We have just left the camps and are now working our way back towards N’djamena, the capital city of Chad. In less than two days, this trip will be history, but its effect on me will be just starting. When I got my visa into Chad, there were a few things I had to leave at the border. One was my ego, the other…emotions. I just wrote in an email to a friend today that there’s no crying in Chad. (self imposed) I didn’t know if I was capable of surviving this trip if I let things affect me, so I put on the heavy coat of armor, and kept everything on the surface level. But the visions and experience are beginning to penetrate that faux exterior I’ve created for self-preservation. I imagine in a few days, maybe sooner, it’ll all hit me.
In the meantime, I’ve been distantly observing the latest news about Iran. The riots, the images, the stories I’ve been reading all have the additional comments about how the news we are getting is because of the current technology…cell phones, video cameras, the internet, etc. from regular people. It is my understanding that there are no journalists in Iran, and I can’t help but compare situations. I wonder if the people of Darfur had more technology, would the world be more sympathetic to their cause? I just learned that the government of Sudan turned off all cell phone service before they attacked the villages so nobody had any connection to the outside world. Ahmadinejad should have thought of that one. The area of Western Sudan was so remote, only a couple of journalists in helicopters saw what was happening. There is no video record of the atrocities. Therefore to the main stream, it didn’t happen, and if it did, it occurred so long ago that it’s no longer a sexy and hip subject. I won’t want to diminish the situation in Iran, but I also want reiterate the obvious; great publicity sells a conflict.
But there are over 2.5 million witnesses to the Darfur scenario, and they are all squeezed into refugee and IDP camps in the desert of Eastern Chad and Western Sudan. And since coming here with i-ACT, I now understand the mission even more; give the refugees, who do not have the advantage of current technology, a VOICE. The most powerful moments of this trip were the reactions from members of the western world, as they watched the live images of the refugee camps we sent via satellite. Imagine if all the refugees were on Facebook and Twitter and could update us about what is happening to them now, or tell the world what really happened in Darfur. But for now, we depend on video, photos, and blogs from a small group of activists, one in particular called i-ACT, an enterprise I am proud to be a part of.
When I checked my ego at the border, its last request was for me to take the great “refugee” photo. Well, I didn’t accomplish that, but my camera did. In camp Kounoungo, I turned the lens on a boy named Abalhikim and myself. Then I lent him the camera to keep snapping his family, which he did. Hours later, when I checked the photos, I noticed Abalhikim had tried a few self-portraits of his own. One of them was not only that great “refugee” photo, but also the ultimate portrait of humanity. As I stared (and continue to stare) at the photo, I was amazed at this kid, gazing into the lens, revealing every emotion I could only dream of showing. Here’s a boy who has been through so much, and he has not developed that aforementioned protective layer I need just to witness the aftermath for a couple weeks. It also makes me think of how much of that protective layer I have developed for myself over the years. It might just be me, but this kid’s curiosity and amazement translates into exactly what this life might be about. Keep an open heart and keep looking out. Is he looking out to the world to see if they’re paying attention? If so, is our lack of response going to crush his curiosity? All I know is that, now that I’ve witnessed the camps in Chad, my energy and focus has been narrowed, I’m attempting to look in the lens with the same dichotomy as Abalhikim…one inward glance, and one outward glance….specifically towards President Barack Obama.
Like I said in an earlier journal entry, I don’t think this is America’s burden, but I do think at little cost, we can make some noise about Darfur. Obama talked a lot about Darfur during the campaign, but now that he’s been elected, reality has obviously taken over. But just because America is struggling with recession, doesn’t mean we don’t have the capacity to solve this situation. One doesn’t have to be a historian to remember that our country was in the Great Depression when World War II hit. If FDR had played it conservatively, and decided to focus only on “domestic” issues, then I’m sure the term “The Greatest Generation” would have never materialized. But instead America, a country struggling with itself, looked inward, then looked outward, just like Abalhikim, and somehow got it’s shit together to bring down the Nazis and stop the Holocaust. We can do the same, and it doesn’t have to be boots on the ground. It’s activism, and social networking, and the same movement that got Barack Obama elected, can move to solve the real issues of Darfur. Justice and Peace; one does not exist without the other. And if Barack Obama doesn’t have the balls to stand up for the victims of the largest mass murder in the new millennium, does he deserve our vote in 2012?
In closing, I owe a huge thanks to Gabriel Stauring, Katie Jay Scott, Eric Angel and the rest of the i-Act group for allowing me to a part of their effort. It was a great honor to be here with them, and I would work anywhere in the world…anytime…with the Chad field team. They were absolutely brilliant.