Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Honeymoon in Darfur – Setting Up and Settling In

An abandoned mud hut on the edge of town.

Kass really was the middle of no where. Viewed from a distance, the town just looked like part of the dry savannah landscape we had traveled over, a few straw-roofed huts and brick walls in view. When our driver announced that we had arrived, I asked, “Where? Kass? Really?” Once in town, we drove passed brick-walled compounds of Kass residents and clusters of IDP domed mud or stick huts topped with UNICEF relief plastic rain tarps before reaching our office/guest house – a walled-in concrete house with four rooms, sand courtyard, outdoor kitchen and bathrooms. In the mid-day sun, the parched white walls glared and heat rose from the concrete floors. The room for our office had some equipment scattered about covered in plastic as if thrown in hastily just for storage but not for function. Dust choked our nostrils and throats as we unloaded the trucks, assembled our desks, arranged our office equipment, got the generator to work, and finally turned on the ceiling fans, which immediately disturbed the family of pigeons living in the false corrugated tin ceiling (my husband curses those pigeons until this day, but more on that later).

By the next day, the office was completely functional, with faxes, landline, email, satellite phones, and VHF radios plugged in and working. Our ‘home’ became more livable, too, with beds, mosquito nets, a dining table, and food in the kitchen. That night, we even managed to cozy up and watched a DVD with pop-corn and coke.

People lining up for aid distribution.

Our tasks for the following days was to meet and talk to the other agencies doing work in and around Kass, and to survey the IDP settlements around town. I call them settlements and not camps because Kass was a unique situation compared to the other IDP camps in South Darfur which were mostly settled in a government designated area completely barren and far away from any settled towns or villages. Kass, however, started out as a small town with a population of about 30,000 people. But within a year of the start of conflict in the surrounding region, the total Kass population grew to more than 100,000. And the influx of IDP’s did not settle into a discreet camp. They settled wherever they could throughout the town, in any open space available which were often times right outside of another person’s house or business. It was a strange mix of citizens who had been living in Kass all their lives, and all the IDP’s escaping violence and sleeping on the town’s doorsteps. This posed a logistical nightmare to humanitarian agencies who (ourselves included) had a difficult time registering and confirming legitimate beneficiaries of aid. There were some false IDP registrations by citizens who wanted in on the aid supplies. I’ll expand more on this when I start talking about our specific projects.

IDP family dwellings.

That afternoon, we were also pleased to hear that two of the new staff who we hired while in Nyala were expected to arrive soon, a much needed translation support to get more things done for the house and office. In the mean time, while I tried to orient the housekeeper to our way of life, my husband interviewed security guards. Security was the first priority given to us by our boss. Apparently, we needed 24 hour guard coverage even though I never really knew what they were supposed to do (they are un-armed in the event of a violent attack) except to open the gate for our trucks, screen visitors, drink tea, and sleep. Our driver would even relax and drink tea with them since we preferred to drive ourselves around town – maintaining a sense (whether false or foolish) of independence was key to our mental adjustment to life here.

Around 'town'.

Our first few days were hectic, but pleasant and peaceful. We sat outside at night and gazed at the amazing amount of stars, listening to sounds of Kass – singing and yelping with some occassional distant (hopefully celebratory) gunshots. While we tried to sleep, we couldn’t decide at first what was more annoying, the dogs, the roosters or the donkeys (all of which are very quiet during the day), but we quickly came to really hate the pigeons over our heads on the corrugated tin roof the following morning.

See more of this series at:

Honeymoon in Darfur – Our Humble Abode

Honeymoon in Darfur – Latrine Rehabilitation

Honeymoon in Darfur – Women’s Center

Honeymoon in Darfur – New Shelters

Honeymoon in Darfur – Picnic on the Wadi

Honeymoon in Darfur – Livestock and Agriculture

Honeymoon in Darfur – Curious Kids in Gusa Village

What strange sounds and settings have kept you up at night in far away places?


9 comments on “Honeymoon in Darfur – Setting Up and Settling In

  1. t.on.air
    March 27, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s nice to see Africa from a different perspective.Keep up the good work!

  2. Nate
    March 22, 2012

    I keep jumping around on your posts, but I have got to say that you are very inspiring. Now that you have children and traveling to Laos, what will be your living situation in regards to housing? I presume that Laos is for more of your work, but I may have it wrong. Keep posting.


    • Wanderlustress
      March 22, 2012

      Hi Nate. Yes, I decided not to write these particular posts as a linked thread but as stand alone tales, so no cliff hangers here. I did, however, rewrite my ‘About’ after receiving some comments that seemed unsure about which posts were current and which ones took place in the past. I hope it’s clearer now but I always find it hard to explain my personal history. Maybe a bullet-pointed list would work better.

      Housing in Laos will be a world away from housing in Darfur! We are going to Laos because of my husband’s work so housing is sure to be very comfortable.

  3. Pingback: Honeymoon in Darfur – Women’s Center « Wanderlustress

  4. Pingback: Honeymoon in Darfur – Latrine Rehabilitation « Wanderlustress

  5. Pingback: Honeymoon in Darfur – Our Humble Abode « Wanderlustress

  6. Lisa McKay
    March 18, 2012

    Wow, you guys had an interesting and unusual start to married life. So interesting to read about your early days.

    • Wanderlustress
      March 18, 2012

      Hi Lisa! Yes, it’s all been very interesting and highly unusual (for better or worse, haha). As I think about going back to work, a lot of memories have surfaced about the work I’ve done in the past so it helps me to clear my head to get it all down. For now, most of it is pulled from my old blog and it occurred to me that I hadn’t documented a lot more than I realized. So here’s my chance before I get to Laos. Thanks for reading!

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