When the flight attendant announces that we should prepare for landing, the plane plummets fast towards the hills at a speed that makes me think about the will which has remained on my to-do list for a while now. The plane steadies, only for a while, for when it hits Loki's runway it is with a thud. Never before had I felt a stronger urge to perform that old ritual of bursting into applause when a plane touched down. The eventful tumble into Loki and the quickening of my heart would characterize much of my stay up north in the Kenyan-Sudan border – in Loki, Kakuma, and the wider Turkana.
On leaving the airport, I hike a ride on a 4x4 vehicle organized for me by friends at International Rescue Committee (IRC), headed for Kakuma – 56 miles southeast of Loki. We drive in a convoy, sandwiched between 4 other aid agencies' vehicles and one security agent's vehicle, which I am told, must accompany us on our road down to Kakuma.
We cruise down the hills at high speed. The security officers call on the radio, ask all the drivers to keep a steady speed of 100 kilometres (62 miles) per hour. It takes less than an hour to roll from Loki's rugged hills to the flat lowlands where Kakuma Refugee Camp, the former home for thousands of the Lost Boys, sprawls.
We arrive in Kakuma where I am well received by IRC staff with whom I will be spending time. I arrive on the big soccer night of the Champion's League final. Manchester United (Man-U) is going to play Barcelona (Barca). As I take a seat at IRC Mess, low-key tensions can already be read among the staff, with Man-U fans displaying their usual swagger before games and fans of all the other major clubs who have tonight ganged up to support Barca, swearing a thrashing if only to deflate Man-U fans' confidence. They hope that Barca can do the unimaginable – beat Man-U in such a high profile game.
When the final whistle blows, what was unimaginable at the beginning of the game has happened. Man-U has lost to Barca 2-0. Some of my neighbors, the Man-U supporters, leave speechless without even saying good night to their friends. The Barca fans on the other side order more drinks to drink to the win. They toast, they shout in praise of their team. As I retire for the night I go thinking about how serious Africans take this game.
My thinking only gets more messed up the next morning, when I visit the IRC hospital and learn that a patient, a refugee from Ethiopia, had just been delivered to the hospital with serious head injuries – bleeding profusely from the mouth, nose and ears. Hospital officials suspect that a blunt object had been used to beat up the man.
Neighbors say that while the two roommates, both refugees from Ethiopia, had other differences, the real fight was crystallized by Man-U's defeat by Barca. The man arrived gasping for breath, hospital officials tell me. And even before much first aid could be done, he succumbed. His bleeding had been too much.
What a death! Why should a man who has made a long trek across Eastern Africa's parched land come to die here after finally finding refuge and just because a team playing soccer thousands of miles away did not do well, just because Ronaldo, the Man-U striker, was not out of his element that evening? Is it that people here take soccer and life so seriously or is it that life in this part of the world is just too cheap?
The latter seems to hold more weight especially after I visit the UNHCR offices. Right at the gate, three kids – the oldest about three years -- are whimpering and kicking in the dust. Their mother had arrived earlier at the gate and abandoned the children there even before the security officers at the gate could get to talk to her.
One of the officers now offers milk and water to the snorting babies muttering to himself:
"What kind of a mother is this?" he wonders aloud. "Millions of mothers across the world are giving their all hoping to get children, which they are never likely to get, yet this one abandons children here to die!"
But honestly, it is always easy to blame. Life here in Kakuma can be hard to the extent that one loses faith in life. Visiting the refugee camp and seeing refugee mothers who arrive at the feeding centers holding scrawny children whose lives seem like they are about to ebb out and visiting the food distribution centers to see the local Turkana community scramble to offer the services to carry home the food rations that the refugees receive so they could get part of the share of what refugees themselves say is already too little is daunting.
Never before had I seen people struggle so much just to eat, just to keep their lives.
An influx of refugees from war-torn Somalia, who are now finding their way to Kakuma from the overflowing Dadaab Refugee Camp, are likely to make matters worse here. Kakuma has in the last few years been overshadowed by Dadaab in matters of humanitarian assistance. Now aid agencies, still doing their work here, need more help to do good work.
With more directed aid which should also seek to help the Turkana - the local host community – Kakuma will be a better home for the many disenchanted souls which arrive here seeking sanctuary.