Saturday, October 28, 2006

Al Amab

I'm a member of the Student Community Service Group at school. (There is general discontent with calling ourselves the SCSG, but nobody can come up with anything better. Our adviser suggested H2O for Humans Helping Others or Hard Hearted Ogres...) We've been collecting donations of money and used clothes from the school community for a couple of months, and working with the Red Crescent to figure out how we can help Nile flooding victims.

It's paid off. Right now we've gathered almost 3000 US dollars, and a high school in Minnesota or somewhere wants to help. A couple of weeks ago, a delegation from the group went out and bought 350 jerry cans, big plastic 20-liter containers that can be used for purifying water and storing it for drinking. They got a great price, because the jerry cans had once held treacle, traces of which fermented into an odorous sludge at the bottom of each can. We got to spend our lunch hours cleaning them out with the school's garden hose.

After some Red Crescent volunteers came and gave a workshop on disaster response, and showed us how to use chlorine tablets to purify water, we set up a day to go distribute the jerry cans and clothes to a particularly needy community close to school. The community is called Al Amab. It takes about 15 minutes to drive there from campus, but in those 15 minutes the buildings go from 5 story brick to 1 story mud, and the number of goats increases tenfold.

Al Amab has about 175 families, so we planned to give each family two jerry cans. When we climbed out of the bus, little kids swarmed around us. Really little kids. Their arms and legs were thin, thin, thin, their hair was rusty, and their stomachs stuck out in front of them. They loved our cameras, posed in huge groups, and when we stepped back to try and fit them all in the frame, they pressed forward. Some of the little girls had baby brothers or sisters on their hips. One of them told me she was seven, then adjusted her shawl so that it protected her charge's head.

The handout was kind of chaotic. The women, who had previously been crouching in what little shade was available, surged forward. Nobody wanted to miss out. Some (drunk) women, apparently from another village, rushed up to the front of the line and yelled at us in some unknown dialect when we didn't give them what they wanted. Everyone shouted and waved their arms and clutched their prizes possessively, while our Red Crescent helpers scolded and directed. When we gave out the used clothes, everyone was picky and annoyed that we didn't have the right sizes. It was a hot, hot day. Our dark hair soaked up sun, and we tried to drink our water surreptitiously, because everyone at Al Amab was fasting for Ramadan.

But there were wonderful moments. I caught the attention of an Al Amab girl my size. We smiled at each other and rolled our eyes at our own overwrought guardians. I saw a little tiny kid wrap his "new" clothes around himself and spin in circles. I watched a little old lady tie colored string around the handles of her two jerry cans so that they wouldn't get lost.

We're going to go back soon, but maybe we'll do something a little more relaxed. Something that won't make us into their saviors, but their friends. Maybe a soccer game.


CuracaoChick said...

Wow. That sounds like an amazing experience. I wish there were opportunites for things like that here. I've been doing Habitat for Humanity, and the other day, instead of building a house, we helped demolish one (sledgehammers, crowbars, the works) that would later be rebuilt. It was fun.


arppeggio said...
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virocana said...
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