Dr. Henry Reitzug of Puyallup, a member of the board of directors of Lakewood’s Northwest Commercial Bank, is on a mission to Darfur, Sudan, as part of Tearfund, a leading relief and development charity, working in partnership with Christian agencies and churches worldwide. Dr. Reitzug has been sending his observations of the country and people and we are reprinting them (in a series) with his permission. Read the other installments (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen)
Ed Daein, South Darfur, Sudan – Tuesday 6/3/08 – 4 pm (10 hours ahead of Tacoma)
Hello from yet another place. Each time I get off a plane I seem to be getting a little farther from life as I know it. Today was no exception. I have arrived at the place where half my work in Darfur will be focused, and it is dirty, crowded, uncomfortable, but friendly and fairly safe within the town.
There are blessings inside every day and it is important to note them and appreciate them. Today’s blessing occurred as soon as I got up. The Tearfund guest house in Ayela was very clean, tidy, and for Darfur, a real oasis, with attempts at gardening in the little stretches of dirt along walls and buildings. There were several broad-leaved trees of low height that were well loved and watered and a bougainvillea bush stretched itself from inside the compound over the wall, through 5 loops of barbed wire which graced the top of it, and gave the compound the color of a real oasis, in the midst of a town that could easily feel like the devil’s kitchen. I had trouble sleeping last night — my room was very hot and for two long stretches the generator was down making me dependent on my D-cell battery-operated fan for comfort — but when I got up at 6:30 this morning, the sun was just starting to turn the sky blue, there was a gentle breeze in the air, the air was not hot yet (maybe 75 degrees — much less than in my room), and the little courtyard outside my bedroom with the well-tended bits of nature was the most perfect place I have experienced in Sudan. It was an exquisite little blessing and as I sat on the bench along the courtyard wall where I had e-mailed from my BGAN satellite connection the night before, I could feel God’s presence.
I did not have time to linger over this little miracle in Darfur because we had to leave for the airport at 7:30. I had taken a shower the night before ‚Äì my first bucket shower, so it saved time. George and I, who seem to continue on parallel travel tracks, went by UN chopper (12 people on board) to Ed Daein, a 90 minute trip at about 1,500 feet above the semi-desert terrain. We stopped at a heavily guarded camp to let one UN worker off, it seems some rebels tried to hi-jack a helicopter there a few weeks ago ‚Äì they failed ‚Äì but did cause lots of gun-toting soldiers to be highly visible. The landscape on the trip had a number of wadis and was spotted with occasional clusters of trees around patches of muddy water that glistened in the morning sun. I could see herds grazing; one of them was a camel herd. I am told the people living there are nomads, overgraze on the meager growth, push on to other green patches, annoying the folks who already claim that area as theirs. The annoyance has a lot to do with the onset of wars; pretty soon they give up grazing in favor of war.
We flew over several IDP camps that just went on and on and on. The familiar UN tarp material with the blue stripe was everywhere. The sides of these tents are made of stakes lashed together. Even from the air it was apparent that even the refugees are territorial with little fences lashed together enclosing individual space for families. We saw two camps that each hold over 100,000 inhabitants, totally dependent on humanitarian aid. There is absolutely no way that this area could support all those people trying to make a living here.
The airport at Ed Daein is a real piece of work. Like all airports they have neatly separated arrivals and departures in their “terminal building”, which is basically two walk-through cabins, each the size of an outhouse. From either side of “the terminal” is the usual 8 foot high fence topped with circles of barbed wire. On the departure side there is a UN fellow who speaks no language that any of the humanitarian agencies speak. He is in charge of the manifest list of who is on what flight. Since there are a dozen or so UN choppers and a few small fixed wing planes on the dirt tarmac, it is a wonder anyone gets to the right place. Welcome to Ed Daein.
The road to town, torn up in places, improvised in other places, is a scary mix of donkey carts (locals), 4-wheel drive vehicles (NGO’s), and tuk-tuks. The town looks a lot like Rustaq, Afghanistan, except there are a lot of big UN vehicles here. The Tearfund office is right in town on a street that is a veritable sandbox. The guesthouse is adjoined in the same compound, which is very well secured. The office and the vehicle courtyard was a beehive of activity today. It looked like a run-down military base with desks squeezed in everywhere, metal doors, turquoise walls, and windows with security grates. All the program workers who are usually at IDP camps one to two hours out of town are back at the base because there is a community-wide “no-go” order. The area to the north of here had been insecure for some time but the three big camps south of here just became “no-go” two days ago. An American NGO had their car stolen at gun-point two hours out of town. When they got picked up by the UN and brought to town, the erstwhile driver of the car was put in jail for a day and fined 100 Sudanese pounds for ignoring a “no-go” directive for the south of town area, a directive no one knew about. Even with the “no-go” restrictions there is still plenty of work in town with 4 major IDP camps of over 104,000 people.
George and I were shown our quarters in the guesthouse portion of the compound after the security briefing. Since all six of the regular rooms are taken, they are putting us in a very hot room right off the eating area which is next to a little living room. Sounds nice! ‚Ä¶ It would be, if it were not dirty, filthy in places, and full of bugs. There is a beige lizard (good Sudanese camouflage) that hangs out in the living area. He is in charge of catching bugs. He needs help. My bug spray unfortunately did not make the 35 pound cut-off. We are a long walk from the only toilet in the guesthouse; it is a squatter. My diet started today.
I met with the person in charge of the nutrition program this afternoon. She has been on the job one week. She is also from Kenya. Fortunately it sounds like they have a good program, well run by the locals. We visit the Malnutrition Stabilization Center tomorrow, the local hospital, and some of the feeding stations that are accessible. I will be making rounds for the next few days on the critically ill malnourished kids with the local physician who works in the Stabilization Center and I will assess their protocols and practices.
My lengthy descriptions are in lieu of pictures. I was emphatically told again yesterday, taking pictures is against the law and can get you arrested. A real disappointment, but perhaps it will be allowed in the Feeding Centers or the Stabilization Center. Getting arrested here ‚Äì with its almost non-existent law and order, and without any real justice system, would be scary, so I will not do anything without asking. Enough for today, I have to get back to the serious business of sweating.