The sun rises gradually this morning. Or maybe its that I am already half awake several hours before we need to get up; each time I slowly open my eyes and quickly close them again its just a little brighter. I quickly gather our things and we are off. A new day, a new camp, and I am feeling good.
Its only two kilometers to Djabal, and fairly flat! As we make the routine stops in the city of Goz Beida, I take note of the straw walls, the large trees that provide much needed shade and the vines. Almost every wall has vines, albeit brown since the rainy season has passed months ago. Nonetheless, I see more plants than I have seen since I arrived in Chad; they line the streets and grow up and over the walls.
Once inside Djabal, the landscape is very similar. We see only a few tents used mostly for an additional layer to the thatch roof of a straw rectangular or round structure. Many bushels of dried corn stalk and straw lie on rooftops or stand upright against the corner of a lot. So many donkeys snack on straw and have their own small shelter. Vines grow up and over the walls that make small pathways large enough for a vehicle to drive through. I feel as if I am in a village, not a refugee camp. That is until we begin to meet the people of Djabal.
Similar to my first day in Kounoungo an older lady with many years of experience, Amhoush, approaches me. Welcoming and thanking me, with a voice that rises higher with each expressed answer to my questions. She is our gateway to Adef, Achta, Hassan and Hissein (twins!), Kadija, Maryouda, and our three guides who will take us to meet Oumar.
Oumar met Tracy McGrady (NBA player with Houston) some months back and they sat and talked for a while. We brought pictures and video of their meeting, and of the rest of the camp to connect his high school in Florida with the community members here.
We have three guides who have identified Oumar and agree to help us find him. In a camp of 16,000 I wonder how long it will take. We meander through a few homes, an area with three traditional stoves, several feeding donkeys and a small garden plot. I fall behind as I try to capture several women in their daily routine. Without a translator, I can only say, hello and ask them their names. But the usual smile and arm motions asking if its okay to film and snap photos works. They gather themselves together and use their own body language to show me their lives.
I run to catch up…a small group has formed in the large vacant sand pit that splits the camp into two. They have found Oumar, and in less then 10 minutes. We ask him if he plays basketball. “I am a futbol player, I am only learning basketball.” Gabriel and I exchange a glance – a futbol challenge that will later unfold into a game of 4 against 20!
He walks us to his home, not far from the center of the camp and his mother is home. Genie welcomes us into her space and in a simple sentence I connect one part of my life with hers. “I am both the mother and the father,” she describes since her husband passed a year ago in the camp. I think of my own mother, who, too, balanced the role of single mother, as many people throughout the world are faced with. So eloquently and sincerely she describes her daily routine and responsibilities, filled mostly with long hours and laborious work. Her gratitude for being able to pause here in this camp during this period of her life amazes me. With two children under the age of five who only have memories of a refugee camp as home, I wonder if she will ever be able to show them where she grew up and teach them her traditional ways of living with the freedom that every human being deserves.
With more than 50% of the population in this camp, and most of the 12 camps for that matter, under the age of 17, how could we end the day without a futbol game? We first pick teams: Gabriel, myself, Ali, and Oumar (not the above Oumar) vs. Oumar, his brother, and well, about 15 other boys – literally. Its hard not to play bunch ball with such a short field and so many players, but our team manages to pass and SCORE! They play with boundaries: the donkeys corral on one side which produces a throw in, the group of girls huddled behind our goal which produces a drop kick and well, the other two sides were wide open. Ali hangs back in goal and we are lucky that his is good! Oumar hustles and can compete for the high balls – albeit by kicking his foot over his head! The game is tied up at 2 goals. Next goal wins. We struggle to get it out of our defense for a few minutes but manage to get it up field, or up the sand pit rather! Oumar passes it in from the left side, I make a quick fake left, “Shot,” Gabriel yells! I gently kick the ball with the inseam and it passes by the first boy, the second aims to kick it, but misses and it slides past the third! Our team of four has successfully beat a team of 15!
With SPF 55 slipping into my eyes and my shirt dusted with a thin layer of sand, I retreat to the shade and look out over the older boys and Bouba, our translator, still kicking the ball around.
I am leaving the camp today with a feeling of connectivity. I know that when I return tomorrow, I will see many of the same women and children as I met today. We will visit their school and hopefully I will get to speak to the one female student in level 6, their highest offered in this camp. My hopes are high today, not only because I have now met more of the most resilient people I will ever meet, because I know that our community can make a difference in the lives of my new friends.