Chasing the border
Sudan is a pretty large country, as countries go, but we had a hard time finding it. Sunday is a rest day for the NGO’s; they did not go to the camp. We decided to go see the line between Darfur and Chad, after first asking Pacome, the UNHCR head guy here at Bahai, if it was safe. He said that there were no reports of any problems at the border, so off we went. Thin and sharp Bechara, our driver, said he knew the way, even drawing a map on the sand. He said that we would be going by the camp, and the border would be just off to the right, about a hand’s length on his sand-map.
These parts of Chad are even sandier than the rest. There were many long stretches on the road to the camp that really made me nervous, with deep sand that seemed ready to gulp us down. At one point, Bechara made what seemed like a good move, asking the car jump off the road to more solid, unused sand. Then he had to swerve a bit more to the right to find better sand and then a few more turns to avoid bushes. Before we knew it, there was no road in sight, but Bechara kept on flying. He would make sharp turns and then speed straight forward, looking for tire marks that would signal the road. It was not more than two or three minutes, but it felt like a long time lost. We asked him is he knew where the road was, and he said yes, with a very unsure look on his face. We finally found tire tracks made by one lonely car, and those led us to the more used road that took us to the camp.
We went to the gendarmes, and they let us borrow one of their officers as a guide. He was not much better than Bechara, making us go one way then another, before eventually finding a border patrol post. Here, another officer wanted to join us. Now we were six in the car. He took us up the road about five minutes, where we stopped next to a large man-made lake in the middle of the desert. They say the president of Chad created it because he was born in this area.
There was not much to look at from the point the border officer took us. He said that Sudan was just east of where we were standing. He also told us that there has been no movement of refugees to or from Darfur for the last week. There has been a lot of tension in the border area, with the local Chadians fighting the people coming and going from Darfur. There has even been a series of killings recently, all related to supposed stealing of animals.
The land is bare, and people exist very much on the edge of survival. The crisis in Darfur has started a chain reaction of events that has affected many more people than the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. The refugees are homeless and suffering enormously. The local population, which was very welcoming of the refugees at the start of the crisis, now has to deal with depleted resources and out of control inflation. The border official told me that price for a chicken has quadrupled with the crisis.
To go to the border, we had to go through a sliver of the camp. It is a huge monster of a camp, with almost 30,000 refugees. Tomorrow we get to meet the people living in this camp on the border with Darfur, the home they so much want to go back to.
Akaye found bread in the little village. He bought me the equivalent of one dollar in bread. My dinner was the bread, a can of tuna, and some almonds I bought at Trader Joe’s back home. I couldn’t ask for anything more :-)
Oh, if you were here and could go right outside this tent and looked up, you would see the most incredible moon, the one that’s just a little sliver of white, with Venus right above it. Now I couldn’t ask for anything more!