Blogging under African skies

Saturday, Oct. 13, three leaders of Jewish World Watch flew from Los Angeles to Africa for a two-week trip, with their ultimate destination the Sudanese eastern border refugee camps, Iridimi and Touloum in Chad.

Jewish World Watch’s Solar Cooker Project, led by Board President Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug and project leader Rachel Andres, has raised $850,000 to date, to provide self-sufficient and easy-to-use cookers to women in the camps so they don’t have to put themselves in grave danger of rape or murder when they leave the camps to collect firewood.

Kamenir-Reznik, Schwartz-Getzug and Andres’ trip to the camps will allow them to bear witness to the conditions there, to see the cookers being used and to assess future needs. Because of the danger in the region, they are traveling with United Nations escorts and will not be able to stay overnight in the camps.

The Jewish Journal invited the three travelers to record diaries while on their journey, the first entry of which, written by Kamenir-Reznik, an attorney, longtime activist and Jewish leader, we reprint here. It was written four days before departure.

After the trip is concluded, The Journal will publish extensive excerpts from the diaries.

How can I go to Bloomingdales?

Man’s inhumanity to man is limited only by the creativity of his cruelty.

Today we cried. We have sat with small and large groups of Darfuri refugees for the last several days and talked about solar cooking, with the details of the horrors that brought us together silently hanging in the air. Today, however, we looked into the sad dark eyes of our refugee sisters and listened to their tales of horror.

Zanuba is 25 years old. She is a beautiful young woman with three small children who has aspirations to come to America. She has been living in the Touloum refugee camp for two years. When her village was attacked by aerial bombing and then by the Janjaweed militia, they ran. Many were able to get to the nearby wadi (a dry riverbed), but many more were killed, including a woman who had gone into labor with twins and could not run. The men were primary targets, so they tried to hide by wrapping themselves in scarves like the women – but the Janjaweed forced everyone to remove their head coverings and killed the men on the spot. Many young women were tied up and raped until they died. Other women were put into trees that were lit on fire until they divulged the whereabouts of their men. And in one of the most gruesome stories I have ever heard, the Janjaweed decapitated several people and used the heads to form a “three stone fire.”

As Zanuba shared her painful story and the stories of the other women in the room, tears streamed down our faces. I was overwhelmed, not only by their suffering and loss, but by the ability of human beings to use their superior abilities to inflict unspeakable and evil acts on one another.

As we spent our last night in Iriba thinking about all we had seen and heard, one of our UNHCR colleagues asked me if I felt this experience had “changed me.” I’m quite convinced that the personal impact of this visit will continue to unfold in the weeks and months to come, but my initial response is OF COURSE. How can I go back to my life, my hectic, wonderful life without hearing the voice of Zanuba in my head? How can I go to Bloomingdales (I feel ridiculous even writing the word sitting here in Chad!) without remembering the pathetic “marketplace” in the middle of the Touloum refugee camp? I know it won’t stop me from buying a new, but probably unnecessary pair of shoes, but I hope that it will give me a new context in which to think about my everyday life and renewed energy towards this work and the work by done by others who are helping those in need.

I also wonder how I can possibly share, in a meaningful way, these lessons with my children? Do they translate? Do you have to “see it to believe it?” And is such extreme trauma comprehensible for a child? Probably not. G-d willing I will have many years ahead to absorb and share these important lessons.

— Tzivia October 21

Photos from Touloumsewing bag
touloum teen
jww's she-speak
Sunday in Touloum
Janice, Rachel
–Touloum Camp, Chad, Sunday 10/21/2007

I was yet again overwhelmed by the boundless capacity of human beings

Today we had the most intense experience we have had to date. We went to the Touloum refugee camp to see the expansion of the Solar Cooker Project. We were escorted by a truckload of armed police to Touloum. As we approached the outskirts of the camp we saw a caravan of donkeys and refugees leaving to collect firewood. Within the camp we saw many people carrying wood as well-much more so than we did at the Iridimi camp. Since the Solar Cooker Project is so new to the Touloum camp, this did not surprise any of us. In fact we were far more surprised at seeing solar cookers operating in many of the houses!! But, that was not what made the day so emotionally intense.

We had asked to meet with a group of women who would be willing to sit with us and talk to us for a while. Either Derk or Marie-Rose arranged for us to meet with the “artisans”, the women who work in the solar cooker “atelier”. Around 10 refugee women joined us at the “atelier;” Marie-Rose, Patillet, Justin, Naomi and Derk from Tchad Solaire (SCP) were also there.

The conversation started with them telling us how much they love solar cooking and how they feel that solar cooking has contributed to their safety and security. We then told them that we were there representing thousands of Jewish people. They did not really know about the Jewish people, but they seemed to know about the people of Israel and the seemed to have some inkling about the suffering of the people of Israel. We then asked them if they would be willing to share their own personal stories of how they came to be at the Touloum refugee camp. At first they said that they couldn’t share these stories in public and they declined to speak about it. But then, not more than one minute later, a young 25 year old mother of 3, Zinuba, began to tell us the most heart wrenching and gruesome stories of the horrendous treatment of the Darfurian women at the hands of the Janjaweed. The crimes committed against the women with whom we were meeting and against their now deceased daughters, sisters and mothers were unspeakable. And yet, they were being spoken to us. Now. Here.