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Anonymous from Somalia: Visiting an endless camp

Anonymous from Somalia: Day 1 | Day 2

The first thing I noticed as I continued travelling through south central Somalia was that there were only two women on our plane – the rest were men.

There wasn’t much conversation on the flight to my destination. It could have been that we were all deep in thought about what lay ahead, but perhaps it was more to do with the fact that it was very, very early.

On leaving the airport, the armed guards that accompanied us jumped in an open pick-up  – I didn’t even realise that we were being followed by another car with guards in until I turned around to see them trailing behind. I was handed a bullet proof vest in the car and told to wear it.

Ghost town

The streets were dusty, as I had expected. Streams of women were walking down the streets, dressed in exotically bright dresses and scarves.

Children played on the rubble, and women wound their way through the remnants of the buildings, chatting to each other all the while.

Our driver told me that previously this area had been a ghost-town, that people were too scared to come here. Now people are hesitantly starting to return.

Proud

There were rumours that a large market might reopen nearby, which would breathe new life into the local economy, and encourage more people to return.

Our local teams tell me how proud they are to be working for Save the Children, proud of what we are working towards. The IDP (internally displaced persons) camp stretches out as far as the eye can see.

It’s not clear when exactly the camp begins – it just starts springing up each side of the main road. We ask the community there questions – each one says the same thing. We need food and water.

Begging for food

Some agencies have set up operations there, but the efforts appear haphazard. Some sections of the camp receive food aid, others don’t. Those that don’t go to beg those that do for food.

One young girl sticks in my mind, even today. We met her as she was collecting water, and she carried a baby around her waist. We asked her age – 14 or 15 she said, I’m not sure.

Yes, the baby is mine. I think he might be sick. We have not eaten yet today. She was a beautiful girl, and she smiled the whole time – even while telling me that she had not eaten. She welcomed me to Somalia, without a trace of irony.

Raw aloe vera

I speak to another woman, and ask how she makes her money. She looks at me blankly. I try again. And again. It’s going nowhere. She makes no money. I ask if she has ever made any money – did she work, before?

It takes a long time to explain what I mean – she cannot conceive of a time before now, where there was money to be earned. Eventually I establish that she used to wash clothes for money. Now there is no money, and no-one to wash clothes for.

One man insists on showing me what he and his family eat – it is raw aloe vera.

We travel to what are known locally as ‘extensions’ – or additions to the camps, for people who arrived later. These have no, or limited, food aid.

Few men

I’m introduced to the chief of one of the extension camps – a formidable woman, she wants to show me her immaculately kept list of new arrivals, and tells me proudly that she knows exactly how many people are in her extension camp – 538 households – well over 3,000 individuals.

So many of the women I spoke to told me that they were alone with their children – their men have left, or died. There are so many single mothers here.

Others tell me that they want desperately to go home. But there is nothing to go home to. There are no seeds to plant, and nothing to harvest.

This post has been written by a member of our emergencies team in south central Somalia who has to remain anonymous for security reasons.

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