A day in the life of an 18-year-old at Kalma camp

By Oxfam America

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Halwa is an 18-year-old resident of Kalma camp, where about 93,000 people forced from their homes now live in South Darfur, Sudan. She shares a shelter with her mother and four siblings. Here is her account of how she spends her days at Kalma—days in which the routine and the fear never seem to change. Halwa did not want her picture taken. Instead, here are pictures of the sprawling camp that has become her temporary home.

I like to sleep. But by six o'clock the first rays of the sun are coming through the holes in the wall of my family's shelter, the cocks and donkeys start their shouting, and the camp starts to come to life. The first thing I do when I get up is pray. I ask God to look after my family, and bring peace to Darfur. Then I get on with the household chores... so many chores! I boil the water on the fire to make tea, I wash my brothers' and sisters' clothes, and then I clean the cooking pans. I don't enjoy cleaning and sometimes I'm tempted to do it very quickly, but Oxfam is always telling us to clean the pans thoroughly and I'm scared of getting sick if I don't!

By 8 a.m. I'm on my way to the community center. It's a short walk from my house and it's run by Oxfam. At the center I take lessons in hygiene and English. I like the hygiene class because I can see how to make changes in our house that keep my brothers and sisters healthy. Now whenever I see a woman not taking proper care of her latrine, or not cleaning her jerry can (for carrying water) I get very upset with her. I like the English class, too, but it's very difficult. Maybe next time we can speak in English, but I don't think so!

I am not married yet. Insha'allah—God willing—I will be soon. But there are few men my age in the camp. Most people here are women, old men, and children. Many younger men are away fighting. Or dead. There was a boy in my village who my friends used to tease me that I would marry, but now I don't know where he is. So for now I live with my mother, two little brothers aged 8 and 9, and two sisters aged 11 and 13. My father is no longer with us. I'm the oldest, which means I get to be in charge, but also that I have to do most of the work while my brothers get to play soccer.

At 10 a.m. it's time to go home and make breakfast. We have two meals a day—breakfast at about 11 a.m., and then dinner in the evening. I like to eat goat meat but here in the camp it is too expensive. My mother taught me long ago to make stew from vegetables, but it would be so much nicer with some chicken in it. I also like assida, which is one of our famous Darfur dishes. It's like a thick porridge made from sorghum. Back in my village, every time there was a celebration—a wedding, a birth, a new visitor—we would have roasted meat to eat and a big party in the village.

After breakfast I head to the Oxfam water point. I do this at least once every day. At the moment there are big queues. Today I had to wait for more than one hour and it was very hot. But the other women have to wait, too, so I get to catch up on all the news while I'm waiting. I usually take one of my little sisters with me to help carry the water home as it can be too heavy for one person.

We use water for everything. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be without it. Every time I eat I need water—to boil the food, to wash the vegetables, to get rid of the dirt and germs. Everything I drink is either normal water or boiled water for tea. I use the water to wash the clothes of the whole family. We don't have any animals but some of my friends' families have donkeys and the water also keeps them alive and healthy.

The afternoon is more of the same. Living in the camp I really notice how life feels very repetitive. I go to school, I cook and do chores, and then I do it all over again. In the afternoon I go back to study at the community center for an hour or so, and then I go home to prepare the evening meal. Even the food is usually the same.

I very rarely leave the camp. Why would I? Here there's a water point, a market, a community center. Outside there's danger—soldiers and guns. My mother goes out of the camp maybe twice a week to collect firewood, which we can use at home and sell what's left over. This is the only money we get. I feel guilty: It's so dangerous for my mother to do this. The women often get attacked or shouted at or shot at. They won't let me go with her. They say only older women should go as young girls are more likely to be attacked. Secretly I'm glad: I don't want her to go alone, but I don't want to go with her because I'm scared of the men.

When I first came here we saw the camp and the aid agencies and felt safe. Unhappy, but safe. Now even the camp is dangerous. At night nobody really goes outside their shelters. When I'm done cooking I stay home and study. I would like to do my English work but I have nobody to practice with. I study until it gets dark after eight o'clock, and then we go to bed and start the day again.

It's difficult for us here. Look at our shelter—it's very basic. This is not home. Soon the rains will come and then some of the shelters will be destroyed. What will happen to those people? I know the aid agencies are doing their best, but there are so many people here and everybody always needs something. I think the only way our lives will really improve is if we go home. But we can't go home because people are still being attacked. I will stay in Kalma until peace comes. I just hope it won't take too long.