October 21, 2007
Blogging under African skies
Local women go to help Darfur refugees in Chad
(Page 4 - Previous Page)-- Tzivia Wednesday Oct. 17th 2007
Iriba -- we finally made it
It's hard to believe it, but today, 4 days after leaving Los Angeles, we finally arrived at our destination -- Iriba. The town is home to somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 people (there is no census so no one knows the population for sure). Of course, there are only a couple of dirt "roads" and all of the people live in small mud houses.
But first, a word about yesterday. While in Abeche, we had a wonderful meeting with the UNHCR manager who is responsible for refugee camp programs in Eastern Chad. There are more than a dozen camps housing some 250,000 refugees in Eastern Chad. The UNHCR Eastern Chad Camp Manager expressed her support of the Solar Cooker Project and asked that the project be expanded in 2008 to 3 more camps in another part of Eastern Chad. This was very encouraging. Like others with whom we have met, she explained the complexity of the political situation in Chad, specifically about the enormous shortage of firewood and the tensions and violence caused by that shortage.
Today, we began our series of meetings with our partners. We met our partners who actually operate the Solar Cooker Project in Iridimi. They are amazing people who are so grateful for the support we have given to the project. We delivered a shipment of our beautiful potholders, which they love. The said that the women in the camp are asking for potholders, and we were very happy to bring a fresh supply to them.
We also had a meeting with the "governor" of this region of Chad. It was definitely a surreal event about which we will report more when we are no longer in Chad.
In the last couple of days we, quite by accident, met representatives from two of the other projects which JWW has funded-we met a man who works for HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, through whom we funded a social worker in the Goz Amir camp in Southern Chad), and we met the representative from Internews (through whom we are funding "She Speaks, She Listens", a women's education and empowerment radio project). We have also seen the major presence of International Medical Corps and the International Rescue Committee-two other organizations to which JWW has made major financial donations. It is so great to see the dollars we have raised actually bringing some modicum of service and relief to this area.
Tomorrow we go to the camp to begin our evaluation.
-- Janice October 17
We walked along an endless river of garbage
The most common comment I heard before we left L.A. was "You'll never be the same . This experience will change your life forever." At that time,I didn't know what they meant exactly and surely I didn't think it would happen the first day of our journey. But I think it has. While "touring" the capitol city of Chad, N'Djamena, Derk wanted to give a message to someone who happens to live in the poorest section of town. We were dropped off by Ali Mousa, the logistics manager for the Solar Cooker Project (Tchad Solaire) and our driver while are here. We walked along an endless river of garbage: plastic bags, trash, bugs, empty containers, a few goats roaming, small fires burning...words can't describe the smell and sight. On one side of us was the garbage with children walking across it and even wading into it, and on the other side were dung huts where families live in 10 x 10 hovels. There were a few children roaming about, some barefoot, as well as a woman braiding another woman's hair, a skinny dog sniffing around for something to eat and finally the home of Martine.
Martine is a beautiful, poised, sweet woman who was so gracious and pleased to see us. It was putting this beautiful face and sweet personality to the reality of this slum-like living that was completely devastating. The realization that people were living, literally, on top of this trash dump hurt to the core of my being. This country and its people are supposed to be in good shape compared to Sudan. . . and we haven't even arrived at the refugee camp yet.
All is well with our crew. A driver met us at the hotel at 5:45am. "Driver" sounds fancy... picture a small Land Rover with all our luggage and the 5 of us + the driver crammed in! We then flew on a 20 seat World Food Programme plane to Abeche, our next stop on the way to Iriba and the camps.The pilot looked 20 but she did a beautiful job. Apparently these are the best pilots because they fly so much. No bathroom on the plane but luckily there was air conditioning!
We fly tomorrow to Iriba and, if all goes according to plan (not so common in Africa apparently) , we will be in the refugee camp on Thursday. More then.
-- Rachel Andres Tue, 16 Oct 2007 13:00:58 +0100
Life here is incomprehensible
I've driven my children down Skid Row at dusk so they can see the reality of life in Los Angeles for people not as privileged as we are. Today I was driven through the capital city of Chad and witnessed poverty and squalor to literally turn your stomach.
As we left the main road and turned into a dusty road along a watery river of trash, sewage and disease, we saw where the well-dressed hotel cleaning woman and the polite pool attendant go home every night. To say that life here is incomprehensible is a ridiculous understatement.
The average life expectancy here is 47 years old; I can tell you that I have not seen one older person anywhere! I am 45 years old and because of sheer luck or fate, I was born in Los Angeles, as were my husband and my children; and based on life-expectancy rates in the United States, I should have many more years of life to experience. But the children here, the smiling beautiful children in their school uniforms, waving to us on a street corner - what chance do they have? And will their lives be better or worse than those living in refugee camps we will visit this week on the eastern border with Sudan? Some say those refugee children are better off because they've got the world focused on providing for them. I don't know, but I think I understand what the words "G-d forsaken" really mean now.
-- From Tzivia Monday -- Oct. 15, 2007 -- N'Djamena
Email upon arrival in Chad
It's Sunday evening and we have just arrived in N'Djamena, Chad! The almost 24 hours of flights went fine and we are settling in for the night before we go to various government entities tomorrow to get the permissions necessary to continue our travel to Abeche, and then on to Iriba and the Iridimi and Touloum camps.
We met up with Derk Rijks, the Solar Cooker Project founder, and with Gabrielle, a board member of Solar Cookers International, at the airport in Paris and flew here together. It's dark outside so it is hard to give you any impressions of the place right now. We will write again tomorrow and hope not to blow out another converter when we do so!
-- Signing off from N'Djamena, Janice, Rachel and Tzivia, Oct. 14, 2007
They say our trip will be no more dangerous than a walk through Downtown L.A.
Photos Â© 2007 Barbara Grover
For all the photos, click here
I have been thinking a lot about that experience 30 years ago as I anticipate my trip to see the Darfuri refugees at the Iridimi and Touloum refugee camps in Chad. Of course, there are major differences between that trip and the one we are about to take: First, we are not bringing anything that could be considered contraband into Chad; second, the people who are the targets of our mission to Chad are not refuseniks who could easily have been (and maybe were) my actual cousins, or at the very least, fellow Jews; and finally, in the case of the Soviet Union, my husband's parents and my grandparents were all born in the geography that we would be traversing -- we were very aware of the fact that we
could just as easily have been among those trapped behind the Iron Curtain as we were among those who were visiting with contraband and support.
But, with all of those differences, right now, for me, the similarities are more striking. First and foremost, these two trips are the two most "dangerous" things I have done in my life. Yesterday, Tzivia, Rachel and I were assured by a relief worker that Chad is no more dangerous than a walk through downtown Los Angeles. (He didn't say if the walk was in the daytime, nighttime or what part of downtown ... yikes!! Was this supposed be comforting?!?) But honestly, as an upper-middle-class Jewish daughter, wife, mom, attorney, community volunteer -- raised in Pacific Palisades and now hailing from Encino -- I don't usually find myself sneaking contraband into foreign countries or, for that matter, booking travel to places that are rife with political instability, rebel armies and refugee camps! We have always made a point of avoiding such situations -- except twice: then ... and now.
But, despite the twice-daily calls from my very nervous octogenarian parents and in-laws who repeatedly assure me that they will not rest comfortably until we return safely from the trip, I do not feel scared about our physical safety. I do, however, feel anxious and am having a difficult time sleeping this week. My anxiety is related not to getting to the camps, but rather, to leaving the camps. I anticipate the misery of the people we will meet. I anticipate how sad and sorry and painful their stories will be. And I anticipate that when we leave, to go back to our husbands, our children, our loving families, our
|Rachel Andres' audio blog
Part I, 5:36. MP3
When we left Anatoly Scharansky and Ida Nudel 30 years ago in their Moscow apartments, I remember that same feeling I anticipate now ... profound sadness and fear for what would become of them. In that case, a week after we left, Anatoly was arrested, tried and then taken to the Gulag where he spent years of his life in solitary confinement.
So, as I anticipate what the faces of genocide will look like when we encounter them next week, I want so much to be able to leave Chad feeling a sense of hope that one day they will be able to be restored to the life they and their families knew for so many hundreds of years. But ... I also am frightened that I will find the face of hopelessness and dread. Will we know how to comfort the grieving mother? What will we tell her we can do for her? How do I explain that we care so deeply for her well-being? How do I tell her that we are trying to awaken our government and others to their plight?
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