Emergency: A state, especially of need for help or relief, created by some unexpected event.
In many ways, Djibouti would be better off it were in an emergency situation.
The problems in Djibouti are chronic. If the systems don’t change there, in 20 years the same problems will still exist.
Children will die of malnutrition, not because of a lack of food but because of a lack of money to buy the food that is imported from Ethiopia.
In other countries, if one doesn’t have money they can often eat the one main staple food – which provides calories, but not nutrients. In Djibouti there is no staple food. Rice is expensive, but so are baguettes, pasta … and fruit and vegetables are well beyond most people in terms of cost.
The other day I was doing the door-to-door nutritional screening in the slums, and came across a family of eight living in a cardboard box in the unofficial garbage dump.
They moved from Somalia to the cardboard box two years ago, in search of a better life. I asked if their life was better now – and it was clear by their shocked expression that life in Djibouti was an improvement.
One child had died of malnutrition since they had arrived, and two more were in the program for severely malnourished children.
I asked how this life was better – and they told me that wages are higher in Djibouti than Somalia, but so is the cost of living. No one in the family has found work since they arrived – but they keep hoping it will come.
I was still a little confused about how life was better for them, but just as we were about to leave the father said, “My children will probably die of malnutrition here, but they won’t be beaten, they won’t be raped and we are illegal, but we are free to walk on the streets. When I go out, I know I will come back and my family will still be here.”
I think that this is the real reason that most people move to Djibouti.
My time in Djibouti has come to an end, and last week I was preparing for my departure. I was saying goodbye to one of the community health workers I have grown quite close to.
She said, “Please don’t forget me. The rest of the world doesn’t know me, or Djibouti, and you can’t forget something or someone that you don’t know. We are more than forgotten here. But now you know, so please don’t forget.”
So I will try hard not to forget. Not to forget the beauty and dignity of the people I met here – the ones who live in houses and the ones who live in cardboard boxes.
And I know that I won’t forget that there is no good reason I was born in Canada, and not into a family that had to flee Somalia to live the better life in a cardboard box in a garbage dump.
We are all equal, but our lives are so different.
Tricia Newport is a nurse who lives in Whitehorse. This is the second
in a series of articles about her
experiences in Africa.