Saturday 7th August: I arrived in the Al Riyadh camp
in El-Geneina, West Darfur's main town, which Islamic Relief
have been managing since the crisis began. My first view was
from the rise of a hill and the scene was overwhelming. The
staff in Khartoum had given me an idea of what to expect,
but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Stretched
out for miles were tiny makeshift shelters made of twigs.
As I wander in I am immediately immersed
in camp life. Children run screaming toward me and start shouting
"Hawaji, Hawaji". I am told by my interpreter, Abdullah,
that this means white man. It's the first time I've been called
that and it seems a little strange considering I am dark skinned.
Still, it becomes the shout I hear everywhere I go and I begin
to like it so much that when anyone asks my name I say it's
Hawaji. The children howl with laughter.
4.30 pm: I meet a young
girl on a donkey with jerry cans of water which she has collected
from the nearby pump. Her name is Isra and she is 7 years
old - an Internally Displaced Person - forced from her home
with her family when the fighting came too close for comfort.
She asks me to visit her grandfather who is suffering from
malnutrition. When I walk in a frail old man is lying on a
bed. He sees me and tries to rise. The effort is too much
and he lies back with a resigned sigh.
6.00 pm: Rain begins to
fall, but It's like nothing I have ever seen before. Sand
starts to fly and it hits my face like small fragments of
glass. People are running everywhere trying to find shelter.
Within minutes the bustling camp is deserted. People huddle
under sack cloth and blankets.
The Burial of Abu Adai
Sunday 8th August: I decide
that I should go and visit Isra and her grandfather before
I get too busy with the day's routine. As I walk I see a large
group of men standing in the distance. Apparently there's
a funeral for somebody who died last night of malnutrition.
I get a sinking feeling. As I wander over I meet Isra's uncle.
As I feared, the funeral is for Abu Adai, Isra's grandfather.
I watch them dig his grave and bury a man that I had been
talking to only a day ago
11.00 am: A group of women
gather to speak to me of what they have suffered. Their stories
are chillingly similar. Their husbands and, in some cases,
their young sons have been killed in their homes or in mosques.
They are all desperate for food and protection. Their cries,
they say, have gone unheard. Each one says that they are still
scared that the horror is not over, even in the relative safety
of an IDP camp.
4.00 pm: Islamic Relief
staff begin preparing for tomorrow's aid distribution. Everything
is planned to the last detail to avoid the chaos that is usual
in large distributions. A potential donor is coming to see
us tomorrow and we have to get this right. Donations for Sudan
have been pitifully small. Without money, none of the aid
agencies working here can operate. Without more money, people
will die. The equation is that simple. The situation is that
Islamic Relief staff together with tribal
elders have planned an orderly distribution with people arriving
in groups of 30 to recieve aid items. The distribution begins
and suddenly the elders take control of the situation. Immediately
everybody falls silent and forms orderly lines of 15 men and
15 women. It's a sight to behold. I have seen drill sergeants
with less control over their troops.
Arriving at Al-Geneina hospital I am ushered
into meet Dr Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz, the Chief of Surgery
who doubles as the hospital administrator. He leads me down
a corridor where a frail man lies on a bed. He has been shot
in the kidney and is hooked up to a colostomy bag. He also
suffers from severe malnutrition.
It often happens that the needs of children
are neglected in favour of the wider human catastrophe. This
is never deliberate, but sadly the trauma that these children
have faced is not always the main priority. These children
will relive the horror they have endured until the day they
die. It's a stark fact, but one which the world needs to ponder.
The cycle of violence and deprivation could end now with these
children, if we only had the resources.
People of Darfur
Isra's sister and uncle approach me and
tell me that they have said special prayers that I return
to Darfur in happier times. If I return to Darfur, they say,
I must stay with them as their guest.
I see that this is not a hollow invitation.
What little they have, they are willing to share. It will
be nice to get back to Khartoum, the reality is, though, that
I prefer to be here, despite all the hardships. The people
here have taught me the real meaning of courage, strength,
generosity and kindness. I know I will come back.