John Rudolph | November 18, 2014
It’s late morning and already sweltering as I follow Rahul Oka past the high walls and armed guards of the aid workers’ compound where we’re lodged and onto a baking, shadowless road. A quarter-mile away, over a low, scrub-covered hill, lies Kakuma Refugee Camp, one of the largest refugee camps in the world and, at more than 20 years old, one of Africa’s most enduring. Oka, a Notre Dame anthropology professor, has studied the camp for years and knows its inner workings as well as the authorities who run the place, and maybe better.
Kakuma translates as “nowhere” in Swahili, and that’s not a coincidence. We are on Turkana land, in Kenya’s far northwest, a vast and undeveloped landscape reminiscent of the Mojave Desert. The nomadic Turkana tribe raises livestock, and many members still hew to older ways. Temperatures here often climb past 100 degrees, water and shade are scarce, and the local fauna includes poisonous spiders, scorpions and spitting cobras. It is a harsh place that Oka regards with romantic affection. “The moon in Turkana is the biggest moon I’ve ever seen,” he says with a grin. “You can read by it.”
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