Correction to This Article
A photo caption with an April 30 article about genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan contained an incorrect first name for a Sudanese teacher. She is Armani Tinjay, not Amina Tinjay.

A Loss of Hope Inside Darfur Refugee Camps

Girls recite Arabic alphabet in refugee camp three miles outside the South Darfur town of Nyala.
Girls recite Arabic alphabet in refugee camp three miles outside the South Darfur town of Nyala. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 30, 2006

NAIROBI -- On a stretch of the austere desert in Chad, just across the border from the Darfur region of Sudan, signs of tragedy came into full view: tattered clothing caught on the branches of thornbushes, carcasses of camels and goats that died on the long journey out.

Then the people began to appear: haggard young girls with siblings on their backs, old men riding atop donkeys piled high with cooking pots, water jugs and mats, and elderly grandmothers, some with gunshot wounds, being pushed through the sand in wheelbarrows.

And then: a group of female teachers, squatting in a dry riverbed, trying to find shelter from sandstorms that were building over the horizon and turning the air into a wall of thick, orange dust.

It was a boiling-hot day in February 2004, and it was my first trip to investigate what were then vague reports of refugees streaming across the desolate border.

A woman came out from under some trees in the riverbed to greet me. Her name was Armani Tinjany, and she was a beautiful 29-year-old Sudanese teacher, tall and gracious in a flowing orange polka-dot dress tied to her thin waist.

She grabbed my hand and in clear English told me she had a college degree and taught Arabic and agriculture to high school students. She had lived a comfortable life with her family in a village of stone compounds.

A month before I met her, her village was attacked by Arab militias known as the Janjaweed -- slang for devils on horseback. The militiamen galloped into town, burned homes and buildings, raped women and killed dozens of men while government aircraft bombed the area. The assault was a strike back at rebels who had risen up against the Arab-led government, claming economic and political discrimination.

In her rush to leave, Tinjany left her parents and her husband behind. Were they alive? She did not know.

"Are they going to leave us like this forever?" she asked. "My life, as I knew it, is finished."

She answered all my questions slowly, and often referred to a wrinkled notebook in which she had recorded the atrocities. Even with people out to kill her entire family and her tribe, she softly apologized for not being able to offer me tea.

At that time, Darfur was just another confusing African conflict. Today, it is known as the site of the first genocide of the 21st century, a human catastrophe that has pushed nearly 2.5 million people off their land and into camp cities, some housing as many as 80,000 people.

Misery intensified, and dignity vanished. I once watched a camp guard swat Tinjany with sticks as he pushed refugees into a line for food being handed out by U.N. aid workers.

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