i-ACT Day 1 means the start of a ten day marathon of non-stop activity. It’s been busy pre-i-ACT, but now it goes to another level. For Day 1, I get up at 6am and start getting ready to head out to Camp Kounoungou. We head out on a convoy with security from the local authorities. Security is a pickup truck full of armed men. One of the prerequisites of being on one of those security teams must be to possess beyond-human balance, since riding on the back of those Toyotas up and down the desert roads is more dangerous than any attack from bandits or rebel forces.Getting to Camp Kounoungou is exciting for me. I feel connected to the camp, from being so attached to the young Ahmat I met in 2005, from finding a local leader—Yakoub—who cares about his people and has the vision and passion to be a part of rebuilding a stronger Darfur, and from making friends like UNHCR’s Hala, Jorge, and Emmanuel (who no longer works in Guereda, but I continue to bump into in different places in Chad).
As if staged, KTJ and I barely get off of the vehicle and are about to walk the camp when I see Yakoub walking in our direction. He greets me with such warmth and a feeling of shared friendship that I hope serves, even if in a tiny way, as a connection between all the communities we have visited and feel a part of in the US and the people in this camp and others and all over Darfur.
Yakoub gives us his day to show us the camp. He is the perfect interpreter for us because he speaks the language and he lives the culture. I also, personally, really appreciate Yakoub’s ability to see the small and big picture. He talks about the day-to-day challenges for the refugees, but he also talks about the future, in a wider sense, of his people. He is wise enough to know that the big and small pictures are very much connected. Education always finds a way in to our conversations. He sees it as the bridge from the hopelessness in the camps to the promise and potential in a peaceful Darfur.
There are many people building structures inside of the camp. Some time ago, people did not want to build, believing that they would soon get to go back home. Making their daily lives a little more comfortable in the camp is also a sign of them loosing hope.
As Yakoub often tells us, there are many positives in the camp. We should not feel pity for the refugees. They are strong, and they are proud. They are complex. They are like you. By building community, us and them is gone.