not easy” feelings…I think I need some time and then I can go back to the photos to remember everything and to think about it in a non-academical way.