Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Last night, after going mad from boredom and loneliness in my compound, I went for a walk in a drizzling rain through empty streets and happened on a busy teashop.

The room was just a small straw hut covered in a blue UNICEF tarpaulin and under it huddled twenty young men hovered over sheesha pipes. At least ten of them smoked deeply and breathed out a thick cloud of sweetened smoke as their neighbors conversed. Everything was somber except for the glowing red coals that hovered in front of their dark faces, and the bright hearth that sat in the corner holding a small fire.

There was too much smoke for me to enter, and nowhere to sit, so I joined the others outside under the rain in the almost pitch-black muddy street. The young locals with whom I sat and exchanged pipes with were an employee of a humanitarian organization, a young soldier in Sudanese army fatigues, an older Chadian boy who had left his studies across the border just short of a high school degree and arrived here to join his comrades and “fight for the revolution,” as well as the entrepreneurial owner of the shack along with a few stragglers. It seemed to me a strange but normal group, a typical cross-section of employment opportunities here in Darfur.

We sat and smoked and exchanged pleasantries through my limited Arabic, taking turns holding a small metal lid over the coals to protect them from being extinguished by the cold falling rain. It was nice to be out from behind my barbed wire compound, where my colleagues sat and watched satellite TV and drank smuggled Chadian Whiskey (“Johnny Walter”) alone and insulated from the celebrating town around them. People in town seem to be happy on Ramadan nights, when they sit with friends and family and - I imagine - feel the agreeable sensation of food in their stomach after a long day of fasting.

The Chadian rebel left to go watch the Barcelona football game. I was soaked when I stood up to leave, and I walked back to my gate to hear my security guard reprimand me for being out past curfew. But it was a nice excursion. There were no gunshots heard in the distance, and I later slept peacefully.