Living Nowhere: Kakuma Refugee Camp

Sudan-mukjar-gypssite

I lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp, in Northern Kenya, between 1997 and 1998. The name, Kakuma, is Swahili for ‘NoWhere’. So I (among 60,000 others) lived nowhere between 1997 and 1998. While living nowhere is an apposite description of living in a refugee camp, the local Turkana (and I, and, I hope, others) don’t think it’s really nowhere. If one was free to make a living there, if social, political, economic and historical conditions had not conspired to edge its inhabitants to the very margins of existence, and treated the refugees for whom they would have been hosts as hostile aliens, it would have been a wonderful place. If you like open landscapes (like the north-west of Ireland, or the Highlands of Scotland, where I was brought up), then your eye is attuned to the vastness of the landscape and you appreciate the fragility and hardiness of the people and ecology that survives there.

Packed into a razor-wire-fenced enclosure of around 6 square miles, the ground reduced to dust by the heavy tread of vehicles and too many people (many of whom, heavily traumatised, hungry and homesick, were in no humour to appreciate the view), things begin to look rather different. The dust is everywhere and resentment builds. Recruiters for the Sudanese army would come and spirit away bored young men who hoped at least to fight for the freedom of their country, but ended up as corpses, or brutalised by the experience. Gunshots in the Somali sector, resentment building between refugees from Rwanda who were forced to share living space, Hutu with Tutsi, breaths apart from survivors and cousins of those who had raped and brutalised, murdered and tortured their own close relatives barely months before. Incestuously close, it was. And frozen with fear. The woman sitting rocking herself and her baby in the burnishing sun outside the UNHCR compound because she was a rape victim who had been too ashamed to admit to being pregnant but now had two mouths to feed and only one ration card. The wonderful project for survivors run by the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) that taught women who had been tortured massage skills that they then practiced on one another. The palbable tension between the nuns. A swimming pool in the UNHCR compound, and cold beers, while beyond, in the beating sun… but you get the picture.

But I was drawn to northern Kenya partly because, years before (in 1991), I’d lived, for a few weeks, in Port Sudan, and I’d worked with a mixture of local and refugee trainee teachers, some of whom were southern Sudanese. I’d always been fascinated by southern Sudan. Something about the cultures, and something about the nature of the place, had made a strong impression. There was something almost undisturbedly ancient about the relationship between culture and nature, to my ignorant mind. I think Jared Diamond saw the same thing in Papua New Guinea, though obviously the place was more isolated for longer and with less prozeletyzing or what we call in Ireland ‘souperism’ (you take up this faith, we’ll feed you) there than in Sudan. Colonialism, first, and then invasions from the north, and finally civil war, and the battle (fuelled largely by external forces, including Russia and China – and the US – in their insatiable quest to control the oil fields), had ravaged both the land and the culture, was deeply disturbing.

I was sent to Kakuma as part of a four university research project into the impact on health and wellbeing of living in (or out of) refugee camps. The hypothesis of the study was that living in camps was detrimental to health and wellbeing in just about every way imaginable, from the impact on sexual violence, to the impact on psychology, to the number of cases of malaria and malnutrition – you name it, it was worse in the camp. And as far as I know, those were the findings of all the researchers. My own research involved collecting oral testimonies from young, unaccompanied, mostly Dinka (yes, I was particularly interested in Dinka culture because it seemed so relatively unchanged, in essence, for thousands of years, until the impact of all the invasions and primarily the war) but also other southern Sudanese. (I grew to develop an interest in the other southern Sudanese cultures and to appreciate the potential for positive interactions between all the communities of southern Sudan, and indeed the need to recognise that there was an element of fusion in all of this that required nurturing, because if this society continued to factionalise, there was a danger that civic society would never recover enough to develop in its own characteristic way). I had wanted to collect and transcribe all the stories into a compilation of evidence for the hypothesis that coming to the camp had impinged, in particular, on the boys (they were all boys – but more on that later, perhaps) ability to develop respect for themselves as adults in the cultures from which they’d originated. So basically I wanted to see if I could show that they would have been better off if they had not come to the camp, but had been hosted by the communities of the area, who were Turkana people. I loved the Turkana people who struck me as fierce and proud and who evidently loved their land (and consequently hated the camp, and hated, too, all the disparagement of their land that so many of the people in the camp, including UNHCR and Aid workers, heaped upon them and the place). Thoughtlessly. I loved the land too. I loved its wildness, its ethereal beauty, the strange almost moon-scape aura to the place, the extraordinary wildlife, the Turkana so at home there, so much belonging, which the rest of us sweated and moaned, and they floated through with their cattle and their goats.

It was evident from the stories I collected that the boys would have been better off out of the camp. I was told about their journeys to the camp. These are well documented elsewhere. I was told about how they were processed to enter the camp and how difficult that was for them. I was told about how they learned to play the system, to leave and return to the camp, because they realised that there was no one really observing them as human beings: they were just numbers, just arms and legs and bodies to clothe, stomachs to feed, numbers to process on a form. I was told that they had to have more than one ration card or they couldn’t survive. That they were put together in huts with other boys, that sometimes this resulted in abuse, sexual or physical, since often the boys didn’t know one another, and sometimes there were tribal tensions between them. I learned all about the tribal tensions in the southern Sudanese community, and also about recruitment drives by the various factions of the southern Sudanese army who would send men into the camp to demand that the boys fight for their country. I learned that it became like a rite of passage to kill someone, and that in some instances, this became a replacement rite of passage for the traditional ones. I learned that the boys no longer received the traditional tattoos, but that the war wounds they received replaced these traditional tattoos. All this evidence I collected, but I lacked any sense that my putting this evidence together would show, incontrovertibly, that the refugee camp was a bad place to grow up, and that there would have been more chance for these boys to have kept a sense of themselves, to have developed self respect elsewhere (and I argued there and elsewhere that self respect is the one essential for the development of any democratic society, since it gives an individual a voice, a self belief). So I silenced myself. Sat on the evidence. I did nothing. I was nowhere. I did write one short paper. Amazingly, it was accepted for a conference that was to have taken place in Gaza in 1998. But the conference was moved to Jerusalem and I was pissed off about that – apparently Clinton was visiting and there were security issues – and anyhow, I didn’t have any money (don’t get me wrong, I would love, love, love to visit Jerusalem! I believe my great grandmother on my father’s side was Jewish! I just wanted the refugees to be able to attend the conference and in Jerusalem, they couldn’t). I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any self-belief. And that’s how it goes.

I also taught English in the camp through the Windle Trust (I hadn’t managed to get any money to support my research so I went as a VSO – even though I have difficulties with the operational model and vision of VSO, they’ve been fantastic to me over the years – I was with them in Sudan, and in Indonesia, and I always had a difficult time, but they always supported me – thanks, VSO!) The Windle Trust was set up by a guy called Pilkington, whose family had made money by being successful businesspeople in the glass industry. Hugh Pilkington was killed, tragically, in a car accident in 1986 but the trust was set up and operated, and when I said I wanted to work in the camp, arrangements were made for this. It was an amazing experience. I was tired, sick, and had lots of personal issues to deal with (not least amongst which was the fact that I fell in love and agreed to marry Joseph weeks before I was due to leave for Kenya, and neither of us had any money, but he had enough shares to sell to buy a plane ticket, so he married me in the camp… but that’s another story) and I’m a chaotic teacher at the best of times, but I really relished the idea of helping people to develop their language skills enough to pass an exam so they would have a ‘passport’ out of the camp, and I worked very hard to make sure that I was there for the students as far as was humanly possible.

I also decided to try to live on a refugee diet for a couple of weeks, because I was deeply frustrated by the amount of sick days my students seemed to take, and that, in turn, made me wonder if I was succumbing to the Northern Nations disease of stereotyping. I got malaria pretty soon after I’d finished what was, effectively, a rice fast (I simply couldn’t stomach the flour when I saw live weavils in it, and discovered them baked into the bread). I was very low on vitamins and minerals and developed a scurvey-like rash, and my gums bled. I got prickly heat which never recovered while I was in the camp. I was only on rations for two weeks (though one evening, I was bored and went down to the Ethiopian community for a drink: I can’t remember how I got home (I had a bike) but I do remember feeling extremely sick the next day).

I played chess and smoked lots of cigarettes (and other things) with Armin, who I liked enormously, but whose attitude and values I sometimes questioned (in my own mind, generally, unless I’d had too much to drink). I made friends with some people I’d never, ever have imagined making friends with: Aukot, John Deng Garang, Festo, and many others. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I memorised The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner: ‘he prayeth best who loveth best both man and bird and beast’. I rode my bike through the camp. I practiced yoga. I drank beer. I swam in the UNHCR compound pool. And then one day I got on the plane to Nairobi, and I left. I lost touch with all of them. Until today. Today, Festo rang. It’s made me want to see if I can get in touch with people again.

I can still see the place, the sunsets, the dust, the mountains. For me, it was a magical place, a place that was deeply beautiful and deeply dangerous and difficult. I wrote a story about an accident I had while I was there. There are many other things that happened that I wrote about but will never publish but they’re all as vivid and clear as yesterday. I had a vision for the place then: that flowers would bloom in the desert, that respect between the peoples, their cultures and the place, would blossom and there would be a huge transfer of energy, so that all the hierarchical thinking which came from UNHCR completely unconsciously and filtered all the way through, causing resentment, power hunger, and corruption, would dissappate, and be replaced by a kind of busy energy of real democracy, of debate and discussion, of voices all participating, problem solving, respecting, communities asking the host community, the Turkana, how they could use their particular culture and skills to help them, even if ‘help’ meant ‘leave alone’. And how, in turn, the Turkana could help or leave be, the peoples, and most of all, because I love the land so deeply, I could imagine the land itself healing, the Rift valley relaxing as the pressure was taken off for ridiculous things like a swimming pool, and instead orchards were planted, rainwater was harvested, in pools of oases, sensitively managed, but mostly the land was allowed to be what it was, vast, open, and home to the strong and the brave creatures which, with intelligence and sensitivity, all can appreciate. But not when a people has ‘nowhere’ to live, without choice.

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Movement and stillness

Dear all, I have moved to http://www.knowyogaireland.com and I hope you’ll follow me there. I am currently teaching ECOnnected Yoga for compassionate responsibility towards self, other and the more-than-human world. I would love more people to know about the course so please ask if you want more information. http://www.knowyogaireland.com

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Moving permanently to Know Yoga Ireland. Please can you let me know if it’s working for you?

Can you let me know if you can find me on https://knowyogaireland.wordpress.com/? I am moving to there, gradually, so please have a look at what’s going on there to see what I’m offering. I’ve also got a YouTube channel where I’ll be uploading videos to help you practice: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnS0z55s808QQSyjca7TxtQ/videos

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I’m drowning in technology… and thank you, dear Stephanie, for your beautiful words

I’ve just updated the workshop details. It’s this coming weekend. Please book if you want to spring your yoga, and to know what that means… and I want to cry because I don’t know how this works, and I’ve just found Stephanie’s comment from last year… Thank you so much, Stephanie. I’ve had a tough few days and this means so very much:

Lucy is so open and honest! Her wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm is endless! She has truly inspired me!
Continue reading

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Spring Your Yoga: New Venue! Tavraun House and Two Ancient Raths


-Learn how to maintain compassionate attunement and beneficial attitude
-Build resilience
-Practice deep stillness
-Develop meditation techniques, including walking the two ancient raths
-Experience ancestral healing and the power of lucid dreaming for personal development
-Create the relationships that you most deeply desire
When? 7th and 8th of March, 10am – 3.30 pm, light lunches included
Where? Tavraun House, Kilkelly, Co Mayo
Who by? Dr Lucy Weir, Philosopher, Writer, Yoga teacher for 20 years
Who for? Yoga teachers, practitioners and anyone interested in improving their physical, psychological and spiritual health
How much? 80 euro two days (recommended). Morning 25 euro, afternoon 30 euro, single day 45 euro. Deposit required via PayPal
How? Contact Dr Lucy Weir 0861286449 or looseyoga@gmail.com

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SEO, Pinterest, and my learning journey through Yoga

Today I taught my weekly chair yoga class, was asked to come back, fudged and bumbled and blushed and said, that would be great, but put it off for a few weeks because I didn’t want them to get bored with it. What was I thinking? I desperately need an income and it’s offered to me and I say, thanks, yes, let’s do it… later. I slouched around the house this morning, listening to affirmations, finding it hard to convince myself that I had anything worth saying. What is going on? The ego unleashed. This is nothing to do with what I want, with what I think I can do. This is to do with what other people want, and need, and that I can, however imperfectly, provide.
A hard lesson.
I wrote to Melissa at the Yoga Alliance Professionals (who have been fantastic) and asked her to remove the word journey from the tags. She said that the tag had come up automatically, and was generated by the SEO. I realised I have no idea how SEO works, so after making lentils and rice for lunch (and that’s because I read up on chandrayanam which is fasting, or rather reducing food intake, to the moon cycle – fascinating. New moon was on the 23rd Feb so we’re just past that. You can start fasting then and each day, add a large spoonful of whatever you eat to your diet until you’re on the 15th day, when you will be at full moon, and then you begin to reduce again. I’ll try it with my yogis!) I sat at my desk to churn through the incomprehensible gibberish that passes for Google’s attempts to communicate technology to the masses. That’s why I’m here: to insert a piece of code into my site. God alone knows where or how. So that it can be found by search engines.
I told Melissa that I don’t like the word journey because I prefer the idea that all knowledge and wisdom is already here, enlightenment is already now, here, but that we have to uncover it by removing ignorance. But I’ve decided, in a spirit of ironic homage to the bots, to put journey in the title. Let’s see if that gets them crawling all over me.
Namaste.

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To put a deposit down for Spring Your Yoga…

I’m trying to add a PayPal button here but it’s proving challenging… I pasted the HTML but nothing is appearing. The easiest way to put a deposit down for the March workshop in Kiltimagh is to PayPal me at looseyoga (at) gmail (dot) com. I’ll get over this technical hitch as soon as possible and make things simpler for you but for now, that’s the best I can do. Namaste!

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Spring your Yoga with the Glore River and Labyrinths

This workshop will be on 7th and 8th of March in The Glore Mill in Kiltimagh. It will cost 80 euro, including a light lunch, and will run from 10 am to 3.30 pm. Please be here by 9.45 am. It is possible to attend one session (morning 25 euro, afternoon 30 euro, single day 45 euro), and to receive all materials which will be sent out beforehand to all who register, however, it would be much more beneficial to attend both days. There will be consideration given to those who are deeply dedicated to learning but who are in financial difficulties.

The focus in my practice and teaching is on developing and deepening an understanding of our interconnectedness and its implications. We practice compassionate attunement to let the individual self become a way through which love can act. This involves understanding, and then practicing how to maintain compassionate attunement based on ancient philosophies and modern scientific theories. It involves building resilience through focused asana practice, and unearthing the layers of experience through pranayama practice. We then practice pratyahara for peace and resilience, dharana through exercises in focusing awareness and keeping the attention steady, as well as writing exercises, listening exercises and walking exercises. We explore the powerful practices in yogic sleep, and link this with the practices of lucid dreaming which I have experienced and used to integrate issues in my own relationships. We use imaginative techniques and analytical, knowledge-based practices to learn more about our relationship within our culture and historical relationships so that these too can become integrated, and then we explore how we can elicit lucid dreaming through yoga nidra and other practices.

We will use practice, silence and discussion.

We will work to identify the desire that drives us, to name it to ourselves, to realise it in our lives. If it is real, not Maya, it will surely manifest.

Sessions run:

Saturday

10-12: introductions, yamas and niyamas, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: lunch

1-3.30: pratyahara, labyrinths with intention, following the thread writing, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra and lucid dreaming explored through silent meditation, writing, and discussion.

Sunday

10-12: intention setting, compassionate communication, the science of happiness, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: silent lunch

1-3.30: voice of the river walking, ancestral healing techniques, writing reflections, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra, lucid dreaming explored, closing discussion on driving desire, connections, reflections and seeing your story unfold, close.

Please book through my email looseyoga@gmail.com or through this website. Deposit of 20 euro required.

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Spring your yoga with the glorious Glore and labyrinths

No nonsense yoga and philosophy to ground your perspective and help you understand and respond to the ecological emergency. This work promises to be fun, fulfilling, and above all, to help shift our trajectory from one of increasing fragmentation, polarisation, blame, hatred and fear, to compassionate attunement and letting love do what needs to be done. Through this work you can:

-Understand how to maintain an attitude of compassionate attunement based meditating and discussing Yajnavalkya’s, as well as Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas in the light of modern scientific theories of compassionate communication and happiness.

-Build resilience, endurance and flexibility through asana and pranayama.

-Practice pratyahara for inner quietude, to strengthen your immune system and to experience the shift from outer to inner awareness., then develop samyama through meditation techniques, including walking labyrinths with a single focus, writing exercises, listening to the voice of the Glore river while walking, ancestral healing, finding the deep power of lucid dreaming and yoga nidra through practice, silence and discussion.

This workshop will be on 7th and 8th of March in The Glore Mill in Kiltimagh. It will cost 80 euro, including a light lunch, and will run from 10 am to 3.30 pm. Please be here by 9.45 am. It is possible to attend one session (morning 25 euro, afternoon 30 euro, single day 45 euro), and to receive all materials which will be sent out beforehand to all who register, however, it would be much more beneficial to attend both days. There will be consideration given to those who are deeply dedicated to learning but who are in financial difficulties.

Sessions run:

Saturday

10-12: introductions, yamas and niyamas, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: lunch

1-3.30: pratyahara, labyrinths with intention, following the thread writing, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra and lucid dreaming explored through silent meditation, writing, and discussion.

Sunday

10-12: intention setting, compassionate communication, the science of happiness, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: silent lunch

1-3.30: voice of the river walking, ancestral healing techniques, writing reflections, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra, lucid dreaming explored, closing discussion on driving desire, connections, reflections and seeing your story unfold.

Bring a yoga mat, any props you might normally use (e.g. a zafu for zazen) and a notebook and pen. Light lunch and tea and coffee provided.

bdr

Posted in Ancestral work, Ecological awareness, Lucid dreaming, sankalpa, Serious yoga, Writing, yoga nidra, yoga philosophy, Yoga practice, zazen | Leave a comment

Yoga is Green

I am offering a workshop in the Glore Mill in Kiltimagh for those interested in deepening their practice and understanding of interrelationship, non-dualism, the power of lucidity and awareness in practice, and the use of affirmations and journalling in developing self realisation. More details to follow but please contact me to book a place! 7th and 8th March 2020.

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