Today I met Mia Farrow — not the actress, the refugee Mia Farrow. She can’t be more than four years old. Her older sister, another beautiful girl just as Mia, is Susan — yes, like Susan Rice. They are both daughters of one of the camp’s Umbdas, or camp leaders. Umbda has seven children, and today I will ask him what the names are for the other five. I can’t wait!
We met Umda on our last trip, and it was great to see him again. He told me, “You said you would return.” We have heard this multiple times at the different camps we have visited on our now tenth i-ACT Expedition. You said you would return. A couple of trips ago, we made it back to camp Konoungou after not being able to visit for longer than we expected. We went to visit Fatne, an older woman that we had spent time with and who really connected with KTJ. When we sat with her in her home, she touched KTJ’s arm and told her, “You said you would return, and you did. You did,” and she repeated this a few times.
The Darfuris have a strong sense of community and they are ready to extend their community to include new friends — and the family and friends of the new friends. I believe that the coming back for a second visit really cements that relationship. They then know that you and your community are sincere. Mia Farrow, the actress, has been out here many, many times. Susan Rice has visited Darfur and been consistent in her message about the need for peace, protection, and justice for its people. They come back.
Somehow, the international community as whole has not returned. Umda tells us about what he has been hearing of conditions inside of Darfur, the horrible new destruction that is happening in many areas, with tens of thousands displaced every month this year. He said that expecting peace in Darfur is like “reaching for the stars.” He wants to keep reaching.
Before leaving for the day, I want to get close to little Mia Farrow, but she runs quickly to her mother and then peeks from behind to see if I’m still coming. Since I know I will be going to the camp for the next five days, I don’t push it. But, I will carry little Mia before this trip is over. If it just does not happen, we’ll return — and you with us.
I’ve been collecting images of chalk drawings from the walls of Djabal’s mud brick classrooms. Some kids use them to practice their Arabic or English and sometimes even math. But mostly, the graffiti is of people, animals, football players and some scenes of violence. The walls speak of the children’s curiosity, fear and humour.
Camp Djabal has become so familiar to followers of i-ACT. Here we see improvements made in education–uniforms, cement buildings with built-in blackboards, and desks! The team also updates CommKit with MacBooks! They deliver Kindles and voice dictionaries to help the kids learn more English. Watch the video and open yourself to what is Camp Djabal.
I have a cold which includes a headache, and I’m feeling miserable in one hundred degrees plus weather, and I’m breathing this fine sand with every step I take, and then we make it to Adef’s house. His two youngest boys, Abdelmouni and Gabriel, also are sick and surrounded by suffocating heat and breathing the fine sand around them and fighting a losing battle against flies, and this is their home.
Adef regularly walks a long distance to tend to a garden he planted away from the camp. His tomatoes failed, and Achta says that food rations do not last thirty days. When Achta gets up, Adef takes over holding the now sleeping Gabriel and starts swatting at the flies — too many. Adef and Achta are warm and welcoming and affectionate. From the first time I met Adef, I connected with him, maybe because of how I see him hold his children, the way I think I hold mine.
Adef wishes he could go back and defend his real home, Darfur, but life in the camp would be too difficult for his family without him.
P.S. I now write this sitting on a bed in an air-conditioned room. I took cold medicine, after eating and drinking two bottles of water.
Not many people could be seen walking around the camp. The temperature was above 100 degrees, and it does not make sense to be out being pounded by a sun that is so much brighter than where I live, sunny Southern California. It was good to back at Camp Djabal, where we have so many friends.
We talked education and politics with Abdulaziz and Sulieman, had a meeting with camp leaders from all the different blocks, visited the secondary school and spoke with the students as we distributed some of the Kindles, and we worked on the computers and system that make up Commkit.
Ali, Kung Fu Ali, found us at the end of our visit to the camp, and he was happy and polite, as usual. Ali is one of those kids that it just feels good to have around you. He has a good vibe, even in crushing heat.
Sometime after 3:00pm, activity and color exploded around a water station. Women, girls, and some boys came with their containers to collect water. Sulieman repeated what we had heard at the Governor’s place. Water starts to become a big issue these months. They have to dig deeper and deeper to find it, and the local population and the refugee population must make do with whatever is available, until the rainy season sometime in the Summer.
The leaders and teachers talked about the need for preschools. Our friends told us that Gration is bad for Darfur and should not be the Ambassador to Kenya. Many told us that the Sister Schools Program is making a positive impact in the camp. Ali told us, with his huge Ali smile, that he is in 7th grade, then goes to 8th, and then to secondary school! It was a good, albeit hot, day in Djabal, and I’m happy to be going back tomorrow. Many more friends to see and lots to do and talk about.