Djabal’s Village

Day 6

The sun rises gradually this morning. Or maybe its that I am already half awake several hours before we need to get up; each time I slowly open my eyes and quickly close them again its just a little brighter. I quickly gather our things and we are off. A new day, a new camp, and I am feeling good.

Its only two kilometers to Djabal, and fairly flat! As we make the routine stops in the city of Goz Beida, I take note of the straw walls, the large trees that provide much needed shade and the vines. Almost every wall has vines, albeit brown since the rainy season has passed months ago. Nonetheless, I see more plants than I have seen since I arrived in Chad; they line the streets and grow up and over the walls.

Once inside Djabal, the landscape is very similar. We see only a few tents used mostly for an additional layer to the thatch roof of a straw rectangular or round structure. Many bushels of dried corn stalk and straw lie on rooftops or stand upright against the corner of a lot. So many donkeys snack on straw and have their own small shelter. Vines grow up and over the walls that make small pathways large enough for a vehicle to drive through. I feel as if I am in a village, not a refugee camp. That is until we begin to meet the people of Djabal.

Hassan and HisseinSimilar to my first day in Kounoungo an older lady with many years of experience, Amhoush, approaches me. Welcoming and thanking me, with a voice that rises higher with each expressed answer to my questions. She is our gateway to Adef, Achta, Hassan and Hissein (twins!), Kadija, Maryouda, and our three guides who will take us to meet Oumar.

Oumar met Tracy McGrady (NBA player with Houston) some months back and they sat and talked for a while. We brought pictures and video of their meeting, and of the rest of the camp to connect his high school in Florida with the community members here.

We have three guides who have identified Oumar and agree to help us find him. In a camp of 16,000 I wonder how long it will take. We meander through a few homes, an area with three traditional stoves, several feeding donkeys and a small garden plot. I fall behind as I try to capture several women in their daily routine. Without a translator, I can only say, hello and ask them their names. But the usual smile and arm motions asking if its okay to film and snap photos works. They gather themselves together and use their own body language to show me their lives.

I run to catch up…a small group has formed in the large vacant sand pit that splits the camp into two. They have found Oumar, and in less then 10 minutes. We ask him if he plays basketball. “I am a futbol player, I am only learning basketball.” Gabriel and I exchange a glance – a futbol challenge that will later unfold into a game of 4 against 20!

He walks us to his home, not far from the center of the camp and his mother is home. Genie welcomes us into her space and in a simple sentence I connect one part of my life with hers. “I am both the mother and the father,” she describes since her husband passed a year ago in the camp. I think of my own mother, who, too, balanced the role of single mother, as many people throughout the world are faced with. So eloquently and sincerely she describes her daily routine and responsibilities, filled mostly with long hours and laborious work. Her gratitude for being able to pause here in this camp during this period of her life amazes me. With two children under the age of five who only have memories of a refugee camp as home, I wonder if she will ever be able to show them where she grew up and teach them her traditional ways of living with the freedom that every human being deserves.

Losing team 3 With more than 50% of the population in this camp, and most of the 12 camps for that matter, under the age of 17, how could we end the day without a futbol game? We first pick teams: Gabriel, myself, Ali, and Oumar (not the above Oumar) vs. Oumar, his brother, and well, about 15 other boys – literally. Its hard not to play bunch ball with such a short field and so many players, but our team manages to pass and SCORE! They play with boundaries: the donkeys corral on one side which produces a throw in, the group of girls huddled behind our goal which produces a drop kick and well, the other two sides were wide open. Ali hangs back in goal and we are lucky that his is good! Oumar hustles and can compete for the high balls – albeit by kicking his foot over his head! The game is tied up at 2 goals. Next goal wins. We struggle to get it out of our defense for a few minutes but manage to get it up field, or up the sand pit rather! Oumar passes it in from the left side, I make a quick fake left, “Shot,” Gabriel yells! I gently kick the ball with the inseam and it passes by the first boy, the second aims to kick it, but misses and it slides past the third! Our team of four has successfully beat a team of 15!WINNING TEAM 2

With SPF 55 slipping into my eyes and my shirt dusted with a thin layer of sand, I retreat to the shade and look out over the older boys and Bouba, our translator, still kicking the ball around.

I am leaving the camp today with a feeling of connectivity. I know that when I return tomorrow, I will see many of the same women and children as I met today. We will visit their school and hopefully I will get to speak to the one female student in level 6, their highest offered in this camp. My hopes are high today, not only because I have now met more of the most resilient people I will ever meet, because I know that our community can make a difference in the lives of my new friends.

Together, KTJ

Katie-Jay keeps i-ACT running on several levels. Much of her work entails coordinating partnerships with other grassroots organizations and implementing the campaigns developed by Gabriel and seeing through the details. She graduated from Portland State University with a BA in Sociology and a focus on Community Development. She has previously worked as a community organizer in Thailand, Guatemala, and with grassroots organizations across the United States.

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16 Responses to “Djabal’s Village”
  1. KTJ …. you are sensational baby!

  2. Lisa says:

    Hi, KTJ!

    The kids in all these camps are giving you and Gabe quite a workout! You really made the dust fly playing futbol!

    You’re amazing keeping up with all the names you do. Just how many will you take home in your book?!

    Thanks for providing the age stats for the camps. It’s hard to fathom the disproportionate number of very young, and consider where they will be without education and other developmental needs being met. What a different society they will comprise in the future days of Darfur.

    Peace,

    Lisa

    • Katie-Jay says:

      My friend, Lisa!

      It was great to workout a little with the kids – the 2nd day was better, I felt less tired after running around. In the faces of many we meet there is more experience than their years, more pain than they deserve. But there is also joy in the hearts. Today we talked with the small class of level 6, the highest grade level in Camp Djabal. They all are holding all their hopes and dreams in their education. I can’t help to think that this more that we can all be doing – but so much of it needs to done here on the ground with our support back home. Thank you for all your support Lisa!

  3. teresa says:

    Hola KTJ!
    Now I’d like to hear the real story about who won that soccer game from the 15 kids on the other team… but since you’re the one with the pen (or computer) I guess you write the history.
    Mixed feelings watching today’s video, the sadness you see in the faces of Oumar’s family when sharing their story and then the smile kids bring from the pleasure they get from a great game of soccer.

    You and Gabe are looking a bit slim in that victory picture, or is that a little photoshop editing??

    Take care.
    Teresa

    • Katie-Jay says:

      Hahaha! Teresa!

      It was a good game – they had almost 20 players!!! Today, they had 8 players and we added Josh, but we lost 3-2! The final goal was a good one, right on target whipping past Josh in goal. No photoshop here, I think it might be the diet…but we feel good…my new year’s resolution was: diet, husband, baby, corporate job! I am right on target! Hahahha!

  4. Cory says:

    KTJ, nice foot work!..I think it’s fair to say that if there’s one thing everyone on this planet can agree on it’s futbol

    Words can’t describe the inspiration and motivation you and Gabriel are bringing to the world everyday, showing us we are all connected and we all have a responsibility!

    Thanks for everything,
    Cory

    • Katie-Jay says:

      Hey Cory!

      Nice to read your words! After being in contact on a daily basis in preparation for this trip, its strange to only check my email once in a while and even then to only skim over words. Our team works so hard to put i-ACT together but it would be nothing without the refugees. Our work continues to build and grow momentum to connect more communities with more communities to create a global village!

  5. gina says:

    Hi Gab and KTJ,

    Speaking of the eloquent and resilent people of the refugee camps, you both are “The
    Incredibles!” With all your hopes, efforts and dreams, the world is watching and acting. I believe it is with these eyes and minds on Darfur, IS what will Stop Genocide Now!

    It was amazing how quickly you were able to find Oumar and his family. Learning about his life, I was pleased that he and his family were touch by first, Tracy McGrady and your presence. My only wish is that more people could be touched and thrilled, not for the moment, but for the future. As, I can only imagine how many more childern and families were scarred by the atrocities.

    Stay Safe.
    gina

    • Gabriel says:

      Hi Gina!

      Yes, it is pretty amazing how, in a camp with almost 16,000 refugees, we can, on a first try, find someone that takes us straight to Oumer in just a few minutes! It talks about how tight of a community they are, and maybe that we’ve gotten lucky now three times in a row that I’ve tried finding someone. Thanks, Gina!

    • Katie-Jay says:

      Greetings Gina!

      I too hope that many more people, both the refugees here and the communities back home will be able to connect and relate to one another to end the genocide and, in the meantime make the situation in the camps better. There are 234,000 registered refugees spread between the 12 camps. I wish I could connect with them all and tell them that we have not forgotten and that we are still fighting for their freedom and peace in Darfur.

  6. Isaac says:

    Just to put it out there one more time; dang, you two are awesome! We are blessed to have ya’ll as our representitives from the states.
    You are so right as to how resilient those people are, seeing them draws much respect from me as to how strong they are.
    I keep spreading the website, and the awareness, wherever I can…
    Isaac

    P.S. KTJ, Thank you for the responses, I’m sorry if your know it all cousin was trying to sound like he knew what you should be doing over there… I know you got it covered. And if your upper case ISAAC was ribbing me about your name, you know, I think I might finally be getting it… maybe…

    • Katie-Jay says:

      Greetings ISAAC!!!

      I am glad that you are comin’ round on the name J Here in the camps, and in most Arabic speaking places my name is Kadija – pronounced with a harsh “hhhh” Hadijay sounding. Next time I see you I will expect the Kadija greeting! Hahahha!

  7. Rachel says:

    Hello guys!

    One thing keeps on striking me… All the children and hardly any adults around…And they still look so well behaved. I was thinking about the movie “The Children Soldiers of Uganda” and how there too we see so many children unsupervised. In the movie they mention, several times, that the children are out of control. I believe one lady even mentions that she’s never seen so many “bad” children. There is also a concern of promiscuity and that many of the young girls are getting pregnant. I know that you’re not at the camps for extensive periods of time to experience these behaviors, but have you heard anything on this subject?

    Again, great soccer game! Looking kinda slim there…

    Can’t wait to hear from J & J.

    Peace

    Rachel (Torrance, CA)

  8. Waltraud Jost says:

    Hello again ,
    wow how they found Oumar in 10 minutes, unbelievable.
    I am sure everyone had lots of fun playing soccer, what a great idea that was.
    Is it through that a lot of the young girls get pregnant.
    Also wondering like Rachel if that is a fact.
    Love and Peace
    Waltraud from Germany

  9. Jessica Hala says:

    nice foot work

    keep up the good work

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