Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back in the Capital

In my room at LWF there are three beds, all size single (i.e., slightly shorter than I am tall). The first bed which is easily the most comfortable bed in the room has a wooden bed frame that feels like it is going to disintegrate when I try to move it. It actually pulls apart at each one of its joints on every attempt. As I cannot move it to a location beneath a fan or a mosquito net hook I just leave it where it is and stack clothes on it.

The second bed has a white, metal bed frame with half-circle arcs at either end. My first night at LWF I pulled my mosquito net over each arc to keep it from touching me while I slept; the next morning when I awoke the net had pulled out and I was covered in mosquito bites. Absolutely covered in them.

This second bed also has a bed frame which is just the perimeter of the mattress and so has three pieces of particle board laid across it, on which the mattress rests. Until the beginning of July I was using this bed but, one morning, I shifted the wrong way, the boards fell from the frame and I was sitting on the floor, trapped in a mess of frame, board, mattress and mosquito net.

This second bed has become the guest bed.

The third bed frame, the one which I came to use, is also metallic but has a cross-hatch of springs spanning the length and breadth of the frame. My first night on this bed I found that, with the foam mattress that was initially on it, I was sinking into the middle and unable to move in the night. I also found that, with this foam mattress, my mosquito net was coming untucked from the corners and I was potentially exposed to the malaria-carrying disease vector I'd been trying to avoid. So I switched the mattresses between bed numbers two and three and found the perfect compromise.

A resettlement mission came from the branch office, arriving in Ali-Sabieh on 10 July to commence its mission on 11 July. An intern on the mission stayed with me at the LWF guest room for all 10 days of the mission. He used the guest bed with the particle board platforms and the foam mattress. While he didn't have the same trouble I did with falling to the floor on moving inappropriately, he did have that same problem with the mosquito net coming untucked in the night - which was particularly surprising as he actually had ties on each corner of his net to tie the net to the bed frame. Funnier still, the fan under which the bed was placed doesn't seem to circulate any air. None!

I heard about that a few mornings, and had a laughing fit on more than one occasion; but gradually grew deaf to his complaints.

The resettlement mission was rather large, with five people conducting Refugee Resettlement Form (RRF) interviews. After having spent the previous two weeks in the Ethiopian section, speaking primarily with Ethiopians but also with Eritreans, I decided it was time to return to the compound to recommence my interviews with the Somalis. The first day I was able to secure a room and met with a few people but had very little organized; it was also difficult for refugees to come into the compound, as they were being turned away at the locked gate, so I was only able to meet with those people who were already inside the compound.

Due to the size of the resettlement mission, on the second day I lost my room, so I ventured into the refugee camp and returned to Section 7 where I interviewed more Ethiopians and drank more Ethiopian coffee.

On the third day, one of the English-speaking refugees, a teacher at the refugee school, took me into Section 5 where I visited his home, met his family, and went for a tour of some of the other homes close to him. Afterward, I went back to Section 7 where I again met with the Eritreans. Shortly after midday there was a bit of a commotion in the camp due to what was happening in Kampala, Uganda, so a bus was sent out to look for me and bring me back to the compound. As of that moment our security was heightened somewhat and I, and others, were required to stay within or close to the compound.

Thereafter I used one of the rooms available in the school. I also made my first visit to a coffee stall set up next to the compound. I hadn't organized anything but a mob of refugees came to see me wanting to have some kind of audience with me. I dutifully explained to everyone who I am, what I'm doing, and explained I'm neither in protection or resettlement - or a medical doctor - and cannot help anyone with any of their problems. I don't think anyone believes me when I tell this to them. In any case, I asked everyone to organize themselves by way of a list, and one of the refugees took charge of this exercise and presented me with a list of upwards of 50 names - which continued to grow as more people showed up. Suffice it to say my dance card was full for the next week.

On the second to last day of the resettlement mission my interviews were interrupted and I was taken to the office of the local authority for an audience with the regional authority, the local authority, and a slew of others. It seems no one knew, or everyone forgot, what it was I was doing in the camp. So I again explained my study and thanked everyone for their comments and support.

The following day, I returned to the capital with the resettlement team at the conclusion of the mission, and met with my superiors at the office the morning after. Having completed six weeks of field research at the Ali-Addeh camp, and interviewing some 200 or so refugees, it seems I'm in well enough shape to start writing my report from the branch office. I will only return to Ali-Sabieh and Ali-Addeh from time to time to meet with some of the local authorities to gain their perspective on the various facets of the administration of justice in Ali-Addeh and Djibouti.

After spending so much time in Ali-Sabieh and Ali-Addeh I'd forgotten how hot and humid it is in the capital. Unbearable, really. I'm staying with one of my colleagues, an intern from Switzerland, who has a studio apartment close to the Hotel Alia (where I spent the first 10 days in Djibouti). Now that I am staying in Djibouti for good I will need to find a place of my own, and I'm making inquiries to this end, but so far nothing has been found.

On Friday, 23 July, as most things in Djibouti-are inoperable (as I've noted to some people, Friday is Muslim Sunday in Djibouti), I came to the office to work on some things. A few hundred yards up the road from my colleague's flat there is a roundabout followed by a small area with barren trees and a large cross, all of which is surrounded by a chain rope suspended maybe a foot and a half above the ground from regularly placed poles.

As I walked by this area with my computer bag hanging from my shoulder, wearing brown and blue plaid shorts, a green t-shirt, a blue and white American Eagle baseball cap, and brown running shoes, I believe I was giving onlookers the distinct impression that I am from the United States. I know this because, as I walked along the road, someone beyond that roped-in-area was calling to me - at least I presume it was me. Over and over he repeated: "American! Fuck you, American!"

It's great to be back in the capital.

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