This environment is unforgiving. I have been in Chad during various seasons, and in June twice. This trip is one of the hottest I have experienced. An almost humid, but also dry heat that you just cannot escape or cool down from. When there is a breeze, you almost always miss it for one reason or another. This is an environment in which only a few cultures can survive sustainably.
My culture would try. But without the vast experience of generations passed down from those who have cultivated from this land, I feel we would not be able to do it.
Women do much of the daily work, and many times most of any type of work in the camps. Today men worked together on two prototype homes that would better protect them from fires that have swept through the closely-knit sectors, destroying many straw tukuls at a time. In my experience here, this image of men working is a rare one. It is usually the women who dig the dirt, add water, mix, and form bricks. Carrying one or two upon their heads, laying the foundation, and solidifying the structure with “poto poto” or clay.
The women and girls are the ones who fetch, and carry on their heads water for the day. Each and every day they do this. Many must leave the camp to collect firewood and we continue to hear stories of the threat of violence against them for doing so. This journey takes anywhere from several hours to the entire day. Some are lucky enough to have donkeys to help carry wood. Several women I have seen this trip carry the wood upon their heads. How many miles did they walk?
In Darfurian culture, like in most, the women make the meals. We saw vendors at the camp market, many were trading their rations for other things, like meat, dried okra, or sun-dried tomatoes. Items we think of as everyday necessities – vegetables and protein like meat – are a rarity for the average Darfur refugee. They hand grind the sorghum rations with a standing mortal and pestal.
The government of Chad has allowed them a few kilometers to cultivate this season, and many are beginning to plant before the rains come. At least they can do this here, rather than risking their life to return to Darfur for the extra food. The walk to the garden is far and long, but worth the energy.
I am constantly and consistently amazed at the work ethic in this culture. I am not sure I would be able to do all the same things in one day and still smile and exude the beauty of the Darfur people of Djabal. I am not sure very many people would be able to survive in this land. Let alone in a way that is so different from their traditional life.
The strength, the stamina, the courage, the beauty of the Darfur people needs to be preserved and fostered. It must survive.
Our world gets smaller as cultures are lost. Our world must remain big and full, as we all still have so much to learn.