Journal of the People’s Pastor

“Writing The History I’ve Lived, Living The History I Write!”

DARFUR DIARY

Darfur Diary: Part III – My Journey To Chad, Central Africa
Visiting the Darfurian Refugee Camps



Tuesday, March 20, 2007 (Part A)

It was 8am when I awaken, which is unusually late for me. The sun was already up and working hard to guarantee another hot day. Looking out of my ground floor picture window, I could see people were already moving about. The streets, across the grass, bushes and dirt yards, were busy with pedestrians’ vehicles and bikes, motor and manual.

Yahya came by my room. He was beaming. He recited our itinerary, meeting with the US Ambassador and the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). He would try to secure a meeting with Mr. Salva Kiir, Vice President of the Central Government of Sudan and President of the South of Sudan. Also, he will get a cameraperson and book flight to Abeche. We prepared a couple of gift packages, consisting of books, newspaper clippings and T-shirts. Then we went to breakfast.

It was a buffet breakfast. A roundtable of cold cereal and meats, cheese, fruits, juices, yogurt and milk. There were eggs, cooked according to the customers’ liking. Across the room in the corner were breads of all kinds and shapes, pure honey, jelly and jams. Against the wall were hot cereals and meats – beef, pork, and lamb stew. Also there was soup, coffee and tea.

I decided on pineapple, herbal mint tea and water. I was halfway through the tea then realized I should not drink the water. If it were broiling, I thought, it might be alright; but I wasn’t sure the water had broiled. In countries where contagious diseases are rife, I try to confine myself to a very sparse eating program, with lots of bottled liquids, especially water.

Our first stop was the American Embassy. We drove along dirt, garbage-strewn roads where puddles of water and large holes abound. There were paved roads, too. But, they were like asphalt streets running through a desert. Even when the roads were paved, the side streets that ran into the road were dirt. Let it be remembered, this is desert country. However, there is greenery and farmland, but always the desert is present. From the dirt, clouds of dust were pervasive. Along the streets, vendors were everywhere. There was even street-side gas selling. Nigerians are the greatest sellers. The gas is sold in all kinds of bottles. There is cooking, too. On the sidewalk, people sat and ate their cooking – plantains, tea, and gugas (wheat cakes) which are dipped into the tea, dunked in donut style. Vehicles and bikes flooded the streets. Crowds of people were moving apparently purposefully, some hurrying, others strolling, still others drove their vehicles leisurely. I wondered, where they were going. What was so important in this sun-baked city to all these people that moved them with such alacrity and determination?

The American Embassy covered a couple of blocks. However, there was no show of luxury, except behind the old stonewalls, with barbwire atop. As we passed through black supervised security, we saw in the open courtyard a number of modern vehicles and well kept buildings. We never got beyond the second security station. After giving personal information on a card, the regional security person came out to greet us. He was white. I guessed southern. We inquired about security in the refugee camp area. He said the rebels, against the Chadian government, are attacking. They hope to make an impact in the area before the rainy season in June. They do not come into the city. They attack from a distance, hoping to draw the soldiers away. Then, they enter, loot and destroy. “Be sure to contact our people there when and if you plan to go,” he said.

Next stop, the UNHCR. More crowds along the way, and more dirt roads. The UNHCR is a wall complex similar to the American Mission. “They are supposed to help refugees, yet they hide behind walls,” said Yahya. The security was even more secure than the American Embassy. Yahya knocked on the iron wall. A peephole opened. Barely seen was a dark face with white eyes. The security person inquired reason for our knocking. After responding to his question, a security officer was sent to lead us into the compound.

Walking pass the security station, we received identification badges with a ribbon that was to be placed around our necks. We were led into an office. There sat a slender white woman. She looked efficacious. She was courteous, knowledgeable and articulate. She was Danish. She said, “The refuges are growing. There are over 200,000 from Darfur and almost 200,000 displaced in Chad.” Yahya inquired about the airplane. The small plane was already filled till next Monday. She told us, the World Food Project (WFP) has a larger plane. She gave us their number. She asked us if we were taking anything to the refugee camp. “Yes, t-shirts,” said Yahya. “Which camps are you planning to visit?” she asked. “Fontana or Gaga,” Yahya replied. “Why does every body go to Fontana?” she asked. “Because it is close to Abecha,” answered Yahya. Abecha is where the planes land.

The UN person said, “I am curious, why are you going to that camp?” “It is a Muslim Camp.” Yahya replied, “I am Muslim.” I responded, “So what? In our organization, we have members who are Muslim. But we only thought of the refugees as humans.”

I thought about it later. It never crossed my mind that in some camps there were Muslims. To me, they were all suffering. In times of great suffering, the biblical statement becomes powerfully real, “God is no respecter of person. God has made all flesh of one blood.” In the suffering of Darfur, everybody is the same. I felt the same way when I went to the Bronx to give my prayers and support to the family and friends of the African Muslims whose love ones were killed in a fire. I never thought to ask their religion. There was pain. The human family was hurting. And I was supposed to be present and to help anyway I could.

I remember when I walked into the mosque; there were whispers and nods in appreciation. I overheard several persons whispering. In fact, others came and greeted me with hugs. They said, “We knew you would be here.” Nobody made a religious distinction. People were hurting and people were responding to the pain.

Returning to the hotel at 11:30am, I walked out by the pool. I estimate the size to be 30X15 yards. The water was blue. Lolling around the pool were white, scantly clad females. Some sat beneath umbrellas and others swam. The men sat around looking and talking. There was a beach restaurant and bar close by. At the counter stood white men drinking. There were a couple of black men, too. Even in this international setting, in an African country, it is still clear, white men rule. That is the picture and message they conveyed. “We are still in charge. Africans are still our servants, cleaning, digging, planting, repairing and polishing. They are still supposed to serve us food and drink and cut our grass and shrubbery.” They seem to be saying.

I sat at the table, not far from the pool, surveying the scene. Off to my left was a river; on the other side of the river was Cameroon. People waited on the parched banks to be ferried across. “When the rainy season comes (June), the river overflow all the way to the edges of the pool and courtyard,” said Yahya.

To be continued…

Upcoming Events

Attend the Timbuktu Learning Center’s weekly Thursday Night Community Forums. All Forums are held at the House of the Lord Church from 7pm to 9pm.

Join Operation Life Line if you need assistance or know someone who needs assistance with their mortgages as it relates to foreclosures, predatory lending and/or subprime lending.

Attend NRLAA’s monthly forum Focus on Africa the 2nd Saturday from 2pm to 4pm.

Organizing Meetings regarding Darfur every Thursday - 12noon @ the House of the Lord Church
Keep abreast of our Darfurian activities by checking our web page @ www.holnj.org.

On Monday, May 12, 2008, 5pm – 7pm, join Rev. Daughtry and the members of NRLAA on a March & Rally in Support of Darfur. At 5:00pm, we will assemble at the Chinese Mission and march from there to the Sudan Mission.

NEED QUALITY CHILD CARE? – Call the Alonzo A. Daughtry Memorial Daycare Center Located at 333 Second Street, (Between 4th & 5th Avenues) downtown Brooklyn, NY @ (718) 499-2066. Immediate openings in a state of the arts center.