Hello from Darfur, II
The second of the e-mails my friend Laura wrote from Darfur.
Hello all.... Had a few free minutes so I wanted to say hello. All's well here.
I feel like I've been here for weeks...and it's only just over a week now! I love speaking to people in the camps and hearing their stories -- I've become a bit braver about asking them personal questions about what's happened to them and their families. It's a confusing 'emergency' because you look at people and it doesn't look like they're starving. But they're living in appalling conditions, under constant fear of attack. Actually, the fear varies from camp to camp. Some feel relatively safe. But yesterday we were in a camp up north, where 3 women had been beaten the night before. Men came looking for their husbands, but they had fled. One of our Sudanese staff members said that they then beat the women to try to lure the men back. Even after that experience, the women told me they feel safer in the camp then they would at home.
I think it's even more confusing here, because Sudanese are so amazingly warm and hospitable. They smile and wave almost all the time. The day before yesterday, at the same camp where the women were beaten, we were shooting some video of the...I don't know what word to use to describe them...huts? shacks? Piles of sticks maybe 5 x 5 in which families live without shelter from the sun or rain. (The people who've been there long enough to have registered with [my organization] have been given tarps to cover their homes...but those who've come more recently haven't been registered, so they have nothing.) Siobhan, Dominic and I were waiting in the shade while Jimmy (cameraman) shot. (It's over 100 degrees here every day...40-45 degrees celsius, they keep saying.) As we rose to leave and walk back through the sand to the car, a woman came up to Siobhan holding out a pen. It seems Siobhan had dropped the pen in the sand at some point, and the woman wanted to return it to her. It was unbelievable. One of the moments I think I'll carry with me.
In Haiti, there is so much anger, it's palpable. Here, most people seem to smile and wave. They seem to appreciate my attempts at Arabic -- in fact, the Sudanese staff here are amazingly good teachers! And yet hundreds of thousands of people here were forced to leave their homes, watched their brothers, sons, fathers, husbands taken, beaten or killed, are subsisting on next to nothing (yet I'm told the reason that there hasn't been mass starvation is that those who get rations from aid agencies share them with those relatives or former neighbors who don't, or people with relatives in relatively unaffected areas are being supported at least in part by their families), and are living in the dehumanizing conditions of an IDP (internally displaced person) camp. Anger and frustration are growing. But from my brief visit, it appears that people are maintaining their culture of hospitality.
Obviously, I'm just a visitor to a culture as complex as any other. I'm so aware that I don't even know what I'm not seeing...what's absent from the landscape, what I can't see. Side by side with the smiles and waves I see are men raping women who go out at 2am to gather wood. Who have ridden their horses into villages and taken land and livestock, poisoned the water systems, and killed the men. It may sound dramatic, but it just reminds me of how all humans seem to have such a capacity for evil, for cruelty.