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In a camp where Oxfam is providing clean water, a visitor meets two women who have lost nearly everything but their lives.
“Marhaban,” said the women. Welcome.
When my friend Sahar Ali and a colleague arrived at their doorway last week, an elderly woman and her daughter-in-law beckoned them inside and set about making them comfortable, offering tea and a place to sit. In Sudan, guests are treasured and fussed over and given the best of everything.
Which is what made Sahar want to cry.
Because this was not a house. It was just a few strips of cloth tied to a frame of sticks in a dusty, wind-blown camp. A fragile shelter in the desert, built by two women who had just lost nearly everything but their lives.
A wave of violence in the Darfur region of Sudan has uprooted more than 200,000 people in recent weeks. Sahar is a humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam in Sudan, and she was visiting a camp where Oxfam is providing clean water to newly displaced families. (Watch a video message from Sahar above.)
She sat down to speak with these women, who had recently arrived from a village in South Darfur.
Despite their losses, “Still, they were so generous,” said Sahar. “The younger woman took a taub [a strip of cloth normally worn as a wraparound dress] and hung it up to be sure there was shade for us to sit in. I said, ‘We are fine. Please come and sit,’ but she insisted we have shade.”
When their guests were comfortable, the women told their story.
On the day they fled their village, said the older one, “we heard shooting everywhere. We didn’t collect anything from the house. We just started to run, to run. I ran without anything but these clothes I’m wearing. All of us in different directions.”
And then they walked. For five nights under cover of darkness they made the trek to this settlement, not knowing until days later that the rest of the family had made it safely to another camp. Now they live day to day, safer from violence, but destitute.
If maps could speak, this one would tell a hundred thousand stories like theirs.
Sahar and the teams in Darfur are in overdrive now, pushing all the aid we can manage out to the camps. They have no time to talk to me about what they’re hearing or seeing or feeling, but Sahar does it anyway, on one condition. “Promise me it will make a difference,” she said.