Visiting Camps in Dafur

I have now been in Darfur about 4 weeks and I am definitely happy to be here. I love my work, I love the people and believe what we are doing is worthwhile, despite the frustrating context and the bigger political situation. One friend commented a few days ago that if we can keep things in stasis this is actually an achievement, but I would like to think we do more than that.

We visited Kalma camp last week, an enormous sprawling camp of tents and dust and mud and mud brick huts and tattered plastic sheeting which took us a good forty minutes of dusty indistinguishable roads to get to. NGOs here estimate 95,000 people in the camp alone. There is even market as you drive in, women selling vegetables, donkeys pulling carts, beautiful children waving at the car, goats climbing around, women in bright cloth carrying posts on their heads, men in white jalabeyas and white turbans and NGO flags flying (somewhat tattered) from some of the buildings. Kalma has also recently been in the news – to give you some idea of how bad things are, for people who are displaced, especially the women.

At night I try to run along the road near the airport with friends and climb the hill overlooking Nyala. There are two camps close to town you can see from the top of the hill blue and white plastic, and tents, distinguish them from the mud brick and wood square buildings and tukuls which make up the town. I am gradually learning the names, who runs them, what NGOs are involved, the problems each faces.

We also went to Kass, where the IDPs (internally displaced persons — ie refugees but haven’t crossed a border) live in the town as part of the host community. It’s about two hours on a theoretically tarmaced road so full of pot holes that at times the cars would head off on the dirt roads carved next to it, and through the mud, as these were more passable. We went with cars from two other agencies (minimum convoy of 3 according to UN security requirements). The whole trip was really green, passing herds (are they called herds?) of camels, and small villages made of round tukuls with conical roofs. On, over wadis filled with water, kids playing in mud puddles, women on donkeys, and buses with people on the roof, sometimes army with guns, at other times passengers on luggage. Kass is much smaller than Nyala but we arrived on market day and drove past huge tarpaulins spread with sun drying tomatoes and okra. No mobile reception, no tarmac, and no UN presence except from the World Food Programme.