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Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (UNHCR's World) - Tanzania: Saturday in Kibondo

Refugees Magazine, 1 June 1996

Field Officer John Nkosi awakens every day to the sound of a generator, but that's about the only constant in his always changing workday.

By John Nkosi
UNHCR field officer Kibondo, Tanzania

It's Saturday and I awaken to my alarm clock, a noisy generator 30 metres from my window that sputters to life every morning at exactly 6:30. We work weekends in Kibondo, and so does the generator. Fifteen minutes later, the caretaker of UNHCR's office/guesthouse arrives, and another day begins in earnest.

The caretaker's first task is to fetch water from our neighbour, who has a pump and has graciously agreed to provide water to us as well. Kibondo, about 270 kms from the Tanzanian town of Kigoma, has had no water for six months. But it has plenty of refugees. Some 25,000 of the 94,000 Burundi refugees currently receiving asylum in Tanzania are here. Another 110,000 Burundi refugees are in Zaire.

Over a breakfast of tea, boiled eggs and bread, I work on a report in preparation for the arrival later in the day of a mission from Geneva headquarters, as well as a site planner who will look at new locations for possible camps. During my occasional visits to Mwanza or Kigoma, I try to stock up on such luxuries as cheese, butter and bacon to vary and enrich my breakfasts, but the supplies never last long enough. The exigencies of field work bog me down in Kibondo.

I fax my report to UNHCR Kigoma at around 7:50 a.m., and then consult my schedule for the day. I have only four main activities: a routine appointment with the District Commissioner at 8:30 a.m.; monitoring food distribution and interviewing new refugee arrivals in the camp; picking up the UNHCR mission at Kibondo airstrip at 1 p.m. provided the rain doesn't delay the small UNHCR plane and then visiting the border and inspecting proposed contingency camp sites.

The phone rings at 8:15 a.m. and Kigoma confirms that the visitors will arrive at the airstrip as planned. My four-wheel-drive vehicle has mechanical problems, so I arrange another and set off for the District Commissioner's office. At the same time, my field assistant departs on the 20-minute drive to the camp to begin, along with a World Food Programme (WFP) officer, monitoring the day's distribution of food to the refugees. I will join them later.

The first topic with the District Commissioner involves a vehicle for his office which was promised some time ago by UNHCR. He asks me to again remind Kigoma Sub-Office about the long overdue vehicle. I tell him I've noted his concern, but explain that the procedures for obtaining a vehicle require time. Next on the agenda is a request for UNHCR to consider paying compensation to local Tanzanians who received the refugees from Burundi during the influx in 1993. I explain the technicalities of budget cycles and ask why it has taken two years for a such a request to be made. I get no specific answer. By 9:45 a.m. the meeting is finished.

I drive to the camp and straight to the distribution point. Refugees are receiving sorghum because maize is in short supply. The field assistant is there with the WFP food monitor. The distribution is proceeding smoothly, so I move on to a second distribution point in the camp. There, the refugees also are receiving sorghum instead of the usual maize. I ask a few refugees what they think of the sorghum. They tell me that back home in Burundi, they mainly use sorghum for brewing beer.

A deaf refugee suddenly appears and begins shouting at everybody in the distribution shed. The guards escort him to me and he demands that I hear his complaint. Using sign language, he explains that the food distributors have not given him the required ration. We call for the scales and weigh his food parcel. It is a correct ration. Still, he insists that he has not received enough beans and demands that I intervene and order the distributors to add more. I ask him to go home, explaining through an interpreter who uses signs, that the rations have been carefully pre-measured and everybody is getting the same share. He leaves.

It is almost midday. I grab a Coke at the camp market place, then go to the reception centre to interview some new arrivals. Among them is a student who says he first came to Kibondo with the 1993 influx, but decided to return to Burundi in 1994. Now he has come back to Tanzania, and cites a recent attack at his school in Canguzo in which all Hutu students were threatened. The settlement commandant is also at the centre and we register the student.

At 12:30 p.m., I head for the airport. Since the food distribution is still going on, the field assistant stays behind in the camp with the WFP monitor. The road to the airport is a nightmare. It was last "repaired" over six months ago. We are driving behind another car on this dusty road at 20 kms per hour. Forced to choose between dust and heat, we roll up the windows and swelter in our UNHCR t-shirts. We make it to the airport just in time to see the UNHCR plane circling the town to let us know it has arrived.

The plane lands, the visitors are welcomed and we quickly climb into the vehicle for the afternoon schedule. From the airstrip, we head to the UNHCR office for a quick lunch of rice and tough chicken, then begin the one-hour trip to Mabamba border post, one of the entry points for refugees from Burundi. In Mabamba town, officials tell us that there are five refugees waiting to be taken to Kanembwa camp a family of four and a student. The head of the family explains that he had fled to a temporary site in Nyakimonomono, Tanzania, in 1993, but returned to Burundi when the refugees there were transferred to more permanent camps. Recently, he said, uniformed men killed his brother and he had to flee with his family again. They walked two days from Karuzi province in Burundi, and he vows that he will not return home again until he is sure it is safe. The student says he fled because of an attack on his school in which two people died, including one of the teachers. As usual, we call our local partner, Tanganyika Christian Refugee Services (TCRS), by radio and ask them to transport the refugees to Kanembwa camp.

It is now 3:30 p.m. and we still have to see Nduta contingency site, a 45-minute drive down a road overgrown with tall, thick grass. We creep along at 20 kms per hour, following another vehicle that is carrying the TCRS project coordinator, who is responsible for site development. With 9 kms to go, the lead vehicle has a flat tire. There is no wheel spanner in the vehicle, so the project coordinator joins us in our vehicle and calls TCRS mechanics by radio to come and fix the tire.

We have to cross a river to get to the Nduta site, but the bridge is gone. We leave the vehicle and walk across the river on a foot bridge, which is constructed of two small poles. The river is a potential source of water for a camp. The project coordinator throws a piece of grass into the river to estimate its flow per second.

After a walk of about a kilometre, we reach the contingency site, an area of about 600 hectares. It is infested with tsetse flies. We keep slapping ourselves to avoid the sharp stings of these insects. The UNHCR site planner takes plenty of notes as we inspect the area.

It is now getting late and is time to return to Kibondo. We arrive back at the UNHCR office/guesthouse at 6 p.m. The housekeeper has collected enough water for all of us to wash up before a dinner of potatoes and chicken. During and after dinner, we review the activities of the day and plan tomorrow's schedule. By 11 p.m., the generator shuts down and we light candles. I take the site planner to one of the two rooms in our guest house, say good night, and then go to my own room. I'm tired. Tomorrow is Sunday, but there is no guarantee that it will be a day of rest.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (1996)

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