Thursday, June 08, 2006

Repost: The Water Boys

Sometimes at night I can still imagine the pounding drum beat of a water boy. This rhythmic pounding is the lifeline of an entire community. In the Darfur region of the world there is no running water. Water comes either from the drying central lake or deep wells dug in dry riverbeds. These sources are often far from the showers and washrooms where the water is needed, and that is where the Water Boys come in. A Water Boy is a career that provides the link between the supply and the demand. Please, allow me to describe to you a water boy:

Meet Ibrahim. His hair is tightly braided and his skin is freshly oiled. He rises early in the morning and steps outside his dark hut, squinting at the already bright sun. He shakes some coals and a few weak embers rise. He quickly inserts some dry reeds and a flicker of a flame gives him hope for a hot breakfast. He heats some medidi (a drinkable rice and sugar mixture) and gobbles it down. He knows he needs his strength for the day ahead.

Once his stomach is satisfied, he makes his way through some thorn trees and over some brown grass to the animal pen. He unlatches the goatskin lock and swings open the branch that is doubling as a gate. He enters and approaches his capital investment - a donkey.

The donkey is ornery this morning and backs away from Ibrahim. He shakes his hand and turns his body, as if he is threatening to turn Ibrahim'’s day sour with one swift kick to the midsection. Ibrahim grabs him by his mane and calms him down.

"Agod sakit (Stay still)" he begs the large animal. Finally, with the donkey'’s jitters gone, Ibrahim reaches for a heavy burlap sack and places it on the animal's back. Then follows a coarse pad made of woven straw, a blanket and then a wooden saddle. This saddle is not ordinary for a bar is placed across where a human normally sits. This saddle is not made for joy rides, this is business.

The last touch to add to his steed is the most important piece of equipment - the water sack. This equipment is made out of leather and sits on the saddle. It actually has two large sacks, one sits on either side of the donkey. At the top there is one opening that leads to both sacks and that the bottom corner of each sack is a tied-off opening.

Ibrahim adds the other two essentials tools of the trade -– large buckets and a wooden stick - and he is ready for his commute to work. He makes his way through the quiet streets, through back alleys and under archways. Each house’'s front yard is surrounded by large, mud-brick walls.

He arrives at the well and stands in line. He makes his way closer and closer and pays the Well Master a small fee. He attaches his buckets to the rope and lowers them in to the well. Seconds after they hit the bottom with a splash, he strains and tugs and works the buckets back up to the surface. Once at the top, he empties them into the sacks on the donkey. He repeats this until both sacks are bulging full, seeping water, and the donkey teetering a bit from the load. Then, it's off to make money.

Unless he has specific clients - people who prearrange for his water delivery service -– he has to roam the streets looking for buyers. The way he lets people know that he is walking past their large compound walls is by beating his stick against his buckets. Bang- Bang - Bang. Now the whole block knows a water boy is near.

No luck here so he continues to the next block where a young girl sprints out of her family's gate and calls him over. She points him over to the family barrels where he parks the donkey. Now comes the trickiest part of his job as he must untie the opening to the sacks one at a time and empty the water into his bucket. Then, he must empty his bucket into the barrel. He must do this all while dealing with a donkey who simply doesn't enjoy the task at hand. So Ibrahim gallantly grabs the tie and lets some water through, the donkey jolts and sends water (money) crashing to the dry ground. Ibrahim readjusts and tries again. On his fourth or fifth time, he gets a full bucket. He ties off the sack and dumps it in the barrel. Once the barrel is full, the young girl pays him and he is done.

It's off again to the well, to continue his job as the town'’s plumbing system -– yet another way the people of Darfur have ingeniously beaten the odds.

In Darfur, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Survival is not an option and the people are so creative. They manage to find a solution to every problem. They reuse everything and waste nothing. These very people are now the victims of genocide. Please, help me take a stand for them and end their unjust murders.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Lessons from a naked man

Many years ago, when my parents were working in Southern Sudan, they lived with a rural tribe. This tribe, as is often the case in very hot climates, made the common-sense decision that clothes were to be optional. In fact, everyone went around with little else than a string of beautiful beads around their waist - anything else was abnormal.

Nearby there was a town that was seeking to be known as "modern." So, as a part of their modernization effort the town passed a law saying that anyone who came into the town's limits had to be clothed. The ultimate example of "no shirt, no shoes, no service."

One day my parents visited the town to pick up some supplies (yes, fully clothed) and on their way back saw the most unusual sight. Strutting down the road toward the town - his face lit up by a wide grin - was a very tall, very dark Sudanese man. The rich darkness of his skin contrasted greatly with the the brand new, bright white tennis shoes he was wearing on his feet. That's right, he was only wearing shoes - nothing else. Beaming from ear to ear and confident that he was now clothed, because he had on a pair of shoes, he was eager to visit the town.

This was a man who had spirit. He was dedicated to his goal of visiting the town and had worked up and saved up to buy his shoes. He was proud of being clothed and oblivious to the weird glances he was receiving. He was carefree, happy and intent on enjoying himself despite his circumstances. Captured in this picture are so many lessons that it would be hard to define them all here. I will go into a few things that I see, but would love to hear from you as to any other things you can see or learn from this story.

I wish sometimes that our society would let us act like this. Not so much the walking around naked part, but rather, releasing us of self-imposed inhibitions and social norms. We dictate to ourselves what is appropriate, what is normal and what is not. We convince ourselves that there is no other way to live. We try so hard to conform that we often scorn those who do not meet our standards, almost as if we are jealous they have the freedom to be different. This is true in both the secular and Christian worlds.

One of the things I loved the most about my friends in Eastern Chad and Darfur was their spirit. They managed to laugh under the most dire of circumstances, stay hopeful even while planting dead seeds in parched land, and maintain a generous attitude that rivals any other culture that I have experienced. If you arrived at dinnertime, you were guarenteed a place around the tray of food - no matter how meager the rations. Chadians perfected the art of "visiting" and would always keep a pot of tea on the fire to welcome the steady stream of friends stopping by to chat. There was no hurry - you were always welcome. A favorite quote of mine goes like this: "Americans may have watches, but Africans have the time."

Unfortunately, this spirit is being violently crushed even as you read these words. Every day, fathers have to witness their young daughters get raped before they themselves get killed. Mothers are forced to flee from their homes and take up camp in the desert to excape harm. There is a genocide taking place in Darfur AND it is now spilling over into Chad as well. Over 400,000 people - my spirited friends - have been killed and over 3.5 million others have been forced to live as refugees in their own countries.

Please, join me and everyone else who realizes that what is happening "over there" is the worst man-made humanitarian crisis our generation has ever seen. Help save Darfur. Help save the last remaining spirit of my friends.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


By Nat Hentoff
Washington Times

After prolonged, fractious negotiations, there appeared to be hope
that the horrendous genocide in Darfur might be coming to an end after
hundreds of thousands of black Muslims and others have been killed or
died of disease, and 2.4 million of the survivors have been torn from
their villages into refugee camps. But a peace treaty signed on May 5
in Nigeria between the government of Sudan and one of the rebel forces
is coming apart.

Two weeks after the signing, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
wrote in the French daily, Le Figaro, that "there is not a second to
lose...the region is undergoing the worst humanitarian crisis gripping
the planet." On the same day, Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s relief
coordinator, emphasized on the Sudan Tribune's Web site: "The next few
weeks will be make or break. We can turn the corner toward
reconciliation and reconstruction, or we see an even worse collapse of
our efforts to provide protection and relief to millions of people."
Earlier, he had warned: "The alternative to peace through this
agreement is too horrendous for any of us to contemplate."

But on May 18, the Sudan Tribune reported that Khartoum had
"detained" two well-known Sudanese human-rightsactivists
"incommunicado, putting them at risk of torture ...Detaining them
sends a clear message to victims of rape and torture that no one in
Darfur who attempts to stand up for the rights of the victims is

Meanwhile, on May 15, the Khartoum-directed Janjaweed, relentless
murderers and rapists, attacked two villages in the north of Darfur.
As a New York Times headline the previous day all too accurately
proclaimed: "Truce Is Talk, Agony Is Real in Darfur War." That story
told of how the Janjaweed again broke the so-called peace treaty,
attacking the village of Menawashie. They "killed one woman, wounded
six villagers and raped 15 women."

"They told us," said a villager, "you are slaves, we will finish
you. We will not allow you to move from Menawashie, not one
kilometer." Added another survivor, Aish Adam Moussa: "They always say
peace is coming, but we are still waiting."

The core hole in the quickly unraveling peace treaty is the
promise of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to demobilize the
Janjaweed fully, and with verification, by mid-October.

Says Ismael Haron in the Gaga refugee camp in Chad: "We know Omar
Hassan al-Bashir. We have seen him make agreements and then break them
10 minutes later." And, if the Janjaweed keep murdering and raping for
months to come and beyond October, who will stop them? After all, Mr.
al-Bashir has, for three years, earnestly insisted he would disarm the

As of this writing, the United Nations has agreed to send a U.N.
force to bolster the greatly inadequate African Union monitors in
Darfur, but it will take months to organize and provide for these U.N.
peacekeepers. And in the village of Menawashie, the survivors will
still be waiting.

Reporting for the past 10 years on Khartoum's horrific crimes
against its own people in the south, and then in Darfur, I continually
keep reading, and talking to, the most authoritative chronicler of
these atrocities, Eric Reeves of Smith College in Massachusetts, who,
as Nicholas Kristof noted in the May 7 New York Times, has financed
his ceaseless campaign to inform the world of this genocide "by taking
a loan on his house."

As Mr. Kristof adds, Mr. Reeves, while trying to save untold lives
in Darfur, "has been fighting for his [own] life, struggling in a
battle with leukemia." But I still can reach him on his Web site
( and sometimes on the phone. His analyses can also be
read on

And in the May 10 New Republic, Mr. Reeves wrote that the May 5
peace agreement "at face value amounts to an extraordinary gamble with
the lives of more than 3.8 million human Darfur and [in
refugee camps] of eastern Chad...In essence, the victims of genocide
are being asked to trust that the perpetrators of genocide will disarm
and restrain themselves." If, Mr. Reeves insists, there is not "a
meaningful international force" deployed to protect the survivors in
Darfur, the international community will sigh too late and say, alas,
that peace treaty was "a meaningless piece of paper."

My own view is that unless there is a willing coalition of nations
going outside the United Nations and into Darfur to rescue those still
waiting for deliverance, a message will be sent to other nations that
destroy their own people. And Mr. al-Bashir will become the patron
saint of these future perpetrators of genocide.

President Bush, more than any other world leader, has done a lot,
though not enough, to prevent the extermination of the black Muslims
of Darfur. With that record, he can, despite all his other problems,
gloriously enter history by moving to exterminate this genocide by
helping to organize a coalition of willing nations while there is
still time.