Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hello Kitty

I attended at the CARITAS compound this morning, which is located a few kilometers away from our branch office, as a member of the reception team for urban refugees. Interestingly, the only refugees I received this morning are registered in the Ali-Addeh camp, but I'm beginning to realize it's not uncommon for refugees in the camp to spend the majority of their time here in the capital.

The morning began as reception mornings typically do, with members of the Protection Unit standing outside the gate screening refugees. Many of them have appointments and are allowed to enter for their appointments; many of them have expired attestation papers and are allowed to enter to renew their attestations; many are just waiting for appointment slips, which we fill out, and which they take and leave. Many, however, are refugees from the Ali-Addeh camp who want to be received here in the city. They are advised to return to Ali-Addeh to be received there, though this is advice to which they are not overly receptive.

Today is the first day of Ramadan so all of the Muslims in this country, in theory, are fasting. My supervisor thought this might mean that most refugees would stay home, but the refugees at the gates were just as numerous today as they were last week (though not nearly as aggravated).

My reception interviews today were four: one refugee from Ali-Addeh who has been in the capital for some weeks now, in part due to a security concern in Ali-Addeh, and in part to attend to some medical concerns with his children; one refugee from Ali-Addeh who is here attending to some of her own medical concerns at the hospital; one refugee who is here attending to some medical concerns of her children; and one refugee with his own medical concerns who actually resides here in the capital for reasons I won't get into (but will note my interview with him was the most colourful of the morning).

After four or so hours of receiving the refugees, for want of a vehicle (these are difficult to come by for one reason or another), my interpreter and I set off on foot for our office. Yesterday was quite cool - or relatively cool - as there was a strong breeze in the morning; today the air seemed dead so the walk was unbearable.

After a few minutes of walking I suggested to my interpreter that we just stop at a convenience store for some water and then I would hire us a taxi to take us the remaining few kilometers. He was amenable to this. We walked into the convenience store, I grabbed two bottles of Tadjourah water (this is premium Djibouti water, but at the YES Market it is priced the same as any other water); but as today is the first day of Ramadan, my interpreter informed me that he is fasting and unable to drink the water. On informing me of this I felt a little sorry for making him walk as far as I did in this heat.

As I've noted before, my work space in the branch office is located in the second floor annex with the program staff. When we returned to the office I walked into the area where the members of the Protection Unit are located to brief someone in the Unit on my activities of the morning. One of my colleagues appeared to be having some difficulties around the printer, so I went over to greet her but as I passed her office door I caught the eye of some other colleagues and went in to greet them first.

I walked over to shake one colleague's hand and in doing so heard a shreik from the colleague at the printer. We all went into the hallway to take a look at what the commotion might be. It turns out a cat had a litter of kittens in the cabinet on which the printer is located. What the cat was doing in the cabinet with a litter of kittens is anyone's guess, but a number of my colleagues, as we stood around gawking, commented on seeing the cat coming and going from this office but thought nothing of it.

How is a cat coming and going from this office an unremarkable event?, I thought to myself. But this piece of information didn't seem to pique the interest of anyone else.

Some people noted that if the kittens are touched by anyone then the mother will abandon them; others noted that there's no harm in a litter of kittens remaining in that cabinet. I stood by with a huge grin on my face, unsure of what the culturally appropriate response might be.

My other supervisor attempted to employ rhetoric to get everyone on board with removing the litter of kittens from the office but no one was biting. Action was required. We found another cabinet, moved the printer onto it, and wheeled the cabinet full of kittens out to the front entrance. The kittens were not at all amused by any of this and became alarmingly vocal; but my interests lay elsewhere so I returned to the annex.

Sometime later I returned to the Protection Unit and in doing so passed by the entrance to the building. The cabinet had been removed and the cries of the litter of kittens were no longer present. I attended at my supervisor's office to brief her on the events at CARITAS but she interrupted me before I could start. "One moment," she said, as she stood and opened her window. "I just want to check on my kittens."

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