The call to prayer often wakes me up around five in the morning, "Allah Akbar" ...It is too dark to have an early morning run and the paths are treacherous with sharp jagged volcanic rocks, so I have been running after work occasionally with a string of children running besides me or trailing after me and chorus of "Mzungu, how are you?". I answered back,"Amakooru?" The Muhabura Mountain is always towering over us and on a clear day I can see all three of the mountains from the bathroom window. This morning I took an early walk and went by the small hill where a small group of Batwas (Pygmies) lives. According to Abdullah, years ago the government built houses for them after they were displaced from the Mhinga National Park but they were not used to living in houses and built their own dwellings. These are made of sticks and plastic bags, sheets, gunny sacks all haphazardly put together. They are really not fit for anyone to live in. An old woman emerged from a dwelling that looked like a tee-pee, she mumbled to herself and wrapped a dirty shawl around her shoulder and walked away with a few containers in her hand and stopping periodically to wipe her muddy feet on the grass. I spotted three pairs of glinting eyes looking out of an opening of another dwelling. A brisk fire was burning inside, the morning was chilly. The children were huddling around the fire and an arm shot out towards me, they did not seem to be concerned about the potential of the fire taking down their "hut". Not too far away was an outhouse built by the Dutch in 2010.
At the transit camp the refugees boarded the seven buses of the convoy very efficiently, there were 519 of them. It was a sunny day and the morning mist shrouding the camp and the mountains quickly dissipated. The Office of the Prime Minister announced that from now on no refugees will be allowed to stay longer than two weeks in the transit camp, their food allowance will be cut off. Outside the registration area, several refugees arrived with suitcases and mattresses but they arrived too late to leave with the convoy. I took my last walk around the camp site and was able to greet the refugees in Bumfibira, "Ahmakuroo", "Nemasutay" (variations of how are you) which seemed to delight them. One woman gestured to me that she was hungry and I heard an infant's cry from the tent. She immediately got up and we walked into her tent to find a baby wrapped up in a blanket, probably only days old.
The clinic was filled with many students from a nearby school with minor problems. A woman came with a nasty splinter buried deep in her ankle. I could feel it but it was not visible. After some poking an inch long bamboo-like splinter was pulled out. Her last name was "Dushimimana" which means "Thank God" A forty-year-old woman came with her three-year-old daughter and the clinical officer recognized her as a long termer. She came to the transit camp on May 13th in her eighth month of pregnancy with her daughter. While she was working in the field with her daughter, her husband ran away with their five other children apparently from the rebels and headed for Rwanda. When she came back home, no one was left. She fled to Uganda only to find out later that her husband and five of the children are now in Rwanda refugee camp. She told us that her husband had since contacted her and was furious that she went to Uganda and accused her of wanting to find another man. Another twist to the story was that her baby who is now three months old was a result of a rape. Since May she had sought help from various officials in the camp to be reunited with her family but had not been able to get help. She had also gone to the Rwanda border (about 10 km from Kisoro) but was not allowed to cross from Uganda into Rwanda. The clinical officer suggested to her that she might want to go back to Congo and then cross over to Rwanda from there, however she told us that the route to Rwanda is full of rebels and is dangerous. She cried sadly while telling us her story. When asked what she would do when the OPM reinforced the rule of a maximum of a two week stay in the camp, she simply stated that she would beg for food; she does not want resettlement but rather relocation to the refugee camp where her family is now. We wrote down her name and her tent number and went to the camp later in the afternoon to look for the new Protection Officer but unfortunately today he was in Mbarara, instead I spoke to Stella from UNHCR about her plight and she reassured me that she would talk to the people concerned. I sure hope she will someday soon reunite with her family.
Tomar is this little girl who followed me around quietly. She and her family have also been in the transit camp for awhile. Her mother is not willing to go to Rwangmangi, her husband is still in the Congo and she is waiting for him in the transit camp. With the new rules she may also be running out of luck.
A fierce wind was blowing this evening, it was quite cold and cut one like a knife. The refugees in the transit camp actually do not receive their blankets until they are boarding the bus for resettlement. Those who arrive with the clothes on their back will be cold unless they have their own money to buy them, no wonder some newborns died from exposure here. This is our last day at the camp, tomorrow we will leave Kisoro for Kampala, however the plight of these refugees will remain. We should all count our blessings and "dushimimana" for what we have.