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)
Friday, June 13, 2008 – Nyela, South Darfur
It seems that Africa has a penchant for civil war. When voting does not suit a certain group, such as occurred recently in Zimbabwe and Kenya, they take it to the streets. If hatred and anger get widespread enough, young men, with nothing better to do anyway, join rebel forces, lawlessness ensues, atrocities make the news, and normal people are not safe anywhere except in refugee camps.
Uganda, my previous African duty, in its 20-year civil war had displaced over a million of its people into camps with squalid huts, unsafe water and little sanitation, huddled for protection from rebels that could and would erupt from the bush without warning. Sudan had an even longer civil war between the sand-rich north and the oil-rich south ‚Äì it ended, sort of in 2005, with violent hiccoughs as recent as a month ago displacing an additional 100,000 people. Darfur in the west of Sudan is experiencing a civil war with so many factions it looks like an NFL list of teams ‚Äì 2.5 million people are displaced by what is looking like genocide at times. More recently, Chad, Darfur’s neighbor to the west, discontent with the government, started its civil war, with government opposition forces, as is usually the case, staging their attacks across the border in the neighboring country. This time they are massing inside West Darfur. A short distance from Beida, in fact. Chad has accused the government of Sudan of protecting and aiding the rebels. Two months ago, Tearfund’s Baeda operation pulled its non-local staff out because of fighting just across the 5-mile distant border.
On Thursday, the day I was to arrive in Baeda, these same forces launched another attack into Chad, shooting down two government helicopters, and making a nuisance of themselves before pulling back and issuing a demand for negotiations. And that is what is indeed the fear, that a cross-border counter-attack could trap humanitarian agencies in the cross-fire. So, for the second time in two and a half months, Tearfund is planning to evacuate its Baeda compound.
My delays earlier in the week spared me arriving in Baeda yesterday only to be evacuated today. I don’t know what will happen next ‚Äì how my assignment will play out now.
While having lots of time on my hands yesterday I met for an hour and a half in the more than air conditioned (chilled) local UNICEF headquarters with a local pediatrician, the only one, a Dr. Mubarak. He is a certified IMCI trainer, teaching some of the very skills needed at the Stabilization Center in Baeda. He will be a great resource for them. Additionally this personable man with salt and pepper hair and a ready smile is from Nyela and committed to the people of Darfur.
Today, being the Sabbath, about a dozen of us from Tearfund ‚Äì some in town for a finance workshop ‚Äì did what the locals do on their day of rest – we went to the wadi. It is a very dry river bed ‚Äì dry for now ‚Äì surrounded by groves of large shady trees. Goats grazed among the trees, there was a dilapidated tea house with an incredible number of flies, and groups reclined in shady spots, enjoying the day of rest. We joined some others on their mats, had thick sweetened coffee, played dominoes, and tried to look away as a local man in the traditional white robe, butchered a goat not more than ten yards away. Wonder what the grazing goats were thinking.
The head had already been cut off and the animal had been bled beforehand, making this entire spectacle bloodless and eerily non-messy. With the goat hanging by its bound back legs from a branch, the white-robed man skillfully skinned it, saving the hide in one piece. He was able to remove the insides without making a mess, and then cut up the carcass into sections. The whole thing took no more than 20 minutes. It was surprising how little meat there actually was for the size of the animal.
On the way back we stopped in the market and then at a well-stocked African-style store to get supplies. After our experience at the wadi, we had a meatless dinner, tomatoes and cucumbers, bread and cheese, and an orange, and then four of us had a worship service.
I invite your prayers for that as well. Have a great Father’s Day.