A half-deflated soccerball is just about as precious as food. Boys are still boys and a game of soccer in a corner of tent city is almost a relief to watch. That something normal remains.

As we drive past the airport and past the enormous UN presence, it's easy to understand why the people have such animosity towards them, the great towering fences and serious faces.

Through the market area, amidst garbage piles and mud there are clothes, shoes and produce for sale, sometimes it's hard to tell where the garbage pile and the market line cross over.

Driving past a building with a second storey pane of glass hanging by a corner over a busy street below, I think it's just like a raindrop at the end of a leaf. Hard to catch and hard to know when it will fall.

In the ominous heat that signals the rain will arrive at some point today, the smell of decay and dust sits all the way back in my throat. The people grim-faced as we pass them in the markets.

We drive through another massive tent city, raised up on about 4 feet of rubble. The limestone and cinderblock is broken into pieces, everything looks white and the tents are orderly and almost beautiful in the monochrome for a moment. Marcio is driving and explains that tent city sits on top of the mass gravesite. They buried more than 150,000 bodies in that grave, piling the rubble of their houses on top of them.

Life continues on, one life on top of another. But the cars don't honk, the tent city is quiet and the people are somber beside the grave site.

Approaching Marassa, my heart is in my throat, anxious to see what my friends saw, nervous in case it's worse than when they were here before. Initially what I see are rows of tents in orderly fashion. Beyond that I see more sticks and sheets.

A school is being built between the two Marassa Camps which is hopeful because it will provide some education for the children, but full of despair because the permanency of the situation becomes clear.

As we walk down the hill into the first city, Beethoven comes swooping past, taking Seth's hand and then climbing up into his arms. Beethoven was happy to sit with us for the entire time we were there some four hours. He's about 5 years old, with quiet and intense eyes. The committee leader explained, as he fell asleep on Seth's lap, he was falling asleep because he hadn't eaten anything. There is no food. And while his embrace and trust of Seth and us is sweet and endearing – the truth is it points to attachment issues and in likelihood some development issues. This is heartbreaking.

Marassa #14 feels permanent and organized, reassuring that there is so much motivation despite the lack of food. But the internal politics become obvious between the two camps. So much work to be done here, in terms of relationship and development.

Marassa #9 is chaotic, despairing, much worse off than Marassa #14. They don't have tents or the same organization to the village setup, the committee of leaders seems separatist from the rest of the people. The people themselves are aggressive, far less welcoming and expressive. The tents are much worse off – they are still stick construction with tarps where possible.

The NGOs have the best of intentions but we saw one arrive with a medical supply handout, but apparently they are not working with the community leaders, the committee. The people were full of anxiety and mistrust. There were people almost to the point of riot, with lots of angry voices and escalating tone.

So, one camp is better and the other is much worse off. Neither have food but after a long, long conversation it becomes apparent that the answer can't be simply providing food. There has to be the opportunity for development and education, some sort of economic development for long term benefit.

On the way back, I jump into the back of the pickup/ute. It's the most freeing place I've been all week. All of a sudden I am in it. The smell, the heat, the conversation with people on the side of the street. The stares, the smiles and the connection with people as we went past. At times very slowly. The drive back took what felt like a couple of hours and through the devastation of the city.

Feels like the whole place is hanging by a thread. The vendors and people are straight back out, underneath rubble and concrete hanging by reinforcing steel, or electrical wiring. The city is pancaked, rubbled, smoking with burning fires, mud, debris and all of a sudden there is something glorious is being in it, breathing it the same as everyone else.

Posted via email from Tash McGill