Saturday, September 16, 2006

In the Kitchen

I’m sitting at this table outside where we eat all our meals. For breakfast today I had real cornflakes (a luxury procured from the African Union troops, I think) with powdered milk, and tea. Failing cornflakes we usually have a flat, round salt-less bread and tea. Lunch and supper are pretty good, the cook has come up with some vegetarian things to eat with the obligatory rice; aubergine ratatouille type mixture, cooked chard/spinach, and lentil dhal (but the lentils are also a procured luxury, and the supply is limited). My favourite so far has been yummy fresh eggs and greasy chips. The only problem, as we were discussing over dinner the other night, is that everything seems to have a certain amount of grit in it. The spinach especially has a sandy crunchy texture which is most unpleasant, and means the best thing to do is simply avoid chewing and swallow quickly. So, there is stuff to eat, and at this rate I’m not going to lose 5-15 kilos, as lots of other international staff seem to have done.

Sitting here earlier today, the cook was helping me with my Arabic, and I was helping her clean up and teaching her bits of English in exchange. She makes me laugh so much. It’s been a very happy weekend.

Jusqu’ici, tout va bien

I’ve only been here in Darfur a few days, but my first impressions of the town are very positive. It is quiet, rural and spacious, with mud huts next to traditional square brick houses painted yellow and turquoise. There are lots of noisy donkeys, goats, a few camels, and too many rats and beetly things for my liking. Big crickets hop everywhere, and even come into my room at night to chirrup loudly from the safety of my shoes. I’m quickly getting used to having a multitude of insects landing on me, trying to attack me in the shower, or simply attempting to walk over me if I happen to be in their way. But, I have to say the surprise animal resident here has to be the common hedgehog! God knows how they got to Darfur.

Although I know that just 20 or 30 kilometres from here things are very different, inside the town life is deceptively peaceful. Like a green oasis of calm. And being the rainy season, it really is green. The ‘wadis’ (rivers that only fill up when the rains come) are full, and the vegetation is thick and plentiful. When you see the grass waist high, the huge cool mango trees, it is hard to believe that there is not enough food for people to eat here. It makes you realise to what extent hunger can be a political problem; people are displaced and so can no longer cultivate their land.

I can’t yet recognise who belongs to which ethnic group or faction – I can’t distinguish a Janjaweed from a Fur, Masaalit, Zaghawa or Chadian. The only hint I have been given is that the Janjaweed won’t smile at me in the market. But I haven’t seen anyone like that yet. In fact, I’ve been surprised how generally well-received the international community seems to be; people smile and wave at me, especially the women, and children continuously shout ‘hawajia’, meaning foreigner.