Burundi, a small African country hemmed in by Rwanda, Tanzania and the DR Congo, is no stranger to hard times. A civil war that lasted from 1993-2005 left 300,000 dead and many fled the country as refugees during those years. Some of those same refugees, having returned home after the war, are once again on the run as refugees. Since the election of President Nkurunziza, the police, intelligence officials and the ruling party’s militia, known as the Imbonerakure, have been on a killing rampage. Nearly 400,000 have fled the country, fearing for their lives, with an average of 724 refugees arriving daily in Tanzania. Camps are full in Tanzania, with only one, Nduta, still accepting new arrivals. Nduta recently passed its capacity of 100,000 and the struggle to shelter the refugees is huge.
In the DR Congo, refugees from Burundi are finding healing by performing dramas based on real-life experiences. You can read more here and watch a short video clip.
The refugee camp in Rwanda has passed capacity, with many people living in overcrowded communal hangars covered with plastic sheeting.
In Uganda, Burundian refugees are given small plots of land to build homes and plant crops.
Yemen, the poorest of the Arab countries, shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. It sits on the coast of the Mandeb Strait, a thin waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, which empties into the Indian Ocean. Most of the world’s oil supply sails through this strait, like banners of wealth and luxury waving on an unconcerned breeze while a child dies from hunger every 10 minutes on the shores of this country wracked with suffering.
For nearly two years, a war between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed president has ripped this country apart. Using weapons sold to them by the US, the Saudis have escalated the war in an effort to defeat the rebels. Before the war, Yemen imported 90% of its food supply. Now, due to air raids and blockades, very little food and other aid is getting through and most of the people have no food or medical supplies. 183,483 refugees have left Yemen and wait in surrounding countries. Most of the displaced Yemeni people, however, are unable to flee the country.
Despite the depth of the tragedy, there are voices of hope and courage within Yemen. One such voice is a street artist known as the Banksy of Yemen. Using the ruins of war as his canvas, he uses his brush as a way to protest the war. He urges his fellow Yemenis to pick up a brush and join him, creating solidarity in this fractured land.
As we ate a light meal of Shafoot with Lahooh, a spongy flat bread similar to Ethiopia’s Injera, we held this suffering country in our hearts and prayed for peace. It’s humbling to have so much, when those who should be eating these dishes are starving. It is hard to sit with these stories and be able to do nothing but honor their suffering by becoming aware of it and praying for it to end.
South Sudan is located between Ethiopia and the Central African Republic. There are more than 2.25 million displaced people in South Sudan and across its borders. Nearly 1.5 million South Sudanese have registered as refugees with the UNHCR.
One of the main reasons there are refugees in South Sudan is because they have been displaced due to war. In school, at Early College Academy, I learned about South Sudanese refugees. One of the refugees was a boy named Chuol, a 9 year-old boy, when his village was attacked and bombed by soldiers. He was with his mother and grandmother and they fled to the swamp. Chuol’s mom ran in a different direction so Chuol and his grandmother kept going. They went into the swamp water and hid for hours so they wouldn’t be caught by the soldiers that raided their village. Chuol was constantly afraid that he might die but he was more scared of soldiers then the most vicious crocodiles and poisonous snakes. Eventually they found their way to a camp on a tiny island with at least 80,000 other people running from the war. Later they were able to find a camp in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. When Chuol was in the camp, he felt very traumatized because he had seen so much blood, gore, and killing. He has dreams just like every other kid and hopes to become a doctor some day. You can read more of his story here.
A people unwanted.
Brave souls who escaped terrorist attacks and war in their country, sometimes fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, are now viewed by much of the Western world as being terrorists themselves.
Currently Afghanistan is the world’s second largest source of refugees, numbering 2.7 million, according to the UNHCR. In addition to this, there are an estimated 3.7 million displaced Afghanis, mostly residing in the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan. Many refugees are being forced to return to Afghanistan, mostly from Pakistan but some also from Iran and the EU. The EU no longer considers Afghanistan to be a war zone even though the fighting has not stopped.
In Pakistan, Islamabad issued a mandate that by the end of 2017, all Afghani refugees must return home. Tensions are high in Pakistan, where many Afghani refugees have lived for two or three decades. Some have already made the choice to return home even though their children have never known life outside of Pakistan. For many this seems to be the only choice due to escalating harassment since the mandate. Yet upon their return to Afghanistan, many are harassed all over again being suspected as Pakistani spies.
These refugees who have spent years in “the wilderness” are returning home to what? Despite the promise of shelters being built to house them in the early stages of repatriation, none are ready. Winters are harsh and lodging scarce in this land that has been blown apart by bombs. In one study’s estimate, 60% of Kabul’s buildings are damaged or destroyed. Reconstruction is a long way from being finished in this land that has known so much fighting.
Decades of civil war and brutal ethnic conflicts have left many Congolese on the run. At the end of 2015, there were nearly 500,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Additionally the UN estimated there are 1.8 million internally displaced people within DRC. And while many Congolese have left their country and are living in camps in surrounding countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya and many more, there are more than 400,000 refugees from other countries who have come to DRC for refuge. When I read the history of the DRC, full of wars, genocides, mass rape, and more violence than I can wrap my head around, I picture a volcano inside of a volcano. Desperate people leaving, desperate people coming in from other erupting places.
This lush and beautiful country in the heart of Africa, home to nearly every valuable resource known to man is also the world’s largest source of cobalt. Without it, our smartphones and laptops would be powerless. The Washington Post has put out a story called The Cobalt Pipeline which gives an eye-opening look behind the scenes. In 2012 UNICEF estimated there were 40,000 children working in cobalt mines in DRC. Children as young as 7 years old work in the mines in very dangerous conditions and are paid one to three dollars a day and many sacrifice their lives so we can carry technology in our pockets and scroll with our fingers while waiting for the next thing to happen in our lives.
With my belly full of Chicken Moambe, Eggplant Curry and Banana Fritters, I type these lines on my laptop which very likely has cobalt sourced from this country of incredible suffering and I feel a volcano within a volcano inside of me, beauty and horror colliding and I don’t know what to do with these tears but I let them come. I grieve for the lives lost, the lives now in terror, the lives in camps waiting and hoping. I grieve for the racial hatred between ethnic groups, for the greed of our wealthy and powerful who are all too willing to take advantage of black bodies to grow our prosperity. When you clear away the clutter, there’s not much difference between a cotton field and a cobalt mine…just a bit more distance.
Today I remember the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m grateful for the 16,370 Congolese Refugees accepted into the US last year. I’m grateful for the geeks that are out there who continue to develop technology that doesn’t require slave labor to thrive. And all the while I pray that the Democratic Republic of Congo, this country so rich in natural resources, will find healing and restoration.
Today we remember Somalia. This country on the horn of Africa is the world’s third largest source of refugees . According to the UNHCR, a third generation of Somalians are being born in exile. Nearly three decades of civil war, border clashes, fighting clans, and famine have practically bankrupted the economy. Over one million Somalians are refugees in nearby countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen while many more remain displaced within Somalia. Most of them rely on foreign aid for the most basic of needs such as food, health care and water. While nearly 100,000 Somalian Refugees have entered the US in the last 6 years, the current Travel Ban is prohibiting any more from entering at this time.
It was hard to reconcile the delightful flavors of Surbiyaan, a Somalian Rice and Chicken dish that we ate with a Caulifower Curry, with the harsh realities of what life is like for those who remain in Somalia. We wrapped up our meal with Quadret Qadar, which means made by a miracle, which seems fitting for this country in dire need of a miracle.
For Lent this year, we are remembering other people from around the world by eating food from their country and praying for refugees and other marginalized people from these nations.
Last evening we shared a small Tibetan feast. Our youngest son did a bit of research and shared it with us later in the evening by candlelight during our family Lenten tradition of loadshedding. We learned together that ethnic Tibetan young people are leaving Tibet in large numbers because of the lack of educational opportunities.
Until quite recently the Tibetan food consisted of a subsistence diet of meat and dairy with very few spices and vegetables. Many refugees from Tibet have moved to India and not surprisingly, their cuisine has grown a bit spicier and a bit richer.
The meatball curry dish we tried was Shabril and you can find a recipe here. The cabbage dish was Baistaa and here is the recipe.
The shelves at the store seem to be sagging these days with the load of candy piled on them. From one store to another, one holiday to another, one ad to another, there’s not much difference. Oh the color of the wrappings change and the words used to lure us to buy lots of sugary “goodness” change according to the theme of the holiday, but underneath all the wrappings, there’s not much difference. I don’t know about you, but I get a little weary of it all.
It wasn’t always this way; I used to to be charmed by chocolate in any way, shape or form. I was pretty shocked, about 5 years ago, when a friend told me he didn’t buy chocolate because of the slavery issues surrounding it. I had no idea that such a sweet little item had such huge controversy behind it. It was appalling to me there were indeed many cocoa plantations in West Africa, in particular, which were run by slaves, often children. The more I researched, the more I became convinced that this was something I could no longer turn a blind eye to. For starters, our family simply began by eating a lot less chocolate. At the same time, I discovered a growing number of fair-trade companies who are sourcing their cocoa from farmers who are paid a fair wage and producing amazing chocolate. It was not a difficult decision to make the switch! I fell in love with the baking cocoa from Equal Exchange. Not only can I feel good about my purchase, I believe the quality is far superior to other brands making it well worth the price. The most difficult thing to make the switch in for me was chocolate chips. Fair trade chocolate chips are hard to come by and are costly. As a compromise, I opted for organic chocolate chips for a time, since organic farmers are subjected to a lot of screening and it is less likely that slave labor is used on these farms. This past fall, I was thrilled to discover that Equal Exchange had begun selling chocolate chips! And are they good! A friend of mine didn’t believe me until she tasted what I’m about to share with you.
Fair trade, chocolate and baking are big passions of mine. I’ve combined all three and come up with a recipe that I want to share with you, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
No Dark Secret Brownies
1 cup butter
3/4 cup fair trade baking cocoa
1/4 cup oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 – 1 cup fair trade chocolate chips
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the oil and baking cocoa. Cook for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Beat eggs and vanilla. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla, mixing just until combined. Sift the flour and gently stir in. Add the pecans and chocolate chips. Avoid over-mixing. Pour into a greased 9×13″ baking pan. Bake at 350 for 30 -40 minutes, until a toothpick an inch or two from the edge comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting.