This was our last day in the Iridimi refugee camp ALREADY. Clearly it is not enough time to develop real relationships with the people there, but I do feel that we have touched their lives in a very important way – by helping them feel more secure, more safe.
I participated in one of four teams that has met with more than 50 families so far (hundreds of people), and will continue to meet with families next week after Janice, Rachel and I leave. I can tell you unequivocally that I am convinced more than ever of the positive impact the solar cooker project has made on the lives of the women. To a family, we have heard over and over that using the solar cooker, in combination with a fuel efficient stove, has almost completely eliminated the need for most to go out of the camp to look for firewood. And to a family, most had experienced rape or some form of violence when searching for firewood previously. This was the goal of the solar cooker project and we are so thrilled to hear from the mouths of the refugees themselves that we are really helping to keep them safe! And of course, we have heard from the refugees, over and over in the last few days, about horrible losses each and every family has suffered during the aerial bombardments of their villages by the Sudanese government and vicious attacks by the Janjaweed militiamen. Helping these gentle, modest people feel a bit more secure in their lives is the least we can do.
There’s one other point that was particularly meaningful to me today. There have been some skeptics about the use of solar cookers, in particular because of the belief that one cannot cook the mainstay of the refugee diet, boule, a pasty millet porridge served with a tomato based sauce. So, when we arrived at the camp this morning, the women offered to put up a pot of boule in the solar cooker so we could see for ourselves. Two hours and 10 minutes later, we returned to the workshop and . . . the boule and its accompanying sauce were done! While it took more time than cooking it over a fire, it does not require constant stirring and allows the women to walk away from the pot and do other things in the meantime. Janice and I decided we would be the first to put our hands in the pot (another in our constant quest to avoid sharing germs with others, of course!) and tasted the boule. Janice immediately exclaimed that it tasted like her mother-in-law’s “plutzkele” (like eastern European homemade gnocchi) and I shouted out the only Zaghawa word I’ve learned, “tamam!” (good). It was polenta-like and tasted really good. (You can see me giving it a thumbs-up in our photos from today!)
It was pretty cool to try the local food of the refugees because, obviously, it is nothing I would have ever had an opportunity to do otherwise. But even better is knowing that, with a bit of education, more and more of the refugees will learn that they can depend on their solar cookers for more of their families’ meals and this, in turn, will lead to more support from the NGO (non-governmental organizations) community as well. I’m so proud to be associated with this project and to know these brave Darfuri people.