These flash fiction pieces were created in the course "Writing African Futures," taught by Kerry Bystrom (Bard College Berlin) and Aedan Alderson (York University) as part of the program Borderless Higher Education for Refugees and in association with the Open Society University Network Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives. Students from Dadaab as well as from Berlin thought together for a semester (January-May 2021) about science fiction as a genre that might enable largely hidden experiences to be seen and different futures to become imaginable. Editor Bhakti Shringarpure and writer Kiprop Kimutai helped them to develop future-oriented creative responses to COVID as it unfolded around them. Funding for this project was provided by the OSUN Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives and the Open Society University Network Center for the Human Rights and the Arts.
- A Floating Future by Abdi Aden Abdi
Luul, a single mother living in Dadaab refugee camp, left her only daughter Maryan in Dadaab and traveled to Dhoobley. This is a town along the Kenya-Somalia border where she has relatives to visit just days before the closure of the Kenya border with Somalia as a result of Covid-19. Luul wants to return to Dadaab soon even if for the shortest time possible. She was not aware that the whole country would be curfewed and the border closed. She did not know COVID-19 would cause so many people to become isolated and lonely. She also did not know that everything will turn upside down in the camp.
“Your movement is restricted. Please stay where you are as the border is completely closed,” said a certain Kenyan officer from the border patrol unit as she tried to cross into Kenya. They waved her away to keep her distance from them as a means of social distancing. This is irritating to her because she left her only daughter in Dadaab and by now she would have been away for a month without seeing her beloved daughter. Freedom of movement for the refugees crossing the border will be always a challenge to her and others due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and it will remain a challenge.
Luul had a dream that if COVID-19 continues, it will be a disaster and she and her only daughter would starve because they would fail to obtain basics like food and water. Luul will have to seek food, water and education from UNHCR as the only means in future. Finally, even rituals like mourning will be online as public gathering would remain prohibited in future.
If she is determined to cross the border towards Kenya, she could be caught by the border police unit. The police will take her to the COVID-19 quarantine center where she will have to stay for 2 weeks to ensure that she was free from the virus. This period of quarantine will be the most challenging time as she maybe not only worried about her isolation but also her daughter's life as earning a living may become difficult because of the curfew. Remembering her neighbor's phone number off the top head will help her to communicate and get her news from her daughter if the quarantine center staff calls on her behalf.
If Luul was confirmed free from the virus, she will be released from the quarantine center and could join her daughter. Luul might find that the camp will be completely different and unusual for her in terms of earning her daily bread. She will be at home having lost her job at a restaurant as a dishwasher since most businesses are closed down due to government directives to contain the virus. Know that Luul has lost not her only means of income but she wonders how she will earn a living in the future if the pandemic lasts for many years, maybe even five or ten years to come. She will now be at home in a curfewed camp with no job, and no money from abroad as her uncle in the US has told her that he also has not had a job for months because of Covid-19.
Luul and her family will now be confined to the camp with a floating future so long as the virus lasts.
- Isolation and lockdown by Fowsia Abdulle
Sofia, who lived in the United Sates with her kids, moved to Kenya to unite with her husband leaving her children behind. She established a real estate business in the city of Nairobi. Sofia was very compassionate to her relatives and neighbors alike and was known for her generosity. She had a chronic respiratory disease and would become breathless and short of oxygen once in a while but with the outbreak of the pandemic every symptom related to the pandemic is made out to be Covid-19 even before tests are carried out. She had several episodes of shortness of breath and had been using an oxygen concentrator at home. She was being advised not to go to the hospital where she would be put in isolation and it was seen as a place where patients suspected of the virus were being abandoned.
Not able to handle the pain she was feeling, she pleaded with her husband to be taken to the hospital. At the hospital, she was quarantined and was left alone in an isolated ward by herself. She was taken to a small room equipped with a size one hospital bed and breathing aid devices to help her breathe. She was often visited by nurses whom she couldn’t recognize due to the protective gowns they wore. Halima, Sofia’s sister who was living in Dagahaley camp wanted to visit her sister but was stranded at the camp due to the lockdown. She was unable to get a movement pass from the offices due to the closure of offices.
“If the community could be provided with an option to be able to have a digitally advanced system where they will be able to reach officers and apply for travel documents online, “ Halima thought to herself. “If maybe there would be innovations of drones that were able to accommodate passengers that couldn’t pass by police post, then that would allow her to see her sister in the city,” she dreamt. She would do anything that could take her to her sister but she was bound by rules that no one could go against. Maybe if they were witches they could hide her from the eyes of the policemen that traded people and whom she often confronted with in her previous journeys to the city. But her beliefs as Muslim didn’t allow her to do so!
The following morning as she was contemplating about what to do to reach her sister, she woke up to the news of her sister’s demise. The most heartbreaking news was that she died alone, all alone! Without her loved ones at her bedside, body not washed nor shrouded, an Islamic ritual for the dead and part of the last rites to be performed on the deceased. This became an unforgettable and remarkable wound on her heart. Not able to perform the final rites on her sister Sofia: the sole provider for her family and who helped her raise eight kids! This has caused an immense pain to her which she feels to this day.
- Covid-19 World Order by Khadijo Sheikh Ahmed
I was in my kitchen cooking my favorite meal when all hell broke loose. At first, I dismissed it as a hoax, but I soon changed my mind when I began getting calls from friends asking if I was watching the television. A virus had been proclaimed a state enemy, and its source had yet to be identified. Despite people creating their own versions of its existence, the enemy was here and it was claiming lives. I felt scared, sad and lonely since there was fear of meeting friends or even going outside the house. Its transmission was fast and it didn’t care of what social class its victims were from. If there is something I have learnt from COVID-19 is that the miracle and faith-healing industry in the country is nothing but a sham and that prayers alone will not solve the country’s imminent health crisis.
Our world, as we know it, had been turned upside down by the coronavirus. I wish I never lived to see this day. The feeling of walking with a naked face, expressing and enjoying the free given air has now become a free ticket to death. How am I going to hang around friends with a mask on my face? How will I even express my brilliant smile with a covered face? This is torture.
The virus has not just exposed our fragility as human beings but has also raised our awareness of our interconnectedness as people sharing one planet with viruses and microbes. The year 2020 was to be my year, I kept on telling myself that as I walked past my kitchen door heading towards the balcony for fresh air. At least it was worth taking a deep breath.
First identified in China in November 2019, Covid-19 has since spread to almost all countries and states worldwide. The magnitude of this pandemic, as well as its fast geographical spread, has not only paralyzed both rich and poor nations but also caused global panic, creating gripping fear for our lives. On March 11, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the it a pandemic. At the time, the pandemic had nearly killed over 14,000 people and infected over 750,000 people.
I knew very well that due to the declared “enemy,” I had to prepare myself for the worst. So instead of wasting more time at the balcony, I decided that I would do my house shopping and get anything essential since I was going to be under “house arrest.” The virus, which experts says is most certainly passed from animals -- in this case, the bat -- has already infected over 300,000 people in Kenya if the government reports are anything to go by.
The year that was to be my favorite one because it was a leap year, (at least there was an extra day compared to the past 3 years) turned out to be a historical one. It’s now up to each individual to pray for survival.
- The Fire That Never Went Out by Océanne Fry
I sit by the smouldering tarp, kicking a rock with my muddy boot. Cinder and coals smolder perpetually. The sun is stingingly bright. You can taste the heat here.
We used to go down to the sea, to cool off, to feel weightless. My cousin, Zadi and I used to go at night. When the sea and the sky were dark emptiness, and the stars winked back at us from the water. We would float on our backs among the stars. We thought there would always be more nights, you always think there will be more nights. That ended years ago.
There are kids born here who have only heard stories of the water. They play among the blackened desert to the sound of waves they will never feel. Cats sleep on sand between burnt metal remnants of houses, too hot to touch, with families squatting in the scanty shade.
All our palms are scorched, our feet tender. How long has it been? Seven years?
I remember the air cloying and thick, choking my throat and stinging my eyes. The fire embedded itself into the land, into the objects it touched. Eleven thousand people, in a camp built for three thousand. The center of the camp, the containers, suffered the least damage. The tents, gone, obliterated. When the fire brigade dissipated, gruff and armored police set up a perimeter around the camp. The lockdown was still in place, they told us. The asylum service closed indefinitely, and we, trapped on this island, were not to leave the camp. People gestured at burned toes, red shoulders and smoky tears. The police did not budge. Tears sizzled on the bright sand beneath our feet. After two days of hunger and thirst, food distribution resumed. An agitated mass. Not enough water for everyone. There are several water taps across the camp, but you have to wait in line for three, four hours.
The fence had always been, studded with gaps to shimmy through. Ever since the fire, which has never ended, the fence is fortified.
They announced via crackly loudspeakers resonating across the camp, that we would still receive an allowance from the asylum office, ninety hoova per month, per person. As if that could get you anywhere. No more trips into town. Medical emergencies would be handled by a stern-faced army doctor stationed in a billowing white tent, at what had once been the main entrance.
We were given nothing to rebuild. It would have been no use. It would have blazed away overnight. We sleep on the sand, sweating but safe. We brave the coals daily, open blisters hardening into toughened, dead calluses.
No one could say how long the lockdown would last, nor how long the asylum service would be suspended. At first it was two weeks, then six months, two years. Wincing smiles.
People would do anything for a sip of water. But I don’t dream of water, I dream of floating in the star-studded sea.
- Pastor's Speech in the Baraza meeting by Judy Mary
Where are my fellow pastors if Corona lasts for long? Come, we submit our supplications to our maker. Corona virus is sweeping our people. All the churches' and Muslims' leaders let us unite our hands and pray together. Let us repent all our evil needs and become as white as our clothes we are wearing. Remember we will not have another Baraza like this one we have today since we must keep safe social distance. God of mercy, flee us from this deadly Covid-19.
What would be our daily routine if Corona virus pandemic lasts for long? I think life will change completely: workers will stop going to jobs, learning will be on online, markets will be closed and Mr. Stay-at-home will rule the whole world. I know the UN compound will be out of bounds. No entry anymore, I can't imagine refugees staying in the house. Will the agencies provide for us without accessing the UN compound? God of mercy, flee us from this deadly Covid-19.
Where will we meet as believers to remind ourselves about good morals. If the coronavirus pandemic lasts for 5 or 10 more years, will my fellows in the Dadaab refugee camp continue breathing? I pity my refugee Christians and Muslims believers who don't like following simple instructions. What about staying at home? Washing hands always? Wearing masks? And abstaining from hand shaking? God of mercy, flee us from this deadly Covid-19.
Where will our learners in the camp be if coronavirus pandemic lasts for long? Who will volunteer to secure their future? Where will the refugees, the displaced people and the youth in sub-saharan Africa be if this pandemic continues ? Will we be able to afford online learning? Will our learners understand that we are all born under difficult circumstances? Will we be there if coronavirus pandemic continues? God of mercy, flee us from this deadly Covid-19.
Where is our maker, the God who made us, pastors? God of mercy who knows our needs even before we present them to Him? Have mercy on your people, turn this table upside-down. This pandemic is killing rich and poor, young ones and adults, refugees and locals. It is stopping our daily routine. It is melting our children's future. Will their dreams come true? This is a dangerous animal. It is bringing pain to us. God of mercy, flee us from this deadly Covid-19.
What should I say to you, my fellow pastors, Christian believers, friends, my neighbors, Muslims leaders and believers? I cry with a loud voice. I, pastor Ali from the Dadaab international worship center, let us keep away all bad needs and thoughts. Follow the Covid-19 health protocols strictly. Let us cry to our maker who knows our cost, the God who helped the children of Israel during the plague as the Bible says in the book of exodus.
God of mercy, flee us from this deadly Covid-19.
Above: The student learning center at Dadaab Refugee Camp
Feature image via MSF