Sunday, April 23, 2006
Yesterday I took a helicopter from Nyala to Garsilla. Garsilla is in West Darfur and the security briefing we get on arrival went a little something like this. The field coordinator stood by a big map on his wall and sweeping his hand over different locations. “We are 60 km from Chad and it is unstable but we will only be in trouble if Chad chases the rebels into Sudan. 10 km south of Garsilla is a Janjaweed training camp. 25 km northeast is a Janjaweed training camp. The western corridor is off limits. Basically, there are problems all over West Darfur and all around us but here is quiet. But, here is your evacuation bag anyway.”
I am here to do audit preparation and find out how to support the administrator. His name is Robert and he is the tallest man I have ever seen. Serious and soft-spoken he comes from the south and would like to return as most of his family is still living in refugee camps. This morning all of the office staff were invited to the house of Saliman and Hawa for breakfast. Breakfast begins about 10am and is done in a highly expedient fashion. We turned up at about 11am and sit down on mats on the dirt street outside the brick walled compound. Being the only foreign woman – and a kawaje (white) to boot - I fit into an alien gender category in the minds of the Sudanese. It is not expected that I will cover fully or help with the food. It is ok for me to sit, speak and eat with men – things the women here would rarely do. Two boys come out of the compound carrying a tray the size of a small table laden with bread and about five dishes, all containing either meat or beans. This place is a vegetarian’s nightmare. We all eat out of the same dishes – right hand only!! – dipping the bread into various bowls. It is a messy affair.
Afterwards, I asked our host if I could go visit the women who are inside the house. There must have been about fifty of them sitting in the shade, drinking tea, cleaning, and cooking. I was introduced to them each and promptly told how many children they had. The numbers ranged from one to ‘oh, over a dozen.’ When I said that I was not married and had no children looks of shock and pity registered on their face. ‘Oh, we will find you a husband,’ they said.
However, my favourite part of the morning came when I was walking back to the rest of the group. The neighbour woman came out and asked me to meet her three children whom she promptly called over. The two oldest beamed. The third, a boy of probably two, meandered over, took one look at me, screamed in terror, burst into tears and ran away crying. Obviously, not the reaction I was going for. “He has never been so close to someone so white,” the mother explained. I’m trying not to take it personally.