Saturday, May 15, 2004
(according to the UN and a CNN report 12 May 2004)
I looked at my travel thermometer, it showed 122 F, it was hot, extremely hot, I just could not imagine how anyone could survive in such harsh conditions, hardly a tree for shade, no rivers or water in sight, there were bones from animals scattered in the desert and every now and again one would see either a donkey or goat lying in the sand, dying of thirst and starvation....I kept wondering what would happen if the truck broke down, we were in the middle of nowhere, 100's of miles from help........and one could not survive for very long in such conditions. The Sahara Desert was just slightly North of our position.
We were bumping along a sand road in a 4x4 truck, driving through Chad heading for the Sudan border, we were covered in sand and dust, there was just no way to keep it out, it went everywhere. Even though I was drinking water continually, it was not enough, the following day I found myself severly dehydrated and unable to move for around 14 hours.
This was my first trip to Chad and the West Darfur region of Sudan, having spent the past 8 years working into central Sudan and Upper Nile regions, using air charters from Kenya to reach the no go war areas of Sudan.
This was very different and I had no idea what to expect, even though my mission seemed simple enough, assess the situation with regard to the displaced and homeless Sudanese refugees, identify their needs and arrange delivery and distribution of aid items.
After nearly 5 hours of hard driving we found what we were looking for............hundreds of people, mainly women and children, very few men, out in the middle of the desert, possessions heaped together in piles in the middle of nowhere, women and children lying around in small groups......there was a shelter that had been roughly made out of grass, leaves and branches to provide some shade........ this just seemed so absurd, so strange, difficult to explain, all these people in the middle of nowhere, with nowhere to go........some 200 women and children had just arrived, some on donkeys, some by camel, most by foot, a few were lucky enough to escape with some of their personal possessions...........many did not escape.
As I walked amongst the people, it seemed like a bad dream, somehow surreal.........it was as though I had just been lifted out of my Western house which was home for my healthy family and which contained all its many comforts, privileges and blessings - food in the pantry, a tap with running water, my truck with a/c, but here I was walking amongst people who had NOTHING, many were suffering from either dehydration, starvation, exhaustion or sickness, having fled horrific attacks on their homes and villages.
Some children scratching an empty pot for scraps of food, a mother lies exhausted in the sand as her two children sit next to her, patting her, trying to comfort her, a large group of children sit together in complete silence, their parents murdered when their village was attacked, other children lying in the sand sobbing.
The anger and hopelessness I felt was unparalleled. I felt humbled and heartsick at the wretchedness of their situation.
Everyone had a story to tell, both women and children, they stood in a long line waiting to tell their story, perhaps it was it cathartic for them. Apparently, many of the men had been slain while defending their homes.
Issakou, a 10 year old boy told me how his home was attacked late at night just a few days earlier, his home was burnt down, his father and brothers were shot, only he and his mother survived. They had walked for many days through the desert in search of safety.
Ahmed, a 57 year old man, described in tears how his village was attacked by Government of Sudan (GOS) soldiers, he explained in detail how the very young and elderly who could not run and escape, were rounded up, forced into a hut, set alight and burnt alive. How, when he went back days later, he saw the bodies of young children hanging from trees, others had been decapitated, Ahmed went on and on, the tears flowing down his cheeks.
Adam, a 14 year old boy, told how his village was bombed by GOS planes on a daily basis and then how a group of soldiers on horseback raided their village, burning their homes and shooting women and children in the back as they ran.
David, a 45 year old man, told how GOS soldiers would rape the women in the village before slaughtering them in the most horrific ways.
The suffering does not end after the attacks, now displaced, the Sudanese try and survive the harshest of conditions. Being a desert region, there is no water, no food, no shelter and no medicine. Sudanese refugees are dying everyday along the Chad / Sudan border.
More than 1 million Sudanese have been displaced in Darfur as a result of GOS attacks which continue to this very day. In fact as I write this report, more than 200 Sudanese people have been killed, 6000 head of cattle stolen and a further 70 000 people displaced on the Eastern border. This atrocity being carried out by GOS militiamen, in spite of a peace agreement and cease fire being in place. We leave for Sudan in 10 days time and I know I carry with me your message of love, support and encouragement.
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