I wonder what would happen if the UN, our administration, or the Government of Sudan were told they could not eat until they arrived at a solution for peace in Darfur. How long would it take them to act? Essentially this is what the Darfuris are doing by default. Starving until a solution is reached, without the power to design and implement that solution.
Archive for May, 2009
I’m entering week three of my fast, second week on refugee rations. Well maybe it’s really that I’m starting a third week-long fast. I broke from my refugee rations this weekend to gather with family and friends. I had an overwhelming appetite for fruits, vegetables, tofu, hummus and all the things I usually eat and had not allowed myself for so long. I feel very mixed now. A bit of shame for not continuing on without a break, thoughts of gratitude for the availability of nutrition that has brought back my strength, and an acute awareness of the excess all around us. Going back to meal after meal of cracked wheat and split yellow peas, I think of things like how to arrange for a refugee distribution of curry powder, hot sauce, peanut butter and sesame oil. And, of course, vitamins.
When I first went to the camps, I naively expected to find long cafeteria lines like a soup kitchen. I did not know that refugees received a monthly ration of food that they had to cook over a wood fire. Then I learned about the horrific risk of rape that women face as they leave the camps to collect the firewood they need to cook each day. I could not understand why the UN did not more proactively address the issue of cooking fuel. In some places we were told that women were walking up to 8 miles each way before they would find a stubby tree to take branches from for their fire. Early in the conflict, Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that 82% of rapes occurred during such daily chores. Periodically I hear about UN deliveries of firewood, but I do not know if they are regular or even still ongoing. I witnessed one of these monthly distributions in a camp in Eastern Chad. The women told me their small pile of wood could last 5-6 days – two weeks if they were really resourceful. The pile was about the size I could go through in a few hours on a camping trip.
There is an amazing program called the Solar Cooker Project sponsored by Jewish World Watch, which teaches women how to cook their food using the heat of the sun, reflected off a three-part piece of cardboard covered with a silver coating. And there is a wonderful group started by a high-school student called Teens 4 Peace, which have been manufacturing a small device that helps women know if their water has gotten hot enough using the solar cooker to purify the water. And yet, the women also told us they prefer the smoky taste to their food that they get from a wood fire. I can almost understand, but I’ve only been eating these same rations each meal for about two weeks now – not five or six years.
Even more staggering, we were told that there was enough of a market for firewood that women were still going off into the desert to collect it even if they had a solar cooker. I wonder what they buy with that money. The women I spoke with in the camps always asked for milk for their children. But to risk rape or murder by Janjaweed to collect a few pieces of firewood to sell…the need for their children must be so very great. just cannot fathom this. What will they cook on when the rains come and there is no solar option?
I am so moved by Mia’s decision to end her fast and Richard Branson’s decision to step in. I really applaud Mia for deciding to do what is necessary to care for herself so that she can continue to lead this fight on behalf of the Darfur people. Too often I think people pursue social justice work to the ends of their limits and then, facing burnout, quit. Movements lose their energy, and individuals unintentionally become a disservice to their cause by not caring for themselves so as to ensure they remain strong. I am reminded of the words we hear every time we get on an airplane – if you are traveling with a child, please put on your oxygen mask first before helping someone in need. I’m glad that Mia has chosen to take a rest, affix her oxygen mask and renew herself. And I can only imagine that she does so with deep humility and deep concern for the million of displaced Darfuris who can no longer see a doctor, cannot end their hunger and cannot avoid the increasing probability that their children and families risk starvation.
I am so in awe of the power of consciousness within a collective body to move and inspire others. I am wondering whether we have or will have other spiritual or religious leaders, political leaders, business leaders and cultural leaders joining this fast. And I am comforted by the growing support of grassroots citizens and even whole communities that are bringing new awareness of Darfur to their neighbors. I am also continually shocked that in this day and age of technology it is so very hard to mobilize enough people, enough voices, enough political influence, enough media and enough power to reach the tipping point to end a genocide. There is no excuse. I sit here observing this extraordinary paradigm of deepest personal action and greatest collective non-action and just pray that the former will shift the latter.
I’m so excited about Mia Farrow appearing on Larry King tonight and applaud CNN for covering the Darfur crisis and helping to channel people to action. I wish more of our media would pay attention.
I have been fasting on refugee rations for a couple of days now. I though it really important to have my own experience eating what so many refugees have been surviving on for years – day in and day out, every single meal. I went out and bought all the supplies and looked closely at the nutritional content. While we already know that the rations equate to a little over 1000 calories a day, and that there is some protein in eating peas or beans and grains, there is absolutely no other nutrition – no vitamins A or C, no calcium, barely any iron. Think of the children growing up with no milk, no vegetables or fruit. The women getting pregnant and giving birth with no folic acid. The refugees suffering from anemia with no iron. And if they needed medical care for malnutrition there aren’t any medical aid groups to help them, since the majority of them have been expelled! And then imagine getting a months-worth of food aid with a hungry family to feed and having to restrain yourself to ration your sack of food every day to make sure you have enough to get through the month. How painful that process must be.
I remember speaking with refugees in the camps who had told me about the terrible hunger they faced as they crossed the desert to safety in Chad. Many of them had held onto a small portion of seeds that they could hopefully use to replant their harvest, and it took everything they had not to eat the seeds themselves. I remember the story of one family of 7 that arrived at a camp when they were no longer registering refugees. They had to sit and wait for two more weeks under a tree until they were allowed to officially register and receive a tent and their own monthly rations. They lived that month on food donated by other refugees. The beauty of that generosity is so much more powerful now that I realize how little the refugees in the camp actually had to give.
Why do we in the US have so little to give when we actually have so much – so much power, so much influence, and such loud voices?
I went to a friends’ BBQ on Day 5 of my water fast. Though I am a vegetarian, the scent of the smoking turkey and grilling sausages was almost overwhelming. My friends were so kind and asked wonderful questions about my fast and the situation in Darfur. One teacher asked me about how she could bring this situation into her 5th grade classroom, albeit she did not have enough time in the semester to do an entire course on the Darfur crisis. I shared an interactive exercise that I experienced in a workshop once: Each member of the group was given a small piece of paper with an A, B or C on it and asked to divide up accordingly. The largest group was C and was told to sit on the floor on a mat. The second largest group was B and was given some benches or chairs to sit on with a cloth spread between them. The smallest group was A (about 10% of the group) and was invited to sit at a beautifully set dining table with candles, plates and silverware. Next, the moderator brought out one loaf of freshly baked bread. She tore off small bite-sized pieces and gave them to each person in group C. Then she tore off slightly larger chunks and shared them with the members of group B. About 2/3 of the loaf was still left, which she placed on a bread board next to a plate of brie cheese and invited group A to serve themselves. She then asked us to eat in silence. As the A group looked around at the C group, sitting on the floor savoring their tiny pieces, their discomfort turned to tears. The moderator explained that this represented the current allocation of food resources on the planet, and as Americans we were all sitting at the dining table each night.
I’m considering ending my water fast on Sunday (Day 6) and switching to refugee rations for the remainder of Mia’s 21 days. I feel really strongly that I need to understand what the Darfuris are given to eat (that is when they had monthly food rations) by experiencing the rations myself. Too often we sit at the dinner table with our portion of the global bread loaf with such a disconnect to what living in group C is actually like. I have always had a major issue with the black-tie galas and big fancy events that NGOs throw to raise money – where the patrons dine, drink, party and forget even further the lives of those they are there to help. Though I understand the need to invest in such events, and though I admit abstaining from such events has not served our operating budget so well, I still endeavor to find a way to break down that disconnect between Americans and those in greatest need (while generating support for our work with genocide survivors). And so, that is why this fast is so powerful to me. I hope in some small way I can bring a new level of awareness to others so that one day we can all gather together at the global table and share equitably the planet’s resources.
Day 4. I had a very hard day today. I was very, very hungry and allowed myself another bowl of broth and one glass of juice. I fantasized about a cup of wild rice with butter, thinking about how easy it would be to throw a small bowl in the microwave. Which then got me thinking about how long it must take a Darfuri to cook that same mouth-watering (in reality very bland and very small) bowl of grain over a wood fire. And to have to walk miles in search of firewood to cook that meal. I get tired now just walking up the stairs. I can’t even imagine walking miles across the sand and brush to find wood. Not to mention the ongoing risk of rape away from their villages and camps.
I have started to feel really cold, having to wear two sweaters and turn up the heat in my car even when it is in the low 60s up here in New Hampshire. So, I watched the news under a fuzzy wool blanket this evening while my husband ate leftovers and filled the house with the smells of Thanksgiving again. I felt angry that not one member of the media had asked about the crisis in Darfur during the President’s 100 day address, and that they were still covering the H1N1 virus outbreak constantly. Though it is a very serious situation, with almost 800 cases now and 19 deaths, and with a direct impact on our nations’ citizens, what about the 1 million people who are going to starve in Sudan if the food aid is not reinstated? Isn’t that newsworthy? I’ve decided to write my media and ask them that question.
Well, having friends to dinner on Day 3 of my water fast went surprisingly well. I was genuinely excited about the menu we’d prepared and they were curious and completely understanding. My husband cooked a roast chicken and the house smelled like Thanksgiving. I joined them at the table with a big bowl of water with a bit of vegetable bullion mixed in (34 calories). Though I would have sincerely enjoyed partaking in the steamed asparagus and wild rice, instead we spoke of what was happening in Darfur and one of my guests’ recent visit to Ethiopia, which is no stranger to famine.
I also emailed 5000 people on Global Grassroots’ contact list about the fast and was so grateful for some very beautiful responses, including one from a dear friend who has decided to start her fast on Sunday. She has a toddler and has been discussing with her husband how best to explain to him their fast. I shared that I have a family member living with me at the moment, whose beautiful mother passed away recently from complications related to anorexia. I felt it important to discuss with her why I was doing this and how a fast was different from anorexia. I tried to explain that a fast isn’t an effort to deprive our bodies or control our weight out an intense fear of becoming fat or very low self-esteem and deep feelings of unattractiveness. It is instead a deeply spiritual act, driven by a desire to contemplate what we have and what others may not have and feel a greater connection with those who are suffering. Often a personal act of sacrifice to take time away from the schedules of mindless consumption and better understand our relationship to food.
And even still, it is worth bearing in mind the challenges we have with food in this country, from anorexia and bulimia to obesity. Why do we play out our attachments and aversions to self and our life through the act of eating or not eating?
Conscious Social Change
Personal Growth Sabbatical
Intentional Fast for Darfur
Journeys to Rwanda
The Transformational Capacity Project
Trauma Healing in Haiti
Women Making Mischief
An Inspiring Start to My Visit with Global Grassroots’ Teams
Women Leaning In and Leading from Within at the “G-Level”
Asking the Poor for Money: Creative Fundraising in Rural Villages
Mixing Cultures: A Job Interview in Rwanda
Literacy: A Love Story
April Showers Bring May Flowers
When communities get smart, girls don’t drop out
On Love. And Shooting B roll of a Filmmaker.
Genocide Commemoration: A guilty conscience on April 9th
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