It looks like this morning that rebels passed Goz Beida, and are on their way to N’Djamena, its even confirmed on the French-speaking African news station – the one we also watched during the coup attempt in February. There are no convoys leaving Abeche anytime soon, MINURCAT and EUFOR have suspended all transports to the camps that are reachable by car. But, we are on the manifest for an 11am flight to Goz Beida!Youssouf, exhausted from the work he did with us yesterday, comes to pick us up and drive the kilometer to the airport. It is busy, with flights preparing to leave for N’Djamena as well as to the South. We see a large military aircraft take off. With help from a familiar porter, we carry the luggage up the stairs, only to be turned away quickly.
3pm. Appolinaire and the other man who holds the manifest tell us, “3pm you fly out.” We aren’t sure of the details, but Youssouf drops us back off at the fitness center. As Josh might have said, TIA baby. Hours pass by, and we receive a phone call from Youssouf.
There is major fighting and banditry in Goz Beida, and he will check on our flight. We quickly call our Bouba, and he is unusually serious. There is fighting very close to where he is staying with friends. He can hear gunshots and confirms that rebels and government soldiers are clashing in the streets. I am worried about our Bouba. His wife is 8 months pregnant, due next month. He is so gentle, kind, and has a great sense of humor – or at least he always laughs at my jokes and responds with “no problem.” For now we stay safe in Abeche – Gabriel is riding the bike in the fitness center and Scott and Colin are playing a game of chess. But Bouba is surrounded by violence.
I am also worried about our friends in the camps. Quite different from many of the other camps, Djabal is only about 15 minutes from the center of Goz Beida and houses 15,785 refugees, and an hour of so away from another camp, Goz Amer, which houses another 20,424. Additionally, there are approximately 15 Internally Displaced People’s camps that are serviced by NGOs based out of Goz Beida and KoKo, another small nearby town.
Thousands of innocent civilians from Darfur and Chad are caught in the middle of this fighting. Gabriel mentioned yesterday in his journal that we must address the issues in the entire region, not just Darfur – however large and daunting the task seems. We need to spread the story of those who are most affected, and demand action by media, our leaders, and world leaders. Because if we don’t, the following friends, and thousands more will be the victims, perhaps today or tomorrow:
Selma: Many of you might remember Selma from last January’s video in Camp Djabal. You can still view her video here Day 7. Many children in the United States are excited when June approaches because this is the time their summer break begins – 3 months of no homework, teachers, or rules about running in the halls. But for Selma, this June is the last month of schooling offered in her refugee camp; there is no level higher than 6th grade. She asks us to help make a difference in her life and her education. She wants desperately to continue learning. Selma is the only girl in her class of 20, because many are either married at a young age or are required to help keep their household together, either by helping their mother or, because of this violence, they are the head of the household. She hopes that in the future the women of Darfur will come together, united for a stronger Darfur.
Hassan and Hessein: These twin brothers, whose laugh spreads quickly and without a pause for a breath, love to play with their younger sister Guisma. Unfortunately, they cannot play with their younger brother who died on the dangerous journey across the desert. Achta, their mother, carried him on her back while he struggled to survive diarrhea, an ailment that we consider more an annoyance than deadly. Their family who was once eight is now seven, living in a small mud hut about ten feet by nine among 15,000 other refugees. Food is always an issue in the camps, and has become increasingly worse. Their father Adef has to travel North, on a dangerous road to farm a same plot of land to have enough to feed everyone. On the day we met them, it was after noon and they had only drank tea.
Ali: Ali is a great soccer player: swift, fearless, and an accurate shot on goal. In this way, he is like many children of the world who play futbol, except that he does it barefoot. Unlike so many of our children though, the early years of his life have been mostly war and targeted violence against him and his people. Government soldiers who bomb villagers from Sudanese planes they have painted white to imply they are humanitarians have killed his family members. Militiamen have raped his aunts and sisters of Darfur. But he is lucky that he survived and made it safely to camp Djabal in E. Chad. But he has not escaped the violence that the international community has allowed to spread throughout the region. Ali, and his friends and family, are now caught in the middle of violence, their lives threatened by gunfire, their future unknown.
Genie: Genie is Oumar’s mother, who we met on Day 6 of January’s i-ACT4 trip; you can listen to her words and look into her deep eyes, here. Genie lost her husband last year in the camp, after fleeing the destruction of her home. But unlike us who are able to create the time and space to mourn and reflect for our loved ones, Genie needs to be strong for her five children and survive. Her oldest son, Oumar, has a desperately sad look in his eyes most of the time; and Ateib, age 9, draws pictures of armed men with bullets strung around their necks. They don’t have enough food, so many times, Genie collects firewood to sell in town while also attending to the washing, feeding, and caring for her children. Her story is that of the 62,555 mothers and grandmothers living in Chad, and the thousands more in Darfur, who continue to live with great violence today.