Hello from Darfur, I
The first of a couple of e-mails written by my friend Laura, who was in Darfur a couple of weeks ago with the aid agency she works for.

Hello all, Here I am in El Geneina. I've been in Sudan about 6 days now...in El Geneina for 4. I can't believe it's been so short! Feels like I've been here for weeks.

Darfur is a dry, forbidding land. There's green brush and short trees...and, near the wadis(which are now basically dry) some larger trees. We had a lovely picnic out by a wadi last Friday -- Friday is the day of rest here, so our Sudanese staff were having the traditional celebration the week before Ramadan begins. They invited all of us to come celebrate and feast with them. It was a lovely afternoon...so cool and breezy under the trees (shade is something much in demand here!) and they made an incredible meal.

As for the humanitarian emergency -- I've been trying to get a handle on what I've been seeing. I've visited 2 camps so far. Mornay, to the south of us, which is home to somewhere between 68,000 and 80,000 people (they've been having trouble getting accurate numbers because so many people are still moving), and Ardamata, just outside Geneina, which is a much smaller camp. There are many, many people who've been displaced -- more than 1 million -- but those who are living in the camps don't seem to be in such terrible shape. The malnutrition rates are not terribly high, so, somehow, people who've been on the move for 6 months to a year have had coping mechanisms that have sustained them. I've been trying to investigate this -- it seems the a combination of food stores from last year's harvest and very strong communities that share resources averted a disaster in the initial months. And now there is tons of food aid coming from the outside world. The problem is that now these people are almost entirely dependent on food aid, as their stores have run out. So the situation is quite precarious. If security diminishes, or the food aid dries up, there could be a very serious crisis.

Right now, there seems to be a bit more of a public health/hygiene danger. There has already been Hep E in Mornay, and with so many people concentrated in small spaces, we're focusing on hygiene education and sanitation facilities.

I have spoken to people in both camps, and they've told me terrible stories of having to flee their homes. One woman told me that her two oldest sons were killed when the janjaweed came. She had her youngest, @ age 2 or 3 in her arms as she spoke. All have told me that they have no plans to go home until they believe they will be safe there. And none of them believe they will be safe.

The Sudanese people are amazingly warm...the children run after us (after all whites) shouting 'hwaja' wherever we go, and their mothers walk behind waving hello. I haven't felt any hostility, although I imagine it when I see men in fatigues (police) or janjaweed on their camels. But, in truth, I haven't felt uncomfortable at all. I am, of course, in a very protected environment. Not to mention that sharia law is in place in Sudan, so no one steals anything -- even a pen used and not returned is returned the next day (I'm told that's not always the case, but that's been my experience).

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