a black figure approaches on the horizon, jittering up and down with the car. it is a small boy and as we pass, he points at the blue jug on this forehead. we slow, and my kenyan colleague in the passenger seat rolls down his window and tosses a litre of water from it. it cartwheels in the dirt, and the boy races after it. i look back, and he is holding it high, waving it in thanks. we drive on, passing many more people with perched plastic buckets, but have no more water to share.
i have left dagahaley, for two days, to the nearest town. it is as hot, as dusty, but there are people, a broken pool, a room with air conditioning. i am in it right now, and ive made it so cold that icicles dangle from my exhalations. my left foot, frozen, fell off when i hit it on the bathroom door and is thawing on the balcony. i have set the thermometer to zero kelvin, and need to finish this before it reaches it, and molecular activity stops.
the best thing, beside the plummeting temparature, is that i can take a walk. after sitting in my room for an hour, i took one towards the nearest barber. it was a few hundred metres before the freedom felt comfortable, like i wasnt breaking the rules, accustomed as i have become to the last month's circles. in the chair, the barber took the most delicate care, and i payed him double despite the jutting hairs.
who do you work for, he asked, shaking the hairs from his sheet. the UN? do you live in dadaab?
no, i told him, dagahaley, my whole team, in the camp there, with the refugees.
tell me, he said, what is it like?
well, i said, fishing the shillings from my pocket. yesterday, before i left, a nurse told me that 142 new people arrived after a month in the desert with no rain. some had lost everything on the journey, even had their clothes taken from their backs, and were naked. they had risked it all to get to dagahaley. and to your country, the first safe place they may have ever seen.
thank you for the haircut. it was just what i needed. he nodded
thoughtfully, and took my money.
i walked back in the hot sun, thinking about what else was lost on the long, dangerous way. about my country, canada, which takes as many refugees in a year as dadaab might in march as my countrymen think only about what is lost, never fully what is gained.
i have been outside of the project for a day, and it feels like a month. i think it is that i get to decide what i do with my next minutes, so the ones that approach are unexamined, unplanned, fresh, full.
those 142 people, they've given that up for a different kind of freedom. a dismissal of fear. of watching their children die, or of their husband disappearing for good this time, when he takes the goats to graze on the disappearing grass, two days away.
but here, they get free medicines, i hear people say. free food, too. free tents. school.
yes, everything's free, i say. everything except them.
today, however, i am free and am going to exercise it in the best way, by lying down in bed and sleeping some more. maybe some room serv....ice......oh..tempe..r...a..t....u. r..e.....f...a...
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