My wife and daughter are eating turkey burgers and salad and chips and maybe other stuff, but I’m not getting too close. I don’t want to see. I have another 30 hours without food to go. Tomorrow, on my third day of fasting, we’ll be driving to Arizona for a genocide event where we’re bringing our “Camp Darfur” tents. I won’t be driving because I’ll be even more lightheaded than right now. More than anything, this is just so different–not eating. I’m so used to reaching for food at any time, and the big problem each day is deciding on what to eat, since we have so many options.
Some years ago, during a visit to refugee camp Oure Cassoni, I followed a mother, as she made it through food distribution. She was collecting her monthly rations for her family of four. Please watch the video. That is what many have been mostly eating for almost ten years. I did the math, and it came out to about just over 1,000 calories per family member per day. Compare that to what you bring home from the market and eat out.
29 hours and 48 minutes to go. I’m not sure yet what I’ll eat after my three days are done. I’ll sign up for other days later on during the 100 Day Fast for Darfur.
PS. You can still join for one or more days of fasting here!
I became active in the Darfur movement in late 2004. I did not know exactly how I’d be able to participate in alleviating what was and continues to be overwhelming human suffering. I just knew I needed to act.
One of the very first campaigns I helped create and organize was a 100-Day Fast for Darfur. My sister Rachel and I thought fasting would be a good way to connect people with the issue, while at the same time fundraise for direct assistance for the survivors. I had no idea how deep of an experience it was going to be for me and for the many people that participated in that and other fasts we organized since.
2013 is considered the 10th anniversary of the start of the crisis in Darfur. After ten years, millions of people continue to live in internal and refugee camps, with new generations of Darfuri children knowing no other life than the life of a refugee or IDP. Fighting, killing, and displacement continues in Darfur and is also happening in other areas of Sudan. When I started working on the peace for Darfur movement, I never thought that in 2013 I would be organizing another fast to offer hope and support to a population that continues to be besieged.
Fasting can be powerful. Clearly, for us in the United States and other well-off countries, it is not necessarily dangerous or even a sacrifice. We know that at any moment, we can walk into our kitchen or direct our car to the nearest drive-thru, and our “hunger” will be taken care of. It is meaningful, though, because it makes us think about something we take for granted, when our next meal will be. For those that fast without an option, the question is much more urgent: Will there be a next meal for me and my children?
I am lucky that over the years I have also been able to focus on the beauty and hope that exists in the communities of survivors from Darfur. They are hopeful and actively involved in creating a better future for their children. They value education and sports, and they are excited about connecting with the rest of the world.
The 2013 100-Day Fast for Darfur is about connecting. It’s about connecting as communities and as individuals. It’s about saying “10 years is enough.” Join me in fasting and connecting with our Darfuri friends that have lost so much–but who have so much more to offer. I promise you it will be an experience you won’t forget.
Please join our 100-Day Fast for Darfur.
About fifteen minutes before it’s time to start our drive from Kou Kou to Goz Beida, by pure luck I happen to see a tweet in French:
— Ndjamena-matin (@Ndoune) January 17, 2013
Part of what it said, according to google-translate, was:
According to our respondents, thirty tanks and several pickup belonging to Deby’s troops arrived in the area of Goz Beida in eastern Chad. The situation remains unclear in this locality are rumors of renewed fighting between the army and the forces of national liberation Chad.
The resumption of fighting is almost imminent in Chad.
A little worrying. It’s been a while since there’s been major fighting in Chad. It used to be a regular occurrence. For the first three years since I started coming out in 2005, it was part of the Chad experience, knowing that Chadian rebels could cross the border at any time and start taking villages up and down the east of the country — and even go for N’Djamena. We were stuck in some tight situations!
It has calmed down drastically since 2009, so it was a surprise to read the little blog post about troop movements and “imminent” fighting in Chad. I talked with some from our group and then with UNHCR staff. There was no mention of fighting in Chad in any major or even minor news source, and UNHCR believed it was routine troop movement, so on we went to Goz Beida.
We were in a big convoy with an armed escort, a Toyota truck with four soldiers hanging on in the back, leading the way. After rainy season, the bumpy road made for a slow drive, but we had great conversations and saw beautiful people, blue birds, goofy camels, and large fields of sorghum. There are also many striking looking trees with red trunks. A driver told us that they are the ones from which gum arabica is taken. Gum arabica is a main ingredient in Coca-Cola, Coke!
We made it to Goz Beida in an hour and forty-five minutes. I’ve made that same drive in less than forty-five. We soon had to go present ourselves to the region’s governor. That was a good sign, to know that he was still there, since they are the first ones to usually flee, if fighting is coming. We met with him, and he welcomed us to the region and talked about the history of humanitarian operations in Chad and particularly in Goz Beida. It was all in French, so my mind drifted at times, but I got a sense for what he was saying.
It’s a short drive from Goz Beida to Camp Djabal. We arrived at one of the schools, where a couple dozen teachers were waiting for us. It was nice to see my friend Abdulaziz along with so many other familiar faces. It was a good meeting, where the teachers talked about the challenges related to education in the camp. They stressed how important preschools were to them, and they also talked repeatedly about the lack of opportunity to move on to a University, “Not one refugee has graduated from a university in the last nine year!”
From there we moved to the secondary school and got to listen to students. There is an almost palpable sense of frustration, of being stuck with no chance to continue growing. Students read from speeches they had written. They all said that their current education is lacking in so many areas and that they have nowhere to go after high school. In one of these classrooms I found Rahma and Murtada, and they talked, looking and sounding serious and formal. But, the Rahma smile would flash through now and then, when I would look at him.
Visiting Rahma’s home is alway fun. His siblings and extended family welcome us warmly and with big smiles. It was sad to see where Rahma’s hut used to be. It burnt down in December, and he lost all of his possessions. Also lost was the mobile library that he takes around the schools. On this trip, we brought some replacement Kindles and talking dictionaries, but so much more was lost. The Human Rights Watch Student Task Force is working on replacing all the material. Rahma was so happy that I’olani School in Hawaii sent him support, including t-shirts, maps, and more. He sends his thanks to HRW STF, ‘Iolani, and everyone that has helped. He said, “They are my best friends!”
We then went to visit Guisma’s home, and I won’t write too much about them because I’ll later do a separate post about this beautiful family. It was sad to see the children look thinner and all wearing the same clothes they had on during my last visit in December. Their mom Achta also looked thin and even sad. The loss of her mother hit her hard, and life has been difficult without her husband Adef being around. The seven-month-old baby, Abdulai, was the one that did look healthy and so, so happy. He makes eye contact and engages, smiles and laughs. He is still breastfeeding, and that makes all the difference.
There are so many needs, and it can all feel overwhelming, but there are also so many opportunities. We have to go at it and be creative and…do!
Working as an in-home therapist for abused children and their families, I would walk into a home that was often in chaos and experiencing deep pain. My job was then to look for the positives, the protective factors within a dysfunctional environment that could offer safety and love to the child and his or her family. It wasn’t easy. It was like trying to complete an extremely difficult puzzle without having the top of the box and not knowing where the pieces were or how many pieces were out there to begin with.
What was certain, though, was that every family, no matter how difficult and often ugly the situation, did have these wonderful, positive pieces. Each puzzle was completely unique. There was not a formula that worked for all or even two of them. And the big challenge was to help the family be able to search for and recognize the ever-changing pieces that were needed to keep their fluid puzzle as complete as possible. It was never perfect; you were never really finished, but life would not be life if it was perfect. My current job has me doing a lot of the same things as in my previous one — but at a different scale.
“Working for peace” sounds lofty and abstract, but we are basically walking into a chaotic house — or region — where horrible things are happening, and we have to look for the those unique protective factors that are a piece of the puzzle for that particular case. There is not one piece that will provide an “aha moment,” or a solution to the whole problem. We have to dig in and be OK with finding little pieces that might for now not fit in with the other pieces.
With families, those protective factors might be a caring aunt or teacher; the family eating dinner together; the child loving sports; or even just having a safe park close to the home.
With peace, the protective factors can be political advocacy; an informed and organized civil society; attention from the media; appropriate laws and enforcement systems; effective methods of communication; and an engaged diaspora.
Stepping back a bit, and looking at peace on a longer timeline, something interesting happens: the protective factors that are good for the families are also good for promoting peace. How do you break cycles of violence, victimhood, and suffering? We must work at the community, family, and individual levels. Education is key. I have heard it over and over again since I first stepped in a refugee camp in 2005, and today I heard more of that message. They want an opportunity to create their own realities. They want to grow as complete human beings and to be able to take care of each other. They want to sing and play.
I still cannot see exactly what the Darfur Peace Puzzle will look like, but with our little team we’re working on our pieces — with lots of help from people like you. Joining many others that are also working on their own pieces, let’s figure this out soon.
I called my friend Umda as soon as I could, after arriving in N’Djamena, Chad. It’s my 15th trip, and it is always bittersweet to come here. Umda (a refugee leader) sounded so happy on the phone, thanking me for coming back to see him and everyone in his refugee camp. He asked about my family and told me to thank everyone. I get to see him tomorrow.
To get here, I made stops in a warm, tropical paradise and then in two frozen and extremely cold cities. I flew over oceans and lakes, over mountains and plains, and I saw the amazing northern lights. What an awe inspiring planet we live in! From that altitude, it all seems right. Even the extremes in our globe look beautiful and, yes, peaceful. It’s when we land that this other reality hits.
This region has seen and continues to see the human extremes. There are beautiful people, full of compassion and joy, but there is also suffering and people that have experienced unimaginable horrors. I feel so privileged to be able to fly across oceans and continents to be able to come and shake Umda’s hand and spend some time with his family. He once told me that he would never want to get on a plane, those metal machines, and fly so high. It sounds scary to him. He wants to keep his feet on the ground.
I’m looking forward to the next few days. Come along with me.
There is a big moon over Eastern Chad tonight. It’s beautiful, but it also gives so much light that you can’t see too many stars. They often fill the entire sky, with the Milky Way’s heavy brushstroke from one horizon to another. Back home in Los Angeles, that sky does not exist.
We are back in the little town of Goz Beida, and we only have one more visit to camp Djabal, and then we start our journey home. Yesterday was a travel day, with the usual “hurry up and wait” routine that is the norm here. It was a quick little jump from Kou Kou’s dirt runway to Goz Beida’s dirt runway. The South African co-pilot of the flight looked tired but still with a sense of humor. He could not think of where we were flying to until someone whispered “Goz Beida,” but he then said, “Don’t be surprised if we end up in Cape Town.” To finish his pre-flight instructions he said, “Let’s go home.”
We got to town at three, but we were still able to get a car and head to Djabal for a short visit. We arrived to watch a foot race between a number of women and girls at the soccer field. They run in their normal dresses and scarves, but they can still fly. The finish line was a wall of people into which the runners would pretty much slam.
I said goodbye to everyone in Goz Amer yesterday, and next it’s goodbye’s to Djabal. This time, though, I’ll be coming back a lot sooner and more often, and my refugee friends know that I will. In the camps, everything moves at a different pace. They have a different sense of time, but I notice more and more an urgency of wanting to break lose and be able to dream of moving in a space and time outside of the refugee camps and leave that label, refugee, behind.
Let’s go home.