November 1, 2007
Bearing witness a world away from L.A.
Wrap-up from JWW's visit to Darfur refugees in Chad
(Page 2 - Previous Page)-- TSG
Iridimi, Oct. 18
After having our "Permission to Circulate" papers checked, we went straight to the solar cooker workshop, where we were enthusiastically (to say the least!) greeted by the 15 or so women who work so diligently making the cookers. After handshakes, hugs, smiles and a few photos, the work began. The women busily took their positions and suddenly the room turned into a serious manufacturing plant. Two women traced the cooker pattern with ball point pens and carefully cut out the cookers; two other women brushed gum arabic (glue) on the cardboard and smoothed the large pieces of foil onto them; and a seamstress sewed fabric into carrying bags to protect the cookers. Outside on the ground, one woman squatted while she stirred gum arabic crystals in water to melt them with her bare hands (for hours), and the other hammered holes in the cookers in order to place eyelets (a recent improvement to the cookers, which helps steady them on windy days by attaching rocks to a string that is placed through the eyelets).
In the small, neat storage room we saw laminated photos of kids from L.A. decorating potholders, stacks of cardboard, cookers in carrying bags, fabric and other supplies. The women were so proud to show us all they had accomplished.
Iridimi, Oct. 19
My friend Monica wrote me a sweet note before I left. In it, she said to think of her "when there are laughs, and there are bound to be some." ... In a meeting with the Iridimi Leadership Council (picture two dozen Muslim men in traditional garb sitting on the floor staring at us) ... we entered the "tent of the meeting" for what we thought was more or less a required formality before we would start the interviews in the camp. The discussion turned out to be a serious and frank conversation about solar cookers. I was prepared to hear the resistance of the men to the solar cooker project; the main criticism I have heard about solar cookers is that the men don't like the way the food tastes. Their mothers and grandmothers cooked over wood fires, and they want their wives to do the same, I'd been told. One man volunteered that the food tastes good, and that it is so good that sometimes the children steal some out of the pot if it is not watched. Pleasantly surprised, the men talked of how they like solar cooking because now the women are safer, since they don't have to go out for firewood (also a woman's job), and that now the women have more time for other things. The only complaint was that solar cooking takes longer. The three women sitting to the side sat up when they heard that. One was the president of the women refugees. She said, "We are the ones who cook, and we don't mind. Now we have more time to do things we like, like henna!" (Think: time to go to the spa!) The women laughed, as did the men and the rest of us.
Iridimi, Oct. 19
Today we continued with the evaluations of the Solar Cooker Project inside the Iridimi camp. At the end of each 30-minute interview related to each woman's solar cooker practices, we asked if she would mind sharing her personal story about what had brought her to the Iridimi refugee camp. Each of the women we interviewed told us about the bombardments of their villages and their horrible personal losses. One of the women told us that three children were killed in her family; she then pointed at a woman across the courtyard of the small compound and told me that the woman's mother was killed in the same way. In the first two days of the field work, we have visited around 35 households. By the end of the process, if all goes according to plan, we will have met with 100 households.
One of the most emotional aspects of the visit to the camp for me is the total lack of material culture. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of children. We have not seen a single toy or a single unnecessary object. Food is obviously very scarce, and despite 10 or so hours we have spent so far in the camps, I have never seen a child eating anything or playing with anything.
-- Janice Kamenir-Reznik
Iridimi, Oct. 20
Of course we know from news reports of the atrocities being committed in Darfur over the past few years, but we are sitting now, face to face, asking the question. A few women chuckled nervously as they began their story, each telling of their village being bombed and the Janjaweed militia coming by truck and attacking their families, raping the women, stealing their belongings and burning their villages. Each told of family members being killed. One woman had six children; four were killed the first day during the bombings and the other two children were killed the following day. A man came outside of his tent as we walked by to tell us that he uses the solar cooker to cook his meals. He was the first man who talked of cooking. His wife and children were all killed in Darfur. He is alone now.
Touloum, Oct. 21
Man's inhumanity to man is limited only by the creativity of his cruelty.