We enter Obama School for Co-education Basic just before classes begin. There is a nice breeze in the mornings, but not quite strong enough to naturally fend off the flies. Young children are filing blue buckets of water and taking them to classrooms. It takes two boys to carry one, but only one girl to carry it on her head. I can feel the harsh air against my skin and down my throat. Glancing to the hills nearby, I notice once again how cloudy the air is. Dust, sand, smoke.
Four students tell us their part of their stories. Sadly, the general themes run the same. None of their villages are standing anymore. The tukuls, markets, fences and possessions are all burned. All of them walked here, 2-3 days at a time, then a rest, then continuing on. They all know someone who was killed. Memories that I don’t think I could bare to talk about without some sort of process, they share as if it is normal.
I remember how upset I once got when my mother told me that my elementary school burned down. I remember taking a day to think of all my memories of the great halls of Coe Elementary with the, tall ceilings, grand staircases that went up four floors and strong wooden doors. My memories of racing on the playground, and of cracking my tooth on the cement are still clear. I was so upset at the news. I cannot even begin to imagine if all of my hometown was burned. Flames would replace memories of holidays, friends, bicycles and evening walks with my mom. How is that we have allowed flames and bloodshed to replace the memories of innocent children of an entire population?
It is late morning and the sun is getting hot, before we break for the hottest part of the day, we visit old friends, Adef and Achta. Once named, Hassan and Hissein, the two twin boys in Level 2 are now Bashar and Bashir. I tickle little Guisma’s tummy and she giggles. I snap pictures of the twins and show them, they laugh and eagerly follow us around with the camera’s hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves. Every so often I flip the view-finder, just to hear their laugh. Abdelmouni, once a very serious little boy, now walks around briskly playing with his brothers and attempting to wrestle Bashar to the ground. It feels so right to be connected to this family, almost as if they are an extension of my own. In many ways, they are.
Yesterday, the Obama Administration met with activist leaders, including John Prendergast, Jerry Fowler and Gloria White-Hammond. This may be a small step in the right direction, but in no way does it mean that we deter from our current path of dedicated, urgent action for Darfur. A meeting, and former President Bush had lots of those, does not change the situation on the ground. It does not bring aid. It does not bring peace. We must keep our actions consistent and on-going, or this meeting will only be lip-service to quiet the movement. Until there is tangible, visible change on the ground, we must be loud. For Adef, Achta, Guisma, Abdelmouni, and the entire population of children whose memories are of burnt homes, death, and displacement, please, please be their voice.
When you feel tired and hopeless, please turn to the voices of the Darfuris themselves. They have confidence in us. We simply cannot let them down.