Journal of the People’s Pastor

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


Darfur Diary: Part XI – My Journey To Chad, Central Africa
Visit to the Refugee Camp In Gaga

Thursday, March 29, 2007 (Part B)

The hospital was small, a mud and straw building, maybe about 40x40. There were eight (8) beds on either side. Two (2) beds were occupied on the right. Embarrassingly a woman was breastfeeding her baby. A man was lying on another bed being fanned. Walking into the yard there were a crowd of women gathered around a building. They were being turned away. They were forced to travel to Abeche to be serviced. (I remembered what the chief said, “the problems of the refugees spill over into Chadian villages and cities. We need a lot of help in the hospital and in the villages and cities.”) As we conversing with the Doctor, a donkey driven cart came by. There was a bed or mat on the cart. Lying on the mat, obviously in pain and uncomfortable, was a woman. Then along came “Mrs. In Charge,” reprimanding us for asking questions. “Didn’t I tell you, you couldn’t do interviews?” “Yes,” I responded firmly, but respectfully, restraining my anger, “but I thought you meant patients, not professionals.” I wanted to say something else more caustic. I held my peace. I had other more serious matters to think about. I try to practice not to deplete my time and energy unnecessary.

We left the hospital and the ambulance and headed for the Women’s Association. We had asked the camp manager to help us get interviews. There was a long ride to the farm where some of the women worked under the supervision of AfriCare. Our disappointment became obvious. While the farming was informative, it was clearly one of the bright or promising enterprises. But it wasn’t what we wanted. Let me explain the program. A plot of farmland is allocated to AfriCare. AfriCare selects women in the refugee camps; train them to farm the land. The produce provides food for the family and the excess is taken to the market for selling. Thus people are trained to farm as well as to earn money, which hopefully would lead toward independence. It is, in my opinion, an excellent program by AfriCare. I conveyed my admiration to the Supervisor.

Back across the dusty road or trail, we drove, passing water holes or places: and compounds of huts. One hut, in particular, caught my attention. I yelled, “Stop!” We entered the compound of mud, straw and brick. There were maybe four or five houses grouped in different parts of the compound. All of them made of the same substance, separated by straw fences. Children began to come from all over the compound. I started playfully chasing one little fellow. He ran as fast as his little legs could carry him around the hut. When I caught up with him, I smiled and he smiled back. I picked him up, gave him a hug and put him back on the ground and went back to where the crowd had assembled. Toward the end of our visit, we met a man and his wife both was dark and wrinkled. They extended to us the usual kindness. They thanked us for coming to see about them. They had six children. Four slept in the hut across from them. I looked inside. There were blankets on the ground. All of the huts were corned shaped. On our way out of the compound we gave away the t-shirts we had brought. From all over the compound they came, grabbing the t-shirts as fast as we could give them. I saw a naked baby. I put a t-shirt on him and picked him up. He smiled broadly. In fact, everybody was smiling and examining each other’s t-shirt. They followed us as we departed. How excited they were over so simple an inexpensive thing as a t-shirt.

We drove about 100 yards to the market. As always, there is a market and a mosque. If the village or camp is predominantly Muslim. The market is the market like all the other markets we had seen, maybe smaller and less diversity. And the market is not only for selling and buying it is also the meeting place. Again, I expressed my annoyance. I wanted to interview people. I have seen markets everywhere I had been in Chad.

Two women were found. They were standing on the periphery of the market. One of the women I questioned said her village was destroyed by airplanes and military vehicles, and Arabs on horses and camels. I asked her if there were other villages. She said, “Yes.” She started naming the villages. She stopped counting at nine (9). Then I turned to the other woman who had a baby on her back. She told me the same story. I found the stories too consistent across the country to be false. Whenever I talked to or read about Darfur atrocities, the scenario is the same. They say, airplane, heavy armed military vehicles, men on horse and camel backs move in, killing, even throwing babies in fires or smashing them; wounding, raping, and kidnapping, especially the women, some never returned. Also, they destroy their homes and occupy their land.

On a hill about 300 yards away, I saw women gathered at what I guessed were a place to receive water. I started walking in that direction, thinking we could get a panoramic view of the camp from the hilltop, plus, see what a watering station or fountain or well looked like in the camp. The watering station, and as stated, the market and the mosque, seemed to be the favorite gathering places.
When we reached the place of water, there were 12 to 15 women standing around. We learned there was no water. I asked why? With Yahya interpreting, they said, they had been there since 3:00 am (It was now about 3:30 pm). They will be there for the rest of the day. They only get four (4) gallons per day per family to care for all their needs, washing, cooking, cleaning and drinking, etc. “It is not enough,” they said. Then they need water to build their houses. (Houses are made of mud and straw and canvass.) The men had now gathered around. One young man was very angry. His words spewed forth like machine gun fire. He said, “The UN told us to build our houses and they would help us. The houses we build are better than the canvass tents they give us. But to build our houses we need water. They don’t give us enough water. Our women come and stay all day. Sometime they fight over the water. We need more water. Can you help us?”

Before I could answer, an elderly man spoke up, “The next war in Africa will be about water.” I asked, “Where does the water comes from?” They pointed to several huge tin or aluminum tanks standing on a platform, high upon the hill, clearly visible. I considered going up there, then the assistant camp manager spoke up, “I can answer why there is no water.” I nodded, “Go ahead.” He said, “The geologist came here, discovered that the water beneath the ground was running low. If they were going to save the camp they would have to ration the water to four (4) gallons per person.” That sounded to me like a reasonable explanation. I asked him, “Had any body told the people the reason!” Before Yahya could interpret, the fiery young man screamed “No! They have not told us anything.” I looked at the assistant camp manager, his face was blank. We shook our heads; throw up our hands in exasperation and frustration. There wasn’t anything we could do, nor could anybody else. So simple a matter as adequate water for human need, in this place, at this point, could not be resolved.

So plentiful a thing as water – the earth is 3/5 water, I think I learned that in school. And the water that is wasted all across the world, water that comes gushing forth with the flip of a knob or a button or some simple gadget, automatic sprinklers for lawns, golf courses and sports fields; children playing in water let loose by fire hydrants, loosely tighten faucets dripping water – but here in this hot, dusty, cramped village, through no fault of their own, these impoverish, suffering people, beg, plead, cry and fight over water.

I thought of how I wasted water – leaving faucets and/or showers on while I attend to other matters. Water I pour out of my kettle when I’ve had enough for tea, on and on my mind raced – never again would I be able to waste water or even watch others waste water and not think of Gaga’s refugee camp. To add to the problem, there were refugees still pouring in by the 1000s. There were no housing for them and they too will need water. I remembered Jay-z said he was going to help with the water problem in Africa. I made a mental note to contact him when I returned.

When I could take it no longer, I mumbled something like, “We will see what we can do.” Which I knew at that point, was little or nothing. We moved to higher grounds for a better view. After which, Yahya suggested we give out more t-shirts. We told the people, especially children, to gather around the SUV. We started giving out the shirts. The people, old and young, descended upon us with hands outstretched and loud verbal pleads. Their faces were contorted with desperation. For a moment I became frighten. They were pushing me against the vehicle. I could no longer extend my arms to give out the shirts. (Later, I thought about how Jesus was pressed upon by the crowds when he had done some compassionate service for the people. He had to seek higher ground in some instances or leave town to serve others also. There is a feeling of overwhelming sorrow, and in my case, powerlessness. Yet, comforted that, at least in this, we were able to do something. And just to be here with the people, showing our love and concern, meant something.)

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