Old Friends, New Friends
The airport is quiet and calm when we enter. I’m worried about our weight, and also Bouba, who will be taking tomorrow’s flight with one of our bags. Two bags pass through and the other three, plus our two backpacks sit in the corner. A friendly face approaches, Jim! Our pilot from i-ACT4 has helped reserve some cargo space for us and our bags pass through. We are greeted by Lauren, an i-ACT follower and our pilot who Gabriel met on a previous trip, at the plane.
Once out of Abeche, rising above the cloud line you can see the drastic difference a little rain can make on such a desolate place. What was once a dry desert with green shrubs and trees lining dry wadis is now dotted with parcels of green grass connecting trees from one wadi to the shrubs lining its’ estuaries. Light reflects off the puddles left in the wadis where recently, but for perhaps only several hours, water flowed. As we head more NE, almost as quickly as green appeared, it is gone and sand has once again consumed the landscape.
Our driver is waiting to take us to UNHCR in Bahai, and we follow the convoy led by the gendarme. Audrey greets us at the office with a hug. The last time we saw our friend Audrey we were huddled in the kitchen of Le Meridien in N’Djamena. It’s nice to see her at work in her element. We quickly drop our stuff and head for permits and signatures, and what basically amounts to running around to various offices only to return to the 1st security office and have them write down our license plate and passport numbers. We make the 45 minute drive across the desert to Camp Oure Cassoni, only a wadi separates it from Darfur, Sudan. The camp is so close to the border that both the Chadian government and UNHCR has been trying to move it ever since refugees began to settle.
The sun burns intensely upon us as we walk from a dirt soccer field into an area with wide winding paths, uneven ground and, of course, smiling and singing children of Darfur. A few are playing with the soccer ball, a few have metal wheels that they twirl in circles as they run, many simply play with dirty plastic bags that litter the camp. From where I am standing I can see only three green shrubs, maybe one could qualify as a tree. I see many, many tattered tents covering clay walled structures made of sand and water. A nearby water station has fifty or so empty water jugs sprawled about indicating that this tap must be dry.
With kids following, we turn one corner to find four solar cookers in use outside of what appears to be a place where women can gather together and spend their time weaving mats and baskets, knitting and embroidering their scarves. This is the first set of solar cookers we have ever come across in our years coming to the camps. We will return with Bouba to see how the project is going. If any place needs such cookers, it would be here. I recall seeing no firewood near the camp on our drive in, only small compounds of local Chadians.
We stay only briefly at the camp today, stopping at one last place for a birds-eye view of the camp. An estimated 27,000 refugees are registered, their camp, their village of 5 years has lots of space, almost as far as one can see towards the border, lots of sand, but not enough water, or food for its entire population. I am eager to hear the stories of our new friends we met today, and play with the children in the coming days. New friends, with a similar story to those I have met, but one that always shakes me and forces myself to ask, how has the world not done more to bring peace our friends lives?