1. Only the refugees are always here.
Thousands of staff working for humanitarian agencies and the UN Refugee Agency have come and gone through the camps. Not one remains that is still around from my first trip in 2005. The refugees, they’re still here, only more of them.
2. Life can get harder, and families can get stronger.
Guisma’s mother, Achta, received me with warmth and affection. She sat with me and had her children come greet me, all of them smiling. She gave me a gift for Katie-Jay. There was a group of women sitting on other mats at her home, and more were coming with food. Achta’s mother died last week, and they were mourning in community.
3. I don’t want to hear this again: “They’re better than they were before they came here.”
That’s not necessarily true because you can’t measure freedom. Besides that, “before” should not be the standard by which we measure.
4. From a distance, even the desert is beautiful, rich, and inviting.
Walking next to those that live there gives you a less romantic perspective, but it might still be beautiful, rich, and inviting.
5. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona divides the universe.
6. Ideas, concepts, and plans can be very exciting.
Meeting the actual little ripples that are the motivation and reason for all the work makes it all not be work anymore.
7. I don’t always care what studies say.
Eastern Chad is a rough, harsh environment. It’s hot, dusty, and I am always thirsty. I don’t care how many studies say it’s bad for you, I love and miss my DIET soda with lots of ice (coke or pepsi, does not matter). If there was one of those 7-11 soda and ice machines out in the refugee camps, my work rate might double during the trips, and I’d be so much more happy.
8. It is invaluable to be able to wake up every morning knowing you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing.
9. If Umda Tarbosh lived in my neighborhood, we would be friends.
And I would take him out for burgers or tacos as often as possible, so I could hear more of his stories and how he sees the world.
10. Beautiful is beautiful.
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.
We always ask the people we meet what they miss about Darfur. The refugees have given a diversity of answers that pant a beautiful picture of a calm and peaceful life of agrarians and villagers. They speak about their fields, the herds that the boys watched over during the days, and the marketplace where they traded what they grew. Many remember growing Millet or corn, tomatoes, okra, and watermelon.
This year Darfuris have managed to grow a bit of these things outside the refugee camp. There was a lot of rain, which only ended about three weeks ago. We have attempted to visit our friends Achta and Adef several times, but both are away at gardens. Achta leaves each morning to work a field that is close to the camp and continues to watch the children while Adef travels very far and won’t be back for a while.
When we asked what they miss most about Darfur, the adults and older teenagers give the same answer mangoes and guavas. They don’t have fruit trees here and up until this year I hadn’t seen any watermelon. Now it grows on their roofs and fences! From what they describe, Darfuris had both fields near their homes, and fruit trees littered through the village. They were sustainable and what they did not use, they traded or sold in the market.
Unfortunately, one answer we are getting more and more is that they don’t remember what Darfur was like. This is mostly from teenagers who fled when they were seven, eight, or even ten. Their memories of Darfur, after seven long years of living in a camp, are lost.
The camp is full of children under 10 who are too young to remember more than being tied to their mothers backs during the journey to Chad. What will their life be like in the future? Will they only learn to farm far from their homeland or will they have a chance to return and learn the traditional ways to survive sustainably in this harsh environment? For the sake of humanity, I hope its the latter.