Roughing It

Posted Oct 09, 2009 by 4 Comments

3:02 am. The numbers glared back at me from the painfully bright screen of my cell phone, and my heart sank a little bit. Three more hours until we can be awake. I was curled up in between two borrowed sleeping bags, and in the half-conscious state of non-sleep that had characterized most of my night, I could only think about the numbness of my toes.

I had counted on a restful night before our big day of hiking in the Aberdare National Park. My drowsy mind probably made me feel more miserable than I actually was, but I was decidedly not enjoying this part of my camping experience.

Camping inside Kenya’s Aberdare National Park may have been cold, but the location was priceless.

Camping inside Kenya’s Aberdare National Park may have been cold, but the location was priceless.

I woke up more fully at the sound of Grace, my tent-mate, who was busy extricating herself from our tent to make a pre-dawn run to the nearby outhouse. I was glad it wasn’t me who had to abandon the warmth of the covers and face the cold darkness.

Why couldn’t I just fall asleep? I’m only a little bit cold, and I guess I might be thirsty. The main complaint I could come up with was that I didn’t have space to stretch out in the tent I was sharing with two other girls. At least this arrangement only had to last for one night.

This IDP camp at the Kenya Agricultural Society Showgrounds in Eldoret used to house thousands, but is finally thinning out as families move home.

This IDP camp at the Kenya Agricultural Society Showgrounds in Eldoret used to house thousands, but is finally thinning out as families move home.

As my mind wandered, I contemplated the hard core “wilderness” people I know who camp all the time but, at the end of their excursions, always retreat back to “civilization.” Of course, I knew that there are people who do, in fact, live their entire lives without amenities like electricity or permanent structures for shelter.

Suddenly, my train of thought was completely derailed. Images of internally displaced person (IDP) camps scattered throughout Kenya’s Rift Valley began to flood my mind. I saw the rows of tiny canvas-covered homes with the logos of major international aid organizations printed on the sides: UNHCR, USAID, the International Red Cross.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit many of the IDP camps which were created after the post-election violence chased hundreds of thousands of Kenyans from their homes in early 2008. The people I met who still lived in these makeshift villages had made those tents their homes, not just for a night, but for more than one and a half years.

No matter how desperate, kids always light up for a camera.

No matter how desperate, kids always light up for a camera.


Grace’s struggle with the zipper door of our tent briefly roused me from my memories. She quickly found her way back under the covers, only slightly crushing the two bodies next to her in the process.

I couldn’t shake the thoughts of the IDPs. If I thought I barely had enough personal space to tolerate camping for a night, what about a whole family who lived everyday out of a tent? That evening, I had enjoyed a very full, delicious dinner, and I drank plenty of water before sleeping. In one of the camps, I had watched tiny kids fill dirty plastic bottles with water from stagnant mud puddles that pooled between the tents.

For the next several minutes, I drifted in and out of this disturbed sea of memories, interrupted by pockets of restless sleep.

This former IDP proudly showed me his new cement-block home financed by an Italian NGO.

This former IDP proudly showed me his new cement-block home financed by an Italian NGO.

At one point, a headline I’d seen in the daily newspaper earlier that day flashed in my mind. “Displaced to be resettled before rains, says PM.” Despite its hopeful tone, the subtitle acknowledged the more sobering reality: “10,000 still living in camps more than one and a half years after chaos.”

Apart from food insecurity and ethnic tensions which still run high in some areas of the Rift Valley, Kenya’s IDPs now also face the threat of heavy rains coming in October and the ensuing floods which could easily destroy temporary housing like tents.

The good news is that, because of the flood threats, the plight of the IDPs is finally making national news. Thankfully, they have been receiving government funds to help them move back to their farms. The camps are truly disappearing as families begin to trade in their tents for more permanent homes, many of which have been provided by international NGOs.

Although the situation is still quite desperate, there are finally now glimmers of hope.

I glanced at my clock again. 4:08am. This time, 2 hours didn’t seem like such a long time to wait for morning.

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Next Steps
    • Spend a night camping outside with your family – for the benefit of building relationship with each other, and out of solidarity with displaced families still living in tents. Make note of the amenities you rely upon, or those you chose to do without for your night outdoors.
    • Check out the latest news about Kenya's IDPs.
    • Pray for the timely resettlement of the many Kenyan families who are threatened by the coming rainy season and continued insecurity in the Rift Valley.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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Comments

  1. Michelle said... 

    Reply

    October 9th, 2009 at 11:56 am  

    Perfect description of a restless night, which I could definitely relate to, and connecting that experience to life in an IDP camp -I felt just a little bit of the displacement they are living every day. Future nights of sleeplessness will be redefined now, prompting me to pray for IDPs and refugees who are waiting for home.

  2. grandma Mack said... 

    Reply

    October 9th, 2009 at 9:45 pm  

    Hey Jess, this is one time I wished your were as short as me, more room in the tent. What a world you are seeing and sharing. thank you for letting us join this journey. Love, grandma I have a guest tonight, Barb is here enjoying your work too.

    Hi Jessica, this is your grandma Mack’s daughter, Barb. I must say how awed I am by the work you are a part of. I am truly impressed and thankful that my mom knows someone like you, with such a heart and gift of words. God Bless you and the work over there.

  3. DaveQuigley said... 

    Reply

    October 12th, 2009 at 3:24 pm  

    Great job Jess! I love your insights and perspectives on doing without and how we cannot appreciate life as an IDP. Thanks for being our eyes and ears on this! Scott sends his regards! Poa!

  4. francis said... 

    Reply

    August 29th, 2011 at 7:09 am  

    great article there. i really love it. not many get to see the reality these people have to go through every day.people like you are helping to change the world,may God bless u

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