In May 2017, Louis Bien and Kainaz Amaria went to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to document the start of the Kakuma Premier League soccer season for a piece called “Escaping Kakuma: Soccer and the pursuit of meaning inside the world’s third-largest refugee camp.” There were still many more stories to tell within the world’s third-largest refugee camp, however, a place where sports have greater meaning as a way to combat idleness within an oft-forgotten population. This is a story about the women of Kakuma.
The markets of Kakuma can make you forget where you are. The refugee camp is the third largest in the world, but it has been around for so long that it has lost any pretense it is supposed to be temporary. You can buy a cell phone or a Coca-Cola out of a thatch-and-tin shack off the road. You could get a macchiato and sip it in a plastic chair on a dirt floor by a rubber-clothed table. The markets are one of the few places where, if you live in Kakuma, it’s easy to take your mind off the reasons you’re there in the first place — the death, oppression, and longing that come to define you.
And in the market roads, women are often outnumbered by men, goats, and dogs. The refugees that reside there come from nations with prominently conservative cultures — primarily South Sudan and Somalia — where women are expected to stay in their homes and handle traditional household duties, like cooking, cleaning, and child-raising. The women you do see in the market are often carrying heavy loads of firewood. Every duty related to maintaining a homestead almost exclusively fall on women, while men — people who in a better world would be working — talk away their days.
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