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Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

The Dadaab Suite

Just as the World Food Program charter plane en route to Nairobi sped along the dirt airstrip to its lifting speed and began its ascent, I looked down at the sprawl of white tents and clusters of globular huts below where I had just spent a life-altering three days and vowed never to write about the experience of visiting the Dadaab Refugee Camp. Instead, I would content myself with making occasional trips to volunteer, and until then and meanwhile, help raise awareness about the oldest and largest UN administered refugee camp in the world. (Is it coincidental that this camp is also in Africa, the most historically neglected continent on earth?)

You Cannot Tell by the Expressions on Our Faces What We Are Feeling

July 6, 2010
A Pakistani security guard sits on a bench next to a fiberglass statue of Ronald McDonald.
A security guard outside the McDonald's in Islamabad. (Copyright Hassan Sulehri)

Islamabad, January–February 2010

The Western diplomat cuts two lines of cocaine on his iPhone and snorts them with a 100 rupee bill.

“Pure Colombian,” he says. “Don’t be shy.”

I shake my head.

“A bit of jet lag I expect?” he says glancing about my room and inquiring about my fourteen-hour flight from the States.

“Some, yes,” I say.

We first met in Afghanistan in 2003. He was a source. We got to know each other and became friends in the way I become friends with people I use for information; constant contact bred familiarity. We remained in touch after he was assigned to Islamabad. I e-mailed him as I prepared for this trip and he agreed to meet me in my guesthouse.

“Tell me, how many bomb attacks in the last year?“ he says tapping the butt of a cigarette against the arm of his chair. “Basically every day somewhere here, somewhere there, two a day at least. They are well trained, they know where to hit. It’s different than Iraq but just as tragic.”

He licks the coke off his iPhone and drops it in his coat pocket.

“Bush was prepared to fight forever and send military in perpetuity. Symbolically, Obama wants this to end by 2012. The civilized world looks at its watches. These guys don’t have watches but they have a hell of a lot of time. Fighting is in their blood. They use a sweet name, Islam, to give their fighting a purpose and to portray the feelings of a society.”

Since I was last here, he explains, the people have become very cautious. Not so long ago they would walk to a park and enjoy a day outside with their children. In the evening, houses filled with visiting family. Now, empty streets reveal a city on edge. Fear prevails. Afghan refugees have become targets of harassment for bringing “their” war to Pakistan. Overcrowded jails make ideal recruiting grounds as fundamentalist inmates mingle with common criminals.

 

7 Questions for Louie Palu

May 24, 2010

We talk to the documentary photographer and VQR contributor about his coverage of the intense warfare in parts of Afghanistan.

The Defeated

In battles of no renown My fellows and I fell down,
And over the dead men roar The battles they lost before.
The thunderstruck flagstaffs fall,

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