Published: April 30th 2007April 30th 2007
I haven't written as many blogs over this past week, largely because I have been so so busy! The last two weeks have flown by, and as I sit here in Accra preparing to leave for the UK tomorrow, I can't believe my African experience is nearly over. Ever since we boarded the plane it's been a whirlwind. Four weeks, three pairs of flip flops, quite a few marriage proposals, numerous tummy upsets, lots of laughs and lots of tears later, it's coming to an end. I've had really mixed feelings about leaving the refugee camp. Relief at the thought of being clean and being able to eat whatever food I like (I've planned out my next trip to Sainsbury's in careful detail). But more than that, a real sadness at leaving this incredible place behind. It's been such a fantatstic experience, I have had amazing times, and very difficult times, and really, that is exactly what I expected.
I would say that I feel so much more connected to Liberians and Liberian culture than I do Ghanaians. This was inevitable really, because it is the Liberians we are working and living alongside. They are generally fantastic people, very
spirited and hopeful. At times, being here is draining as the constant demands for money and marriage get rather frustrating, and people are not worried about imposing on your personal space. You feel like you have already given so much, but the sad reality is that it can never be enough. Anyone thinking of volunteering should prepare themselves for this.
On a brighter note, I particularly have enjoyed working with the children. I was concerned that I would find this difficult as I don't have much experience with kids, but as it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Most of the kids are great, they're cute, bright and funny and love to talk to you and play with you. There are some little scrotes of course, I've been bitten a couple of times (last week a toddler went for my nipple and crikey it hurt. Yelp!) Biting aside, it has been good, I've spent much of my time here doubling up as a human climbing frame. Getting from one end of camp to another can be tough when you have various children hanging from your limbs shouting 'hellooooo white girllllll'. Like I said, wave goodbye to personal
With papa the devil at a drum performance
So, if I had to sum up Buduburam in a few words, I would choose these. My first word would be crazy, because it really is! Life in camp is chaotic. It can be so frustrating, cultural differences and Africa time can mean that it is quite hard to comprehend the way things are run, or even understand how people think. As some examples of things I find crazy here;
People are always very late but never apologetic. Tro-tro and taxi drivers drive like madmen, hanging out of the windows and beeping their horns rather than slowing down. Men ask you to marry them before they have even asked for your name. Children come up to you hold out their hand and say 'money'. As you walk down the street men shout at you constantly, and as a result are often yelled at by their girlfriends or wives, but they do it again anyway. It's pretty dog-eat-dog here, kids fight, women have a lot of attitude. People run around in masive groups yelling and screaming for apparently no reason. If there's a fight on camp, these guys ARE THERE, calling enthuastically and crowding around in a circle.
Last day goodbyes
With Jerry, our neighbour.
And strangest of all, everywhere you go on camp, someone is playing Celine Dion.
Every single day I see something that makes me laugh out loud, and every single day I see something that makes me want to cry. The funny thing about volunteering is, you almost become emotionally detached to a point, rather than being constantly up and down you stay on a level of calmness and being prepared for the next challenge. I think when I get home, the things I have seen and heard here will have an effect on me, but for now keeping going has been a coping mechanism. I've spoken to other volunteers about this and they feel the same.
The second word would be sad. Sad because these people have been through so much, sad that the children here will never have the same opportunities as other children, sad that a whole community is living in a state of restlessness with no real identity. So many families torn apart, so many horrific stories, and the ongoing effects of war every single day.
I've heard some terrible, terrible stories here. Another volunteer was in touch with a young man who wanted
Debbie and I were sad to say goodbye to Favour, she became our friend during our short time at Buduburam
to tell her his story. She met with him and they talked. He told her that he had been a child soldier during the war, and up to the age of 13, had used guns and knives to kill countless innocent people. Alongside other child soldiers he burned down whole villages, setting fire to houses with people trapped inside and killing anyone who got in their way. They were trained to believe that by killing others they were making themslves invincible. To this day, he still believes that guns won't kill him as he has earnt his immortality.
A refugee woman who I have made good friends with (she is only a year older then me), told me that during the war, her and her sister were attacked by four men. Two of them wanted to 'have' one sister, two wanted to 'have' the other sister. The woman's sister told them to take her instead. All four of them raped her and she died.
A schoolteacher told me that he saw his mother raped and his brother shot dead. Last week a young woman on camp died during childbirth. A few days ago a man in his twenties
All the leaving volunteers were presented with an African shirt or dress, sandals and a certificate and personally thanked by someone who we had worked with. Harrison presented me with my gifts and thanked me for my help with the Press Club.
had an epileptic fit as he can't afford drugs to control his condition. He fell into a fire on camp and burnt his arm so badly it became severely infected. He couldn't afford medical bills and despite being friends with volunteers, never asked for help. He got very ill, and a volunteer took him to hospital. As he hadn't paid his bills he was left on a trolley in a corridor, where he eventually died.
So you see, the stories are endless. Just because a war ends doesn't mean the pain is over. How can it ever be worth it?
Life here is about day-to-day survival, scraping for money to feed your children, trying your best to keep your family healthy in a camp that is rife with disease. No clean running water, living on top of sewage drains, expensive healthcare, the risk of HIV and other STDs... the list goes on. And Buduburam is actually one of the better camps. There are many Liberian camps as over half of the population was displaced. There are more in Ghana, some in Nigeria and a few in the Ivory Coast. In another of the Ghanaian camps, the refugees still
live in tents.
I don't want to just be negative, that would be doing this place a disservice. My next word would be beautiful. So many of the refugees hold themselves with such dignity and grace. The women are beautiful, the men are handsome, the children are incredibly cute. So when I say beautiful I do mean that in the aesthetic sense of the word. But I also mean in that one of the things that really strikes me about this place is the closeness of the family unit and the community. That's very beautiful. Many of the parents look at their kids with such love and pride. I guess they have lost so much that they know what is important in life. Some adults do abuse the children though, which is so so terrible.
But above all, the word I would use to describe Buduburam is hopeful. It's sad, it's tragic and at times it's desperate but it is never ever hopeless. Every single person on camp is hopeful that they will one day live a different life. Some hope to return to Liberia, or go to America. There are talented musicians, writers, teachers, cooks, business men and women here. Children love to come into the library to practise their reading, look in the atlas to learn where countries are, sit on your lap and practise counting. How can that be hopeless? People are doing what they can, setting up businesses, bringing up families, educating children. People are spirited, there's a lot of laughter on camp. The refugees are often very religious, having faith in God and believing He will protect them. A few days ago, Favour's husband William spoke to Debbie and I. He told us that unless we believed in God we would go to hell. Favour is afraid that we will go to hell and so they are trying to convince us to convert to Christianity. We just listened without comment. Who am I to argue with a refugee about the existence of God? They need their hope.
Little Liberia has definitely had a big impact on me. I feel as though I've experienced every emotion under the sun during my short stay here. I've been happy, excited, tearful, afraid, positive, negative, frustrated...you name it. I've learnt a lot about myself, about volunteering, about other cultures and about the reality of war. Before I left a work colleague wrote a message in a leaving card that has stayed with me. It said 'A destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.'
Buduburam has opened my eyes.