I wake before the alarm on my watch starts beeping and 6:45am flashes in indigo. Today we go to Kounougo!Our land cruiser is the last in the convoy heading to the camp; all humanitarian vehicles are marked with a “no weapons” image, yet ironically we follow a pick-up truck with a gun and several soldiers. We cross several dry riverbeds, most with herds of animals and a few with large holes where villagers are digging for water.
Before we enter the camp, we notice a game of futbol, the universal sport, but can’t stop since today we travel in convoy per the local authorities and due to recent insecurity in the area. Our first stop: authorization! The head of security is quite hilarious, asking me if I want him to go and find more authorizations, gather more signatures, I laugh and shake my head with relief that finally there is someone who can laugh about it all. Our first mission in the camps is to find Yakoub (Jacob), the inspector of schools in this camp – many of you have met him previously. We sign our names in the camp log and we are off in the car to find him…
…wait, arête, stop! Here he comes! Gabriel and I jump out of the car and begin our first day in Kounoungo. Children begin to gather almost instantly and not until we hurry back to the security office to meet the convoy do they separate from us. With YaKoub, we discuss the situation of the camps, which you will hear about in the video, and we begin to walk to the head Sheik’s home until I hear “Yama, Yama, Yama!” An older woman rushes towards me, arms a wavin’ in circles. She has come to tell me her sons are in Khartoum!
The animated journey into the life of Fatina begins with this introduction. She invites us to her home. Inside the mud wall is a tent, a mud kitchen, and a small shaded area with a straw roof. We sit and meet her extended family, the daughters, the granddaughters, the nieces and nephews. Most all our women, and most all are smiling as we ask them to write their names in our small book. Today is Friday and work ends early for, hmmm, everyone (?), so we are short on time and start heading out.
Aikram! Aikram! Aikram! As Gabriel speaks with Asha, a 15 year old granddaughter of Fatina, who we will connect to a community in the States, I am surrounded by kids. A mere distraction so Gabriel has less background noise, but the highlight of my day!
Click. I take a picture. Flip to “play” mode on the digital and show the young girl. She shrieks, covers her mouth, and the crowd swallows her. Aikram! Aikram! I point to the young girl with the purple scarf piled on her head, show the picture and again a shriek. She is pushed out of the way…as I switch the camera back, Aikram! Aikram! I spot a young boy! This goes on for a while, and even when Gabriel tries to get my attention I cannot hear him. I am engulfed in the game of snap, switch, show and shriek! We finally end with a picture of them all with Gabriel and Yakoub.
My first day in a Darfuri refugee camp in Eastern Chad. The faces are so real, their laughter and games are those of the children I know back home. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow. To gather more stories, sit with more families, play with more kids. This community is also mine and yours. Together, all of us here and around the world, can strengthen community, provide a connection, give hope, and fight to bring peace to Darfur.