Happy Holidays Everyone,
Today I sat on a aged straw mat that represents everything in the world to the people I am getting to know. It represents their history, daily activities, dignity and measure of the world’s concern for them. They are tattered and torn but the women we met offer us a seat on them without a second thought. We sat for a long time with many generations of women today and talked about life in the camps, back in Sudan and as a family. It was an awkward start because it is difficult to connect at first with the language barrier and the delay translation causes. However, pretty soon they moved closer and we were in a tight circle. A circle of strong beautiful women who survived losing husbands, parents, siblings and children together. Women who came to this place they did not know and forged a new life with what little they had. Women who protected their young girls by forbidding them to venture out to gather fire wood because it is very dangerous and young girls who protected their elder women by going anyway. Women who made me proud to be female and reminded me of my own female friends and family back home. It was just like sitting around my mother’s kitchen table with my cousins and two best friends from home. There was an exact instant where one of the women made the conscious decision to tell her story. She looked me straight in the eye and for a few moments no translation was necessary. I saw her go back in time to the violence in Darfur, the memory was still so fresh. I felt her present and constant desperation for more food for her children here in the camp. I listened to her and watched her story in her eyes and, for the first time since being here, had a very difficult time holding my emotion. The other women began to open up and share their unthinkable experiences with the Janjaweed and loss of loved ones. That circle felt filled with feelings, connection and bonding that goes beyond borders or countries. It was every woman or girl that has ever felt the sweet comfort and secret language that exists between all women and girls. I began to think how tragic it was that our conversation was centered on violence, death, hunger and painful memories instead of life, love, work, children and dreams. I longed for the day when we will go to Darfur and sit in celebration of protection, peace and homecoming. I dreamt of powerful women all over the world sitting on the ground together to unite in creating actions and strategies for waking the world up to the plight of the Darfurian people. To use our mother energy to nurture and guide the world in her quest to mature into a way of life based on compassion.
We met Mustafa, 25, almost immediately upon arriving today. I was struck by his gentleness right away. Everything about him resonated with a kindness. I wondered how difficult it must have been for him to escape Sudan being blind. Yet, after spending only a short time with him I realized that he’d probably managed better than many others. He is a young man of determination, clarity and courage. His 19 year old brother is a great help to him here in the camp and I wondered what crossing the border must have been like for this dynamic duo. They obviously love and trust each other deeply. Imagine being terrorized, displaced, blind and without the proper nutrition, environment or supplies to learn yet he’s learned English in 3 months! He took us to his home where he and his brother live, his sister’s home and that of their mother’s. When we arrived at his mother’s tent we immediately saw his niece, Mouna who is VERY ill with cholera. She’s been sick and sleeping for three weeks with hardly any intake of food. There we were, sitting with a little girl who’s sickness is probably preventable, and unable to help in any way. She was so beautiful and weak and her lack of energy to sit up was heart breaking. Many from the camp came to sit with us as we talked with this family and there was a sense of reverence and quiet. It felt as if all were holding their own private vigil. Even the children who are usually very excited to see visitors and filled with noise were quiet as they sat surrounding Mouna. I watched her sleep as Mustafa asked us , “When do you think we will go back to Sudan, within two or three years?” I wanted to scream, “No, two or three years may be too late! We all want you to go home now!” The children are so dirty and basically wearing clothes that hang off of them as flies buzz around their precious little bodies, the adults are losing strength even as they cling to hope, everyone is hungry and frightened. We do not have two or three years to make this
happen. I felt useless as he asked us for answers that we cannot provide. We just kept repeating that many people were working to help them and we hoped they would go home soon. I kept thinking, who am I? He is asking me to answer the most important question in his life and I’m just some girl from Philadelphia. I wondered why our world leaders are not here sitting on these mats?I wondered how much more the people who’ve been working to stop this genocide for much longer than me would have to do to get our governments attention?The words “work and hope” felt hollow although I KNOW they are not. He would smile and say “Yes, we hope so too.” I again had a moment when I almost couldn’t hold it together. I felt the hope, which everyone dedicated to ending this genocide feels, slipping away.
Then it happened again. I looked around at the normally boisterous children kneeling peacefully around a sick and sleeping little girls bed (dirty and worn mat actually). I looked at Ali’s, our brilliant interpreter’s, face filled with concern and the driver, Yusef, straining to see how little Mouna was doing. I saw Gabriel’s heart sink and then rise again in an even deeper commitment ( if that is possible!) when he realized how close in age Mouna is to his son. I saw two dirt covered two year old boys with rags for clothes clasp hands and giggle together. I saw Mustaf’s teacher watch him speak of what they’d lived through in Darfur with such pride on his face. I looked at the people surrounding me on this dusty desert ground and felt the slow return of this movements strongest ally…hope. The team got into the care to leave as countless children ran after us waving and shouting, “Salam!” and I suddenly remembered it is indeed Christmas. A good day to hope again……