Today, our “mission”, as Ali refers to all work assignments, took us back to our first camp. The travel there takes about an hour and one half and gives me plenty of time to think. I thought a lot about my usual work as compared to what we do here. With performance and writing work I merge with and become the subject, here I have to remain outside so that I can film or photograph ( neither of which I have much experience doing.). Many times I have felt guilty and uncomfortable taking pictures or recording ill children, heart broken parents and traumatized people. It has been hard to hit “record” when someone tells their story or flash a camera in the darkened tent of a sick child. It is counterintuitive to me and I’ve been trying to reconcile my feelings about it. On the road this morning I remembered something I had read recently. It was a story about a photojournalist who witnessed a young African American child being beaten by a white police officer at a peaceful march during the Civil Rights Movement. The photographer threw down his camera and leapt to protect the child from the attack. Martin Luther King Jr. quickly reprimanded the man, insisting that if he did not photograph the incident the world would never be forced to face the brutal truth of that picture and do something about it. I have a new respect for the photographers and journalist who must remain somewhat detached to bring the world the truth of atrocities so that we might be moved to action. It is something I am trying to learn to do that here and struggling with it but I know the purpose and hold onto that.
It was so very quiet and empty when we arrived at the camp because today is a day of ” celebration.” Today, Muslims celebrate the sacrifice of Isaac’s offer of his only son to God. It struck me that this story of sacrifice and testing of faith must currently run very deep in the psyche of the victims of this genocide. The children were all dressed in their very best clothes and the whole camp congregated on a patch of land at the far end of the compound.While we waited for the celebration prayers to be over we wandered around looking a woman, Nourasham, who Gabriel met and bonded with last year. In true accordance with the many miracles on our trip we were led to her house by the very first young man we asked. Out of some 15,000 or so people, most of whom were at worship we found someone who knew her, this was indeed a blessing! As soon as we arrived at her living area her neighbor stepped out and exclaimed,” Hello! You are Zahara’s husband!” He remembered Gabriel AND his wife’s name immediately from over a year ago. It was so beautiful to witness. We learned the sad news of her husband’s death which involved another rape and a soldier.We didn’t get to see,Nourasham, today because the celebration ran later than we expected and the road home is long and dangerous at night. We are so looking forward to their reunion tomorrow.
I’ve been very anxious to talk to the very new arrivals because this camp is still receiving people daily. I wanted to hear directly from them what they had just experienced in Darfur so that we could let people know the current conditions of the genocide. I was not prepared for my reaction. We sat with about twelve men between the ages of around 18 – 40 who had been here for 3 to 10 days. They had been sleeping outside the camp, many with their families, and had not yet been registered. They were without tents and huddled around all the belongings they could carry as they escaped Darfur. As we sat and listened to them, I was filming close up shots of their faces. I kept being haunted by the pictures of the Cambodian victims of Pol Pot. There is a photo of one man that I carry with me to remind myself why we do this work and to keep me moving forward when it feels hopeless. His face captures everything we need to know about his life and death. It goes beyond words to the core of humanity. I see in him the strength and dignity of an ordinary man who is utterly confused and broken by the inhumanity of what is being perpetrated upon him. The photo makes me weep every time I look at it because it is so very human. Today, I saw about twelve of that man sitting three feet in front of me and I felt helpless to do anything. I saw their dignity and confusion. I saw men who were used to providing for and protecting their family stripped of that basic right. We decided that we would share, From America With Love with them tomorrow to give them some hope upon their arrival here to this strangest of places. This was the thing I had looked forward to the most about this trip. It was to be the culmination of a simple idea I’d had to connect people to people before I even fully understood what was happening in Darfur. FAWL felt like something ordinary people could do even if our government would not do anything. I kept thinking that people, in the face of genocide, needed most of all to know they were not forgotten. I’m realizing more and more over the last 8 months that what they need most of all is an END to the genocide. When Ali translated what FAWL was about, I saw the same look on these mens faces that I did on the children’s when we showed them their video a few days ago. I am used to seeing sadness here in the women and children because it seems somehow more acceptable in the culture. These men who’d rode donkeys over the border to sit outside this camp and who knew that the people without donkeys had died, looked like the little boys they once were. I fought back tears then but right now I am alone for the first time since we’ve arrived and I am weeping openly and uncontrollably as I write this. I cry because it does not feel enough. Not this trip or Camp Darfur or from America With Love or any of it. I know we are all doing so much to open eyes and ears and hearts but if we do not stop this now an entire way of life will be lost to us forever. A generation of children will believe that they live in a world that does not value their lives. We will leave both the children here and our children at home to clean up the mess we were too busy or too afraid or too whatever to care enough about. We MUST make our will known to the powers that be and that will must reach a critical mass if we expect them to listen to us. We must stand up and demand immediate action.
On the road back to Abeche, where we’ll be staying each night, I had another hour and one half to think. Would FAWL make any difference to these men tomorrow? Will it cause the people and politicians who left direct messages of solidarity to be more personally connected and accountable to even just these twelve men? We passed a lone Chadian child on the side of the road. He waved and put his hand to his heart as I waved back. I was quickly reminded of another little Chadian boy who had appeared out of nowhere this morning to help us fix a flat tire. I had my answer, YES! It is the little moments and seemingly small actions of individual people all over the world that strengthen, expand and feed this movement that aims to Stop This Genocide. It is too bad that only a few miles down that same road, we chose to speed up as we passed two men stopped roadside to fix their motorcycle. Currently,the dangers and risks are too great here to stop and lend a hand. Every broken down or oncoming vehicle poses a threat and every sound the car makes causes alarm. The road to and from Abeche is always quiet with the residual knowledge of how recently the town was taken by the rebels. The air is thick, the thoughts are deep and the passengers united in the simple effort to get home. Only a small slice of the refugees lives and for us only an hour and one half each way.