Thursday, 27 September 2007

UNHCR Compound, Bahai

Woken up this morning at 5.40am by ‘Dick Van Dyke’, an itinerant Dutch solar-cooker ("cuisine solaire") salesman, switching on his radio, full blast. Dick is our ‘new friend’, working hard to get the ‘most annoying man in Africa’ award – and boy, I think he’s going to make it, with a record score. Not only does he monopolise the one bathroom and loo, he will also help himself to the best room, the best seat in any vehicle. Even worse, he demands that everyone else gives up their baggage allowance on the little planes here, so he can get his damn cookers in the hold.

People adopt a strange ‘mockney’ accent, saying “Hullo, Mary Poppins” whenever the poor fellow rushes purposefully past. “Zere’s ten sousand vimmin waitink for me in ze camps”, he announced solemnly. He must have wondered why we all started sniggering. “Oh, so that’s what he’s got in that case – Viagra”, someone whispered.

Thankfully we managed to lose him at the little airport in Abeche, where we found ourselves boarding a nine-seater bound for the camps in the north – round Bahai, close up to the Sudanese border, landing on a grassland airstrip.
Complete with armed guards – you can’t go any where here without turbaned ‘cool dudes with the shades’ waving Kalashnikovs around. "Government Security", someone said. Well, perhaps. They certainly weren’t the Coldstream Guards. We drove past abandoned villages, and others with wonderful, huge thatched-roofed huts, and children herding goats and sheep. Because a miracle has occurred this year – rain! Lots of it! And so, just for once, the plains are a sea of waving grass. Camels stand idly by, chewing the cud and looking disdainfully at us, as only camels can. And of course there are donkeys everywhere.

Eventually we come to the place we have really travelled all this way to see, Oure Cassoni refugee camp. Home to twenty-two thousand traumatised ex-villagers from central Darfur, and their animals – approaching forty thousand head.
We were given a warm and hearty welcome as we sat down to talk to the village ‘committee’, along with the local aid workers, to try and find out their needs and problems and start to think of a plan to help them and there animals survive in this often harsh and unforgiving land.

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