Bleary-eyed start to trip to the field

We get up at 5.00 am. Field trips always start early. Bleary eyed, Matt and I jump into a cab to make the short run to Wilson Airport in Nairobi. The rain is pouring down — a welcome sight in these parched lands. We are loading some ‘Pur’ tabs (water purification tablets) on the flight, which results in some minor hassle with the authorities who want to see our certificates. Matt and David talk them around, and then we are off. I love this kind of flight, heading up country to the bush. It evokes memories of years gone by when I was a field worker.

Looking out the window, the barren state of the land is obvious. All the water pans which should be full to brimming are simply dry as a bone. This is what drought looks like. A dusty, burnt landscape that dares you to even attempt to survive in it.

Landing in Wajir, I say a quick hello to two emergency response personnel, Fay and Santa, heading back to Nairobi. Wow it’s hot! My jacket is quickly discarded. We meet Mohammed and Ibrihim, the trusty drivers, and chat about their cares, while the ‘Pur’ tabs are unloaded. Rule number one: always make good friends with your drivers. They’re your best friends in the field.

A lunch at Wajir guest house is followed by a field briefing on the programme. I’m flagging severely and struggling to take it all in, so I grab some water and take a 30-minute power nap.

Rule number two: listen to your body and rest when you can in these conditions. Resilience in the field is about longevity, not endurance.

Afterwards, we head over to Wajir hospital to visit the stabilization centre. This is where the most severe cases of malnutrition are admitted for immediate life-saving treatment. As ever, it is almost too painful to see children in this condition. The unit is very overcrowded, with three to a bed in some cases, but the staff are dedicated and professional.

They show us children with various medical complications and describe their treatment. The children are indeed very ill here. Thankfully, many will pull through, although not all. Most are admitted for about seven days and then discharged into the Outpatient therapeutic programme.

I felt a familiar anger rising in me as we left the centre. In 18 years of working in these programmes I have never got used to seeing children in this state. I’m glad I haven’t because to be immune to the emotion of it, would mean to be inhuman. It is a terrible crime to behold and it makes you want to thump walls and kick things over. So I say put the anger to good use, and let’s fight for these people!

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