By Gabriel Stauring
It doesn’t get any easier. I recently went on my eleventh trip to eastern Chad, where I visit the refugee camps that are home to more than 250,000 Darfuris. I’m now somewhat used to the rough travel—the heat, lack of sleep, little food, and overall craziness of making it through Chad. What is not getting easier is the emotional impact of seeing a group of people lose hope in the outside world. It’s not any easier to see friends break down when they finally decide to tell their story, a story that includes seeing their homes destroyed, family killed, and sometimes torture and rape.
On i-ACT Expedition #11, we visited four of the twelve camps that dot the border between Sudan and Chad. I went back to camp Kounoungou, where we’ve made many friends, starting from the very first i-ACT trip. It was so wonderful to reconnect with my wise friend, the camp school inspector Yakoub. He gave us a tour of the camp, talking about how the people are adapting to the life of limbo that refugee camps are. Yakoub took us to what appeared to be just an open space in the camp. It had little raised mounds of sand. He said that many children did not survive the first months after fleeing the destruction of their village. Each mound was the grave of a Darfuri child.
We then visited Fatne, a beautiful little old lady that speaks with her entire body. She gave me a great hug and offered us peanuts as a snack. She misses Darfur. She started to tell us what happened to her village, pointing up to the sky to describe the helicopters that came to drop bombs. She stopped and waved her hands in front of her face. She could not continue telling the story. After seven years, it is too painful for her to remember those days, when she saw so many people killed, and she started her walk to a life as a refugee.
I spent two weeks out there. It wasn’t all sad. I have a great time also! I get to play soccer with the kids. I get to meet the new babies and visit schools—and just hang out with old and new friends. We laugh a lot!
There are very difficult moments, though. My good friend, Umda Tarbosh, invited us to his home. He has a beautiful family, including girls named Susan Rice and Mia Farrow. We sat in the shade, and Umda seemed more serious and quiet than usual. He was gathering himself. On my third visit to his camp and after many hours spent with him, he now decided to tell his story. We sat quietly and, without us asking any questions, Umda told us about being tortured, about seeing his land destroyed, about so many people being killed, and about making an harrowing journey towards Chad, barely escaping the Janjaweed.
Umda’s eyes were red and wet. He rubbed his hands together nervously. He asked a question that kept coming up during our entire trip: Why not Darfur?
Darfuris have been hearing about amazing transformations in other parts of the world, with the international community demanding justice, peace, and the protection of innocent civilians—in other parts of the world. Why not Darfur?
I didn’t have an answer.