19 March 2007

This Is My Life

May 12, 2006

Sudanese Orphan Refugee Camp, Chad, Africa

Dr. Hannah Taylor, Doctors without Borders

These children bless me every day. However, they also frighten me. In my fifty-two years I have not gone through what these children have endured in three years; in a day. I look upon Anai Kayra and his sister Nyanath. They are so old for their years. The boy is only twelve and he is as any American twelve year old, but his face bears the scars of a beating he received for no other reason than his ethnicity. His eyes burn with a hatred and a pain that no boy should ever feel.

Nyanath has been numbed. At fifteen, she has already lost all meaning in life. She has been demeaned to the lowest sense; seen as less than human. But even her name has great meaning for those of us who wish to look harder. Nyanath means "daughter of human." By that name she should be able to live as a human, not outcast from her own land with so many others. The Janjaweed do what they do with great purpose. It is very systematic. The rapes are to put fear into the population. It demeans the victims even within their own society. With this method, the Sudanese government is breaking the people of Darfur apart in a much more efficient manner than simply killing them.

My heart hurts for these children; my children; God's children. So few people care. So few even know. I wish that everyone could come here to Chad and see the devastation in the eyes of the children.

One man came to Africa on holiday. I'm not sure how he ended up in Chad, or in this camp, but he was sobered by the news of the genocide in Darfur. I was aghast that he'd never heard about it before. I thought for sure American news would cover it. I see reporters nearly every day. But he had heard nothing, whether from the lack of news or his failure to keep up with news. He made a very naive observation that angered me very much. He said "These kids are no different than American kids." To which I heartily agreed. "See? They play soccer and hopscotch just like my nephew. There is nothing wrong here if the kids are happy." I was infuriated. Yes, they play, but all one has to do is look into their eyes to see that they've been through so much.

There is a problem here. More people need to come and understand. I hope this personal tale from a young boy will help to open up the eyes of the great nations, if they can be called that anymore. It was hard to get Anai to put into words his feelings. He wants to shove them away even though they will not leave. They stay with him.

All of the kids here have nightmares. Never do they have good dreams of past memories or a bright future reunited with their families. It is nightmares every night. I can hear them whimper through the thin walls. I can hear them cry out and thrash. But they seldom talk about it. They seldom cry.

Africans are often admired for their stoicism. Perhaps it is not really an admirable quality. I certainly find that Americans are much to open emotionally, but when a boy doesn't cry for his dead sister, I think there is a problem. Violence has desensitized them all. I think it has desensitized the entire world. Even when new reports about Sudan make it onto television, the sentiment from viewers is mostly apathy. Sudan is a long way from America. Americans are fine as long as they have comfort and entertainment.

I've lived in various parts of Africa for almost thirty years now. Whenever I return to America, I feel the sense of apathy. Americans have compassion, but they don't know how to direct it. And they soon forget. With my work, I can never forget. The children are only a few feet away; the conflict, only a few miles.

What I hope this story will convey is a feeling of compassion that will awaken a drive for action.

I will tell you how I found Anai Kayra and I will tell you his story.


As a relief doctor for Doctors without Borders, I came to Chad to work in the refugee camps early in 2004. I tended children shredded by shrapnel from grenades, men shot in the back, women mutilated with machetes. On March 19, 2004 I and five other doctors and aid workers were driving along an unpaved road to the site of one of the most recent raids by the Janjaweed. We reached a small village still smoldering from the fires that had leveled it. The burned homes made obscene black rings in the white sand. We found bodies, but very few were alive. We found an old woman mourning a young boy and invited her to come along in the van.

I was walking around the outskirts when I found Nyanath. She was lying face down in the sand and at first I thought she was dead. But then I saw her fingers twitch. I turned her over and found her very much alive and very terrified. Hastily I assured her that I meant her no harm and gently carried her back to the van. She said nothing the entire time. We drove through the village, looking for any more survivors. We found only one more young girl.

As we drove away from the village, on a road of our own making, we spotted another body. The doctor next to me saw him first, and called for the van to stop. I looked through the window as he touched the boy. The boy looked burned, but in fact was not, he was only covered from head to toe in his own caked blood. He was carried to the van and we drove back tot he camp.

It was I who stitched the gashes in Anai's head. It was I who cleansed the blood from his body and I who poured water into the mouths of the brother and sister and covered them in a mosquito net. I did not then know that they were related. Anai did not recognize his sister at first either.

I will now let him tell you his own story.


This is My Life

By Anai Kayra as told to Dr. Hannah Taylor

Before, there was happiness. Now there is none. It is empty. Only anger and sadness exist. Where once was color, only grey and brown remain. When once we smiled, now we weep. We all bear the scars. We keep them hidden; hidden inside us, the ones that are invisible. They come only at night. They haunt our dreams and steal our sleep.

I remember that night. I was only ten then, though now I am twelve. Mother and sisters had gone to collect sticks for the fire. Father was already dead. They had killed him months earlier. I sat by the cattle and waited. I waited a long time, too long. Then there were noises outside of camp and the women returned. Each face was terrified or blank. Each woman was silent, but some had tears making holes in their cheeks. Mother was holding tightly to little Abok's hand and Abok was holding tightly to Nyanath. Mother was bleeding from the head and tears mixed with the blood and dripped from her chin. I ran to them.

"They are coming," Mother murmured hoarsely, her eyes bright with panic.

"They are coming!" A woman cried. Then it began. They came. It was just getting dark and they lit up the sky with fire. A small boy from the village was trampled by the horses. Our thatch houses caught fire and sent blinding smoke into the air. I could see nothing. I was separated from Mother and sisters. I could hear the shouts of the horsemen. They kept saying things about how we were slaves and they owned this land and we had to leave or die. Then they began to shoot people. Most of the men were already gone at this point, so it was the mothers and the children they shot. They shot at me, too. I ran to the cattle. I had to keep them away from the horsemen. They were our only source of life. But a horseman cut me off. I screamed nonsense at him, pleading with him to spare the cattle. He shot all the cattle right in front of me. He called me a slave and began to beat me with his gun. I fell over. I was bleeding, but I was so scared and angry that I got back up and ran before the horses could stamp on me.

I ran until my legs collapsed. I was slimy all over with my own blood and the soot that stuck to it. The cooling night sand seemed to swallow me up. For a while I forgot about the pain, fear and anger.

When I woke up, the sun was beating down, caking the blood to my body. I could see the village not far off, flattened and still smoking. I could not get up, my skin was tight with dried blood and my body ached. Nor could I make any sound from my parched throat.

I was only ten. And my whole family was lost to me; my whole village reduced a pile of dusty ash on sun-baked sand.

They ask us to remember the past, before, when we lived at home with happiness. It is so much harder to remember than that night. It is hard to remember tending the cattle while father taught me how to make a bow. It is hard to remember the look on Abok's face when the calves licked her hand with their rough tongues. It is hard to remember the smell of Mother's cooking. But I can remember. It is just hard. Much harder than the terrified screams of women. The frightening sounds of galloping hooves in the sand. The rough yells of the men. The zing and splat as bullets found their targets. I hear it every night. I cannot forget. It cannot be erased.

I found my sister Nyanath again. She escaped death in the village also, and we came to the camp and found each other. She was different. I did not recognize her at first. I was told that the horsemen had raped her. I did not at first know what it meant. Nyanath said it meant she would never be married.

I could not cry for her. Not then and not now. I can only be angry for her, because she will not be angry. She only sits and stares. I have to feed her or she would not even eat. She never told me how exactly she escaped. Only that she did. And that Abok did not.

The thought of my little sister in the hands of the horsemen terrifies me even now. I hope very much that she died before they did to her what they did to Nyanath. No one should have to go through that. Especially not my sister of seven.

Some days I wish to find a gun and kill all those who took my family from me. Who took the families of all those in this camp. Who took the land we have lived on all our lives. But of course I do not. I know that killing them will only make the others more angry and they will kill us all. I fear they will kill us all anyway and we can do nothing to stop it.

I've been here two years and there is no end to the line of people who come out of our land. No end to the count of those dead. No end to the helplessness. We have nothing.

There are some who help us. Like Dr. Taylor who is a friend. But there are not enough. I want my home back. And no one can give me that.

Will it ever end?

18 March 2007

Selfish Motives?

I'm going to Kenya in May. It seems like the right thing to do. I haven't left the country yet this year. But recently the question was asked "why do you want to go to Kenya?" and you know what? I cannot answer that question for the life of me. I have some good answers, but no great ones. My answers are such as these: "I feel God's call to missions," which is true by the way, but not specific, "I need to leave the country," random, also true, selfish? Here's another "I want not to stay at home with my parents all summer long," even more selfish, and also true. How about "I don't feel like a real person unless I am traveling and helping people and not getting paid."? Does that work? Because that's the closest I've come to the answer.

I am not a whole person here at school. I do not want to be here. In my head, I know that it is a necessary point in time. That it is most excellent to further my knowledge of many things. However, I'm a person of action. I hate to sit around and learn about problems elsewhere. In fact, sitting around learning about things makes me the most apathetic person I know. But when I'm away, when I'm out there, helping people, digging holes, building things, just talking to people that I can learn from, people from different cultures, that is where I feel like a real person. That is where I belong.

So is it selfish that I want to go to Kenya in order to feel like I matter? Seems like it. This brings up my everlasting question: is any decision ever unselfish? Or are there just less selfish choices? I feel that as a human being everything is tinged with selfishness. I cannot think like God, and I cannot disengage myself from my own body. So the answer is this to me: yes, my reason for going is tainted with selfishness, perhaps even afloat with it, but I'm striving to turn that selfish motivation into action to help others. Does that count?

16 March 2007

Hunger Artists

'Someone who doesn't feel it cannot be made to understand it.'

A man's meager life is outlined in Franz Kafka's 'A Hunger Artist.' This man fasts for the entertainment of others. Money is made from his month-long fasting. In the end the artist says this: 'Someone who doesn't feel it [hunger] cannot be made to understand it.' Kafka's theme of hunger for amusement parallels with global hunger and gives it a unique perspective. How can the West be made to understand-- to feel the pain that millions upon millions of people feel every day-- the pain of an empty belly?

I don't suggest that all those who have food should stop eating so they can feel how others feel. That is daft. Fasting is a good thing. It serves to put some things into perspective. However, even a day or a few days of fasting does not allow one to feel the true and desperate hunger that so many endure. We always have the option to be fed. I don't think that it is good or even necessary to make a person understand by making them feel the exact pain of another. But there must be some way to raise awareness and interest in this very real situation.

I have always struggled when people callously say: 'Eat your food, there're starving kids in China.' Sure, it's true that people are starving, but what changes if I don't eat? Wouldn't it be better if I left some and sent it along to those poor kids? But no, the wasted food (mounds of it, to be sure) is not sent to those who need it, not even to those who are close at hand. It is instead thrown out to rot. Better to say: 'Look at the food that you are blessed with: there are many who have nothing.' This adds perspective, and while it doesn't much help anyone, it brings the realization that we have things that others don't: the uncomfortable realization of injustice.

I will call these starving souls 'hunger artists' in light of Kafka's work. Unlike Kafka's character they do not fast because they wish to. They do so because they are born into their situation and have no choice. Yet, they are like the hunger artist. The artist is used and neglected, exploited for the entertainment of others. What else do you call the desensitizing documentaries? Entertainment; just another way to placate affluent Americans. In many ways such documentaries bring a sense of realization and awareness of issues, but very few people act on such realization.

The end result of the hunger artist is death. As Kafka's character is neglected, those in the world who are different are pushed aside and neglected. This ignoring, this ignorance, causes death. Instead of striving for understanding, we shove this truth away. We are more comfortable with our ignorant, limited perspective. We want only to be entertained, not challenged.

The key to understanding is perspective. Sure, life is bad everywhere, but instead of whinging about the things that we experience, we should try to help those who are enduring far worse. Instead of coveting those who have more wealth than us, we need to use our own resources for the betterment of others. With perspective, complaining and coveting are reduced to a sort of satisfaction.

I have lately begun nurturing a growing hatred of injustice -- that some people have enough to throw away whilst others have nothing to swallow at all. I do not hate the people who do not understand. I only wish to make them aware, to share my dawning perspective and my passion. Like Kafka, I want to bring some form of understanding. So my mission is this: striving to understand the hunger artist in any way I can.