Linda has a deal with the NGO she works for. Two weeks in the organization’s head office in Karen, Nairobi, two weeks in the field in North Eastern Province. Her time is shared between two different worlds. The city and a remote desert like district. She leaves so that she can stay.
At the end of two weeks in the Nairobi office- which is 20 minutes away from home- she braces for change. She mostly goes out with her friends on the weekend before departure to have a memory of the city to hold on to. A memory to help her see a light at the end of the two week tunnel. Later on Sunday night she packs sunscreens, sunglasses, hats and anything to get her through the scorching heat.
Early Monday morning, she boards a flight to an airstrip in Mandera courtesy of her employers. That’s her home, work station and play ground for the next two weeks.
You would think that the Nairobi- Mandera movement for three years easily becomes a routine that you get use to. You would think that the fortnight flights with time become like a change of hats.
Both places are no paradise; they do not even promise to be. But yet their comparison is that of paradise and hell. It’s only 805 kilometres from Nairobi but it feels like the moon.
After three years to and from Mandera, traffic jams cease to be your biggest complain. You begin to appreciate that you have passable roads to drive on. You begin to appreciate that you have a readily available means of transport. You begin to see tarmacked roads as a privilege if not a gift. In Mandera you are never stuck in traffic but the infrastructure is poor. Impassable roads.
Water is slowly becoming a precious commodity in Nairobi. In Mandera it has been precious and rare for ages. So precious and rare that kids walk for miles to get a jerrycan of not-so -clean water. So rare that at times even with money you can not buy mineral water because there is none. After years in Mandera, water rationing periods in Nairobi become a walk in the park. Twenty minute showers and long baths in tubs get a position in your list of treasured pleasures.
In Nairobi the sun shines bright, in Mandera it burns, roasts and scorches. In Nairobi the Sun provides energy, in Mandera, its sucks it out. It burns like there is no tomorrow. It chaps lips, peels off scalps, dries out thorny bushes and scorches the earth. The wind does not make the situation better. The wind in Mandera does not blow in cool, soothing and comforting breezes. The wind does not care that the Sun is rogue. It blows as if delivering a killer jab. It blows to fan the already blazing fire. The already pale and dry face is now red eyed and teary if there is any water left in your body. The already dried up bushes are uprooted by the wind. The scorched earth is raised by whirlwinds and comes down like a rain forming a blanket of dust. Earth, wind and fire.
Nairobi is full of hard working people and a generous number out to reap from the sweat of the hard workers. They hijack, rob, loot, pick-pocket and leave you alive for another day. They point a gun to your face barking orders, if you comply, there is a mighty chance that they will let you live. After-all you are country men. In Mandera they plant landmines on your way, if you ‘cat walk’ past the explosives they hurl grenades as they aim at you with blazing guns. They may not even take anything from you. They just want you dead. Mostly its not your country men. They are members of outlawed groups. They blow you up because of: religious differences, your country’s stand or just because they do not like you. They raid villages and drive away with hers of cattle and camel leaving behind burning shelters and corpses. In Nairobi those who require armed escorts as they move around are the rich and celebrated. In Mandera, its not about riches and popularity, its for those who want to stay alive.
In a way Mandera is Kenya’s abandoned and forgotten daughter. A daughter who is checked on at most twice a decade. A daughter who despite of inadequate resources and hardships has to ‘man up’ and take care of herself, her children and at times neighbours. In Mandera, hospitals and clinics are half a day’s journey for most. The schools are few and beat up. The furniture in the schools look like wreckage after a riot; old. Safe playgrounds for youngsters are only told in tales and in wish lists. In Mandera, before you can think of possible developments, you think about the holes and gaps that need to be sealed. Before you can think about how far Mandera can get, you think first think if Mandera can ‘walk’. In terms of amenities, there is nothing comparable between Mandera and Nairobi. Nairobi is Kenya.
Even when times are hard in Nairobi, there never lacks a sight that lifts your spirit. A sight that says, “despite the odds it’s still possible”. A sight that keeps you hopeful and going. Mandera is not for the week at heart. At times you look around, there is nothing to smile about. There is nothing to keep you positive. Nothing that promises a better day is nearing. Not even the rain. Not with the sight of disease, insecurity and hardships.
No matter how many times she commutes to Mandera, for Linda it’s impossible to get used o the contrast. There are similarities and differences, there are differences in similarities. Its is a lesson, a challenge, an experience of two towns so close yet so far apart. For Linda and others, during the flight from Mandera to Nairobi, the plane feels like a time machine, traveling through time from the past to the present.
Soundtrack: Home – Three Days Grace