Refugee Camp Darfour
Several years ago I travelled to Uganda for a World Women's Congress, during which I taped a session on women and refugees in Africa. Listening to testimony about refugee camps in The Sudan, camps for internally displaced persons in Uganda, refugee camps all over the continent, I was filled with awe and horror. Today I find a news story claiming The Sudan to be the third largest oil producing country in Africa. I visited the source of the Nile River, and found a huge dam and water system described in the first poem below. Powerlines and transformers buldged out of a power grid and ran throughout the countryside where people have no electricity, into the cities where it is common for dozens of families to share one power cord. The springs that are the source of the Nile River are now underwater in a shallow lake that connects Lake Victoria to the Nile. A second dam project was in the works, to benefit whom, one wondered. Who benefits from Sudanese oil? Who benefits from miles of farmland planted with tea and coffee in the Ugandan countryside where people in local villages have no jobs or food?
Below: Rapids at Jinji, on the other side of the dam.
A blue African boat
cuts through soft water just past rapids
on the far side of the source
of the Nile.
One man, deep black skin,
oars a light blue wooden boat
Prussian blue water.
Cormorants circle over head
in something like a mist made from
humid air and brilliant equatorial light
Madiee says there is a swimmer
who rides the rapids, huge swelling
waves that tuck into themselves
and pour out white water.
I say he’d have to know what
he was doing, how the current
runs and dips, where to dive
and where you’d be spit up,
where the boulders are —
I wonder if anyone could do this —
and then if I could do it
I think I could swim alongside
the pale blue boat
and ache to do it
a deep, old longing
that pulls me to
the heart of things.
I am Nogalo, mother of twins.
John is Sangalo, father of twins.
Our sons are Waswa, the older one
who is bossy, and Kato, the second born
who is mellow and compliant.
This circumstance, which I consider my
greatest trial and sometime blessing,
brings me the friendship of
Ugandans, who routinely discuss family
matters at the top of every social encounter,
before business, before whatever people
gather to accomplish, first one speaks
of family —
I say my twins are adopted
and came to us at different times,
Waswa when he was three,
Kato when he was seventeen.
Ugandans understand adoption —
twenty five percent of parents die from AIDS.
Surviving family members struggle to provide
for as many as twenty children.
When I return, Waswa says it’s too bad
I wasn’t eaten by a tiger. Kato
comes quietly behind me as I sit
at the computer and gives me a
"We saw these things," Muhammad told us —
"Living babies strapped to the backs of dead mothers
floating down the rivers into Lake Victoria."
He said there were so many bodies
decomposing in the water they couldn’t eat fish
from the lake for three years.
I asked him to explain the genocide.
He said the British put the Hutus into government jobs
and they made the Tusies do menial work.
When the Tusies came to power
they tortured and killed Hutus leaders and their families.
Later another change of power and the Hutus started killing all the Tusies.
It is difficult to understand.
I got to thinking about what governments are supposed to do — keep people safe, provide infrastructure, some sort
of stability, a peaceful process for the transfer of power.
In Africa, Gabril says, the governments don’t do this.
In Africa, the French gave the good jobs to the Hutus
who gave the bad jobs the Tusis who revolted
killing Hutus who revolted killing Tusis
which a Westerner will say proves tribal conflicts
are the source of African brutality
But it sounds like bad government
©Susan Bright, 2006,
Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.
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