There are about 8 cars in our convoy to Camp Kounoungo this morning. Ten people in our Toyota which has a sign that says 13 could fit; I doubt it. The scenery on the drive is all so familiar. Camp Kounoungo is the very first camp that I every went to almost a year and half ago.
After an hour on a bumpy road, passing three dry river beds (wadis) and several herds of camels and cattle, the camp appears on the horizon. It looks almost exactly the same on the outskirts. Once we make our obligatory stop at camp security, we make our way down the small hill into alleys of mud walls and UNHCR tents. Many of the refugees still sleep in the tents first given to them, although they make mud walls to provide a sense of security and privacy.
The refugees of Camp Kounoungo are more reserved than those in Camp Djabal. Although they want their picture taken, and the women will call you over while they fix their beautiful scarves, the children do not follow you around.
We see Yacoub first at the Cental School. We speak for a while and he gives us an overview of the conditions. Now 19,000 refugees live in Camp Kounoungo; 4,000 more than last time we were here in January 2008. They have many more activities, and a market in the camp, even a restaurant. An organized soccer game is going on with lines mean, a referee and an announcer using a megaphone. The market is open two days a week. Today it bustles with colorful scarves of intricate design and men in white traditional dress. There are rations for exchange but also sun dried tomatoes, loofa, eggs, animals, and even watermelon. Yacoub describes a program similar to small loans that helped many begin their enterprises here in the camp.
We step away from the bustle of the soccer field and market and make our way towards one edge of the sprawling camp. A slight left at the tree and donkey, and we arrive at Adams. His hair is whiter, but his spirit is brighter. He smiles an welcomes us to his newly built home. A nice room where some of his children, wife and new born daughter, Marymouna, sit. We sit with Adam for a long time, share photos and articles from the community in Redding, CA. We laugh, and we cry. Adam’s eyes are visibly red. His library has been washed away by the rain. Each year the mud structures here in the camp need to be repaired because of the wind and rain. Soon the rains will come again, and wash mush of the camps structures away. Deserted homes and walls from previous seasons can be seen throughout the camp.
We leave Adam with a few toys and some drawings from US students, and promise to return tomorrow. We wander down the sand paths, over small washed out ditches in search of my very good friend, Fatne. Yacoub said she has asked about us several times in the last year.
Fatne’s smile exemplified pure gratitude and joy for our visit. We sat with her for about an hour. Listening more to her story and sharing laughter. She is 71 years old and has seen family members killed, more than 50 people she knew murdered. She has no men in her family to take care of her. Fatne says even tomorrow, if there was peace, she would return. Yet this small, frail-looking woman, is far from weak. She is strong, resilient, and loving. All through our talk, we hold hands and hug every once in a while.
Fatne reminds me of my own Grammie who is only a few years older living in Arizona. She too is a strong woman who leads our family much of the time. I would do anything in the world to protect her from the horrors of something like what is happening in Darfur. For Fatne, I cannot protect her, but I can work to bring more peace to her life. Over and over again, that is all she asked for.