Only human

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In 2011, I went back to Kenya to shoot video footage for WV Australia. This journey began with hopeful anticipation. I lived in East Africa for few wonderful and meaningful years, filming the beauty and the wildlife of the Masai Mara and the Rift Valley. As I prepared for a return trip, part of me dreaded knowing I would encounter a different Kenya this time – one affected by drought, famine and despair.

A team of communicators from WV Australia spent two days in the South Wajir region and the Dadaab area. Dadaab is the biggest refugee camp in the world with more than 500,000 people mainly from Somalia. Thousands of new refugees arrive constantly. We witnessed the UN and the main non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working hard to build and maintain proper emergency infrastructures like water tanks, towers and tents as well as provide food distribution and health services.

In Wajir, WV Kenya is the main NGO providing water and food; I will never forget the loss of livestock. About 40 per cent of all livestock perished in Wajir. The loss of cattle has devastated this mainly pastoralist population. World Vision staff are still working closely with the population to ease the pain.

While filming, we met a single woman with seven children who were barely surviving. As we prepared to leave, we asked her what she would cook for dinner, but she didn’t have any food yet because the World Vision trucks were still on the road with the supplies for her area. I was shattered knowing I would leave this woman and her family with nothing but the hot wind across the desert to dry our tears. I have never felt so powerless.

Encountering so much poverty overwhelmed me. I still cannot stop asking myself, “Why do they suffer? Can we possibly overcome this much need?” Despite my reflections, I managed to laugh with so many children who still had the resilience to play a game of hide and seek or tell jokes. I looked at so many faces, shook so many hands and saw so many smiles. I promised myself to always remember their faces and to hope for a better future for these courageous people.

I came back to Australia and pledged to tell my family, my friends and my colleagues about my experience, but the reality was different. I could not share my experiences or at least not the way I should have. I realised how emotionally and physically exhausted I was. Nothing made sense anymore. An experienced and kind colleague convinced me to seek counselling. I felt reticent, even defensive, about the idea at first, but I knew speaking to someone could help. My first counselling session led to liberation. I cried and laughed and opened myself up to a stranger in confidence and trust. The two-hour session helped me tremendously, and I thank WV Australia for supporting me in such a way. Our humanity is always challenged in the field and during emergencies. I have learned that we cannot carry the difficulties of our work on our own. We have to discuss, engage and most of all seek help. I believe that in order to be effective and collaborative in our work, we have to recognise our own weaknesses.

After all, we are only human.

The Stone

I looked at him from afar, my first impression was the overpowering sadness coming from his being. I was intrigued to see this man carrying his desperation on this wild beach and on such a glorious day. I noticed that he was gently crying. I didn’t approach him to provide a polite acknowledgement or a comforting smile. His pain was the invisible guardian of his privacy.

Instead, I allowed my imagination to create all sort of reasons to explain his despair. Cruel game?

In all my options, I settled for the separation, the breakdown of his family circle. I supposed it was easier for me to imagine as I went through a similar road. I remembered crying very often under the shower while realising that it was my children’s bedtime. I was not there to read the short story that will transport them towards a night of dreams or plant the last kiss of the day: “dors bien mon amour “, validation of my uncompromising love for them. There was a time, I could have been this man.

As he slowly walked towards me, he picked some beach stones which he threw immediately back to the fury of the ocean. An act of deliverance: setting free his tormenting demons as far as possible. I stopped looking at him as it was time for me to be less invasive and more indifferent. From the periphery of my eyes, I noticed that he was looking at one stone, an ordinary flat, black galet. He was mesmerised by it and he held it against his chest.

I believe the stone will become a reminder of his pain but also the memory of his resolution to be happier and in control of his existence. He will travel through the next chapters of his life, keeping the galet in his pocket. It will be the receptacle of his energy, the filter of his sorrow and an enabler of joy. Ultimately, the stone will have to be returned to this beach, I pray that he will do it at the moment that happiness is more tangible for him. Happiness is not a phase settled in time or in quantity. The beginning of happiness is an impossible concept. Happiness is now… At the moment we are realising the sense of possibilities.