Last night I wrote my blog late at night after a long, long day. It was just turning into Christmas Eve day and I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and head to the camps. I’ve NEVER been away from my family for Christmas and I miss them but so many here have NO choice about when and if they’ll ever to see their family again. Yes, this is where I am supposed to be.
This morning we headed to a new camp and were once again greeted by many warm and welcoming children. This vast and barren place felt so full of celebration because their energy is so open and beautiful. The sad truth however is that these tender children are very hungry, dirty and sick. Their inner light masks the suffering that they are experiencing and that their parents feel helpless to stop. We talked to families today who longed to go home to Sudan where they were forced to flee and leave relatives behind because of unfathomable violence. I long for my own family and loved ones on this Christmas Eve but I have the good fortune to know they are safe and waiting for my imminent return. The parents we spoke to ached to provide food, soap and clothing for their children. These are BASIC human rights and needs. I looked into the swollen and diseased eyes of some of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen and wondered how this could be happening in a world with so much abundance, knowledge and possibility. How have we veered so far off track?
Then, one after another, the children and parents starting talking about books and school and learning. Over and over again they said they longed for school supplies and to read more. I felt hopeful that this thirst for education was alive and well, even here in a place most of the world has forgotten. I saw beyond the dark conditions into the bright minds of our future. One of the mothers we met and interviewed told us of her terrifying escape from Darfur with all of her children at her side. She spoke of seeing so many die as they ran for the border. She spoke of wanting more for her children. At the end of our visit I gave her a bracelet that my friend, Julia Schuler had made for the women here. The woman was so happy to receive this small handmade bracelet and it felt good to be able to give someone from our “extended family” a gift this Christamas Eve. A few minutes later, as we were walking toward a hill in the camp, a little boy reached for the bracelet that Julia had made for me to wear on this journey. He reached for a stone that read ” peace” and rolled it in his little hand. I told him it said peace and then repeated”salam” so that he understood that they meant the same thing. Together we repeated, “Peace, Salam, Peace, Salam” until suddenly he had all the children chanting,” Peace, peace peace!” It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life, the coming together of two words and worlds and all led by the smallest of leaders. Later, I found out that his name is Abdul (last photo Day 5) and he is from Sudan and would love to go study in America but most of all he would love to go back home to Sudan.We had a spontaneous interview facilitated by our driver Yusef. He was sitting on a rock nearby and heard Abdul and I trying desperately to communicate with words as well as hearts. Yusef began to interpret for us and before you knew it, I was asking Yusef the question in my terrible French, Yusef was asking Abdul in Arabic and Abdul was answering in half Arabic and half English to which i responded in French for some reason. It was such an unplanned moment that bridged the limitations of language. Yusef, who was hired solely to drive not interpret, just jumped in joining the team and MADE the conversation happen. Needless to say, i was more than grateful. Abdul is about nine and has been in this camp for three years. He loves his mother and father very much. I SO wanted to give him one of Julia’s bracelets to give to his mom but it felt unfair to the other children with us. I especially wanted him to have one because he had selflessly handed me peanuts and little orange berries, so precious to his health and scarce in his world, all along our walk.
The day went on and we met more beautiful families with tragic yet heroic stories. So many children coughing and laughing and itching and learning. A cacophony of emotions and experiences overwhelming the senses. In one moment everything seems possible in a child’s smile and the next devastatingly impossible in their tears. Looking at the family you see in most of Day Five I kept thinking how much they looked like all the Christmas scenes of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger. They, too, were in a place far from home and looking for some compassion, safety and love from the world.
Near the end of the day, I ran into Abdul again. He was joyously cradling the pink bracelet I’d given to the first women we’d visited. I couldn’t believe it! How had he, of ALL the children among thousands gotten this bracelet? I was delighted but confused because I had so much wanted to give him one to give to the mother he said he loved so much. He pulled me eagerly towards something as I tried to communicate how much I’d wanted to give him one earlier. To my absolute shock he was pulling me to the very woman I’d given the bracelet to hours earlier. She, of course, is his mother! The world is full of miracles…… We must believe they are possible and do everything we can to ensure the people of Darfur experience theirs and soon. Peace/Salam should be a way of life for every child not the exception. Just ask Abdul.
Salam and Blessings, Stacey