On the scorching, windless afternoon of 28 November, Yoo-Mi, our translator Abdullah, and I agreed to do one more interview before calling it quits for the day. We had already visited eight encampments in the eastern section of the Abu Shouk refugee camp, and spoken at length with women about the economics of the household, their cooking practices and techniques, and the impact of the shortage of firewood on their lives and the lives of their family. It had been a long, very hot day; and it was about time for us to be leaving the camp.
Yoo-Mi and Abdullah took the lead on the day’s final interview. I measured a few pots, surveyed the implements in the cooking area of the tiny, straw-fenced compound, then found a partially shaded spot and sat in the sand. As I listened to the discussion – throwing in a question here-and-there – I flipped idly though a school composition book I found laying in the sand next to me, which contained page after page of a child’s drawings. The drawings were done by a young boy named Osman, aged ten.
Let’s take a closer look at the upper vehicle that Osman drew:
The truck depicted is known in the region as a “technical.” These are light four-wheel drive pick-up trucks with tripod-mounted machine guns. Think: Rat Patrol meets Toyota Tacoma. Think: vehicle of choice for Somali warlords, Mogadishu, circa 1993. These are fast, sure-footed killing machines, boasting .50 caliber firepower and Japanese reliability.
Osman’s image is stunning, with its angry red gun slaying the line-figure to the right of the drawing.
The green uniform of the assasin would suggest a Government of Sudan soldier. The Sudanese Police – who also drive technicals through the streets of El Fasher, particularly in the mornings and in the hour before the 8 pm curfew, in a show of machismo authority – wear the same, weird, blue camouflage uniforms that caused the Serbian Police to be nicknamed “the Barneys” (as in: look at the guys in the purple dinosaur suits!) by United Nations peacekeeping forces in Bosnia. The SLA, who have a number of technicals captured from government soldiers during the conflict, wear whatever clothes they have, usually topped with a turban of some sort.
Note Osaman’s depictions of the dead bodies marking the side of the truck, like so many boy-scout merit badges.
Is Osman’s work self-directed art therapy or journalism? In the process of researching subtleties of this question, I found this wonderful article from Slate Magazine by Dr. Annie Sparrow, a pediatrician, and Olivier Bercault, a lawyer, researchers for Human Rights Watch. Be sure to view the slideshow that accompanies the piece.