Out my window in the plane, trees grow near dry tributaries that stretch across the sand like the veins of a drying country. Small circular compounds number that number no more than 15 make up villages sprinkled across the harsh desert, each next to its lifeline, the dry river bed known here as a wadi. Red sand stone and dry green shrubs contrast the neutral sand that covers most the land. As we head South, there is more vegetation and less dry open pits of the Sahara.
Once landed we quickly stop at UNHCR, many of the same faces as only a few months ago greet me with the traditional three kisses to the cheeks. A quick but causal stop with camp police that leaves us free to move back and forth for the week.
We are pressed for time to test equipment for World Refugee Day so we drive to the outskirts of the camp. Kids surround us quickly and Eric begins set up of the technical equipment. Ian, Carlos and I begin to walk the camp and of course, we are taken in by laughing, name repeating, scurrying bare feet of children and the sounds of a refugee camp.
Grain mill beating in the distance. Laughter and shrieks. “Salaam Malakam.” “Malakam Salaam.” “Humdallah.” “Akram, Akram,” as the kids point to themselves, asking for the next picture to be of them.
Singing draws us towards the teen center. Before I even enter, a familiar face and an outreached hand, Suliemen, our dear teacher friend from New Sudan school. Selma and Zam Zam are in the choir. I give Selma a big hug. I missed her on our last trip because I was sick. Another big hug, I tell her my mother loves and that I promise to find her again. Ali, Zaineb, Amouna, they all begin to gather. And as a family of old friends, we walk back towards the water tower to find Gabriel. We laugh and giggle, speak broken English and hold hands. Amouna teases me as she always has.
Once back home at our Intersos compound, I begin to feel sad. Many of the children we played with today do not know Darfur. They are too young. They only know the life of a refugee in a camp. They have not felt their culture alive in their homeland. They have not danced on their soil, nor been feed from their mother land. Their veins and blood are Sudanese, but much longer in camps like these, their entire traditional world will be like the tributaries spreading from the wadi, dried veins of a country.