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.
As we all sat and cried together, I was completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the suffering that the women had endured. Overwhelmed by the fact that Tzivia, Rachel and I are here, sitting in front of the women in the Touloum refugee camp near the Darfur border, listening to their stories and crying with them.
Above all, I was yet again overwhelmed by the boundless capacity of human beings. The capacity of humans to commit unspeakable evil, and the countervailing capacity for healing. The capacity for those exposed to the greatest of evils on our planet to be able to regain their trust in people. The capacity for survivors of horrific cruelty to be able to laugh again. The capacity of women, who have watched their daughters tortured and murdered in front of their eyes, to give birth again to new life. The capacity of people who live in a god-forsaken place to feel hopeful about tomorrow.
Once again, the differences between us dissolve and we find ourselves sitting with our sisters, sharing our prayers for peace.