Saturday, May 19, 2012

Last Day in Kakuma

My last day in the refugee camp was a Sunday and William, my host from LWF, was kind enough to walk me around the camp.  We started the morning at the Burundi Pentecostal Church, which was so much fun.  Everyone was singing and dancing and praising the Lord.  It was great to see so much joy under one roof. 
Burundi Pentecostal Church
In the afternoon we went on a walk through the Ethiopian and Somali sections of the camp.  As we were walking I timidly asked if it would be possible to see inside someone’s house.  William responded by telling me that Mama Phyllis had just called and invited him to a wedding and would I like to go to the wedding and see the house?  Umm, yes, please. 

Mama Phyllis turned out to be quite possibly the biggest character I have met thus far in Africa.  She was a very large woman with a presence to match.  She commands the men in a man’s world.  We picked her up from her home and went with her to the wedding.

Father of the Bride, Me, Mama Phyllis
The actual ceremony was finished but everyone was still celebrating.  They led us into the house and sat us down on a low cushion couch as a fresh rug was brought in for the floor.  Then, almost by magic, a coffee table appeared, followed by several pots of fake flowers.  One of the young men was sent to get sodas and water for the visitors and we proceeded to sit with Mama Phyllis and the father of the bride, joking and talking.

As it turns out, Mama Phyllis has been a major driving force for peace in her home community, as well as in the camp.  In the past she was invited to the States by the UN as an advocate for peace.  When I met her she had just come up for resettlement and was looking forward to moving to Minnesota.

In the midst of the conversation, a man came in with a huge platter of bread and cooked goat liver for us.  It was amazing.  One of the best meat dishes I have ever eaten.  The thing that really struck me about it, though, was the level of hospitality.  For people who have so little, they were willing to give so much.

2 girls watching the dancing
We finished off our day by heading to the Sudanese section of the camp to watch the traditional dancing of the Dinka tribe, which happens every Sunday evening.  Watching all of the people there, particularly the children, I couldn’t get over their uncanny resemblance to the kids I taught in Houston.  It was crazy to look at them and see my former students, and I appreciated being able to place them in both contexts.  To know that this is where they’ve come from and then to think of them trying to make it in America dramatically increased my level of compassion.

All in all, I’d consider it a pretty successful last day.  Thanks to everyone at LWF that made my visit possible, especially Winnie and William for showing me around!

If you are interested in looking at the 100 or so pictures I took while I was there, you can look at them here.

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