I was just looking at some of the pictures I’ve taken, the families, the children, and the recipients of the Peace Tiles. They really do look like our children; they look like family. But, what have those eyes seen and what have those hearts felt?
Way up north…Bahai
Today was a road day, bumpy and sandy as all the other road days. It was quite different in other ways, though. We traveled from Iriba to Bahai, where the tent I’m sitting in is. To get to Bahai, we traveled through Tine, which is right on the border with Sudan. On one side is Tine, Chad; on the other side is Tine, Sudan. We looked for a border crossing, so that we could see the other side and video record; we were not sure what. When we got to the border, there was a Chadian military post. Across the way, on the other side of a dry riverbed, there was another town, just like the one on this side, but with a Sudanese flag flying. The head military guy at the post did not allow us to film. He said we needed authorization from the local authorities. We went looking for one and found the border police. After much looking over our papers and writing in his notebook, he told us that it was someone else that needed to give us permission, so he walked us over to the gendarmes’ post. Here, five men in military garb welcomed us, and the older one looked over our papers. He promptly said that it was someone else that needed to authorize our mission, so we went over to another place, looking for some official. He was not around. So, after forty minutes of looking for authorization to record ten seconds of a flag flying in the air, we got back into our cars and kept on going.
I must say, there is a lot of tension around Tine. Right before coming in, there is a checkpoint with many soldiers with guns. All around the city we saw men in trucks with some heavy weapons. It was not a comfortable situation. Another group of young armed men asked us for our papers on the way out.
Here in Bahai, the UNHCR staff has been wonderful, the same as in all of our other stops. They took us to the local authorities to check in and also to visit the camp managers, the International Rescue Committee.
We are pretty much right on the border with Darfur. We are told that there is a lot of movement of refugees back and forth. The refugee situation has really had an impact on the local population. Bahai is a tiny village in the sand. There are not more than three thousand locals. Then, with the crisis in Darfur, an influx of close to thirty thousand refugees appeared, and the resources in the area are meager to start with. With the refugees came the NGO’s. This combination has pushed prices for goods to exorbitant levels for the local population. Firewood is again mentioned as one the main issues here.
I’ll share more from the border, in this village that is as north as we’re going to go, very soon.
Hello Pocatello, Idaho!
My partner here, Chris, also spent time in the Peace Corps and has many stories. It sounds like a great place to start for young people coming out of college, and for older people with good skills also. Thanks for your nice comment. Please make Pocatello, Idaho a center for activity towards stopping genocide and putting humanity before politics.
I miss our middle of the night e-mail exchanges. You asked about unaccompanied children. I asked NGO staff at camp Iridimi, and they told me that there are very few unaccompanied children. There are many children that are separated from their parents, and maybe orphans, but there is usually family or neighbors or just plain good people that take them in. It is difficult to say if children are orphans or if they are separated from parents. Families have told us that it is very chaotic at the time of the attacks on their villages, and people run in every which direction to get out of harm’s way. The attacks start right at dawn, with fighter jets and helicopters going in first, and then the janjaweed come in and continue the violence. In the process, families are torn apart. Some members are killed; others become separated and end up far away from each other.
How do NGO’s evaluate health? We asked Doctors Without Borders. They did not allow us to film; I wish we could have, because they do an incredible job and have great facilities. In camp Iridimi, they are in charge of the health of the refugees. They screen all of the young children, if I remember correctly, five years and younger. They do a weight-to-age study and determine if they are acutely malnourished. They have an emergency feeding center, which sees a flow of children every day. He, the guy in charge that did not let us film, said that the health situation in Iridimi is stable. Mortality rate is now the same as in the rest of Africa. They offer additional supplemental food to all pregnant women. This serves a double purpose. Besides making them stronger, so that they have stronger babies, it brings them into their clinic and gets them hooked up into the prenatal and postnatal system. I’m telling you, MSF (French acronym for Doctors Without Borders) does one amazing job. Their facilities are clean and, going beyond that, they are aesthetically pleasant. We were told by reliable sources that this group at Iridimi is hard to work with. They do not like to collaborate; they want to do what they want to do. There was some arrogance in the air, as we toured their place, but they can get away with that because they deliver. I was very impressed with MSF’s commitment to the people of Darfur. They have been there from the start.
How’s it going? You know, it’s not all bad to be kicking it in a tent in the middle of the desert. Being out here puts everything into perspective. It helps in arranging priorities. Right now, I’d be more than “full” with just having my family around me, talking and enjoying the vibe.
What did you think of Day 13? There’s the proof, me showing skills on the soccer field. The camera did miss my beautiful pass that led to a goal, but there are dozens of Darfurians that can attest to it. Here at the UNHCR compound in Bahai, there is a large area that is all sand, as deep as in Hermosa Beach. I bought a soccer ball, so I’ll see if Akaye, our translator, is up to kicking the ball around tomorrow. I hope you guys are getting some games in out there because I’m going to be ready, as soon as I get back.
Ahmat, the young man that told us his story on Day 11, learned how to speak English by going to see a teacher in the afternoon during this last year. He is too old to go to school in the mornings, and, if things do not change, his schooling is over, since there is nothing for children after primary school in the camps. At Kounoungo, some of the kids are lucky because they have the school director, whom I think you met on Day 10 and also speaks English, is looking for ways to keep adolescents involved in education. That’s very cool that Oprah spoke about Africa on David Letterman. I’m actually surprised that she was on David Letterman! Was this the first time? He had made a running joke that Oprah was too big to come on his show. She is right though, about how we have to do what we each can and not be paralyzed by the enormity of the situation.
Thanks for helping Rachel to prepare postcards for Cerritos College. Cerritos, you’ve got it going on! Paulo, thanks! Mimi, mi Chiquita Hermosa…un abrazo!
Great to hear that mtvU has linked us from their site; thanks for hooking that up. I’m very much looking forward to getting back and working with you on spreading awareness that leads to action in a big way. Big hug to you and family.
It is so nice to hear from you. Your comment was great. Please say hi to uncle Dave, aunt Rosa, and to all of your family. I hope we all get together soon when I get back.
Did I miss answering anyone’s question? Please re-ask if I did, and I’ll go look for the answer and will hopefully not take too long in answering back. Thanks for being a part of i-ACT. Remember, ACT is a big part of it.