KYELI, Blue Nile State, Sudan – “Soon after we married, my husband was killed during the war, ” says Hawa Abdul-Gadr. Hawa’s eyes are repositories of a grief suppressed, part-masked by a poised resolve that surely comes from getting on with things, in what is a tough place to live. Still, hers is a perceptible sadness – long-kept under wraps but maybe closer to the surface than she would care to admit. Chopping her left hand down from her right cheek, as if swatting away an invisible spectre, Hawa declares “I am happy now here, we have peace and I hope it stays.” She spent eleven years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The border is just fifty miles away from this village in southern Blue Nile state, but for those long years, home here in Kyeli seemed like a distant dream. “I came back in 2006, after the word spread about peace in the camps.
SINDH PROVINCE — Dirty, tired and bedraggled, Imran beckons us over to the women who fled their village. They came thirty miles on foot only to spend almost three weeks here in the dead heat at this makeshift camp outside Sukkur in southern Pakistan. “Take some photographs”, he implores. “You sure this is OK?” I reply, our conversation translated from Sindhi to English and back again by Nizam Ud Din Bharchood, a long time charity worker for Hands, a NGO based in southern Pakistan. “Go ahead, he insists!” assured Nizam. Often foreigners cannot take photos of women or girls in Pakistan, but Imran waives this, showing a canny insight into how best to raise awareness about his people’s plight. The ladies, adorned in their assorted pinks, greens and orange veils, clasp their children close and sit atop a rusted old bed, one of the few possessions they managed to carry from one of their houses. Photo taken, Imran explains their plight. “We are here twenty days now, without any shelter and only a little food.”
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Rachel Voltaire shuffled disconsolately on a narrow, rubble-strewn lane which runs alongside a camp set up to shelter 700 Haitian survivors of the January 12 earthquake. The area is called Delmas, one of Port-au-Prince’s worst-hit suburbs. Buildings lie flattened, and the locals say that many bodies remain underneath. Ms Voltaire’s story is a harsh mix of tragedy and Kafkaesque catch-22 that makes her downbeat demeanour all the more understandable. “ I was kicked out of the US coz I didn’t have no green card”, she drawled. She arrived back in Haiti just days before the earthquake, her five children split between cousins in Georgia and an ex-husband in Miami. “I ain’t got family left here, more than twenty were killed in the earthquake. My mom, my sisters, their kids, everyone.” She has savings in Citibank, but all the branches in Port-au-Prince were destroyed
PORT-AU-PRINCE — In ‘The Comedians’, Graham Greene called Haiti the nightmare republic. But for the past few days in Haiti, truth has been more nighmarish than fiction after an estimated 140,000 people were killed in last week’s earthquake. The international relief operation appears to be struggling, meaning that time is running out for the estimated 3 million Haitians affected by the disaster, people now injured, homeless, without food and water. There seems to be little hope for those still trapped alive under the rubble as the risk of disease grows by the hour — and with each passing hour the prospect of rescue diminishes.
FREETOWN – “The police stop us all the time. Sometimes they try to take money from us, sometimes they threaten to arrest us. But the usual trick is to check our handbags. They plant some drugs, then tell us to come with them to the station. The only way to get out is have sex with the policeman, otherwise we go to jail.” Just 20 years old, Maryama* has lived on the ramshackle streets of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, for eight years. Her father died when she was 10 – possibly from HIV-AIDS, although nobody knows for sure – leaving her mother unable to bring up their three children. This was at the height of Sierra Leone’s civil war, infamous for anti-government rebels who hacked off arms and hands to deter civilians from voting in elections.