April 03, 2016

M'Bera, refugee camp Mauritania, day two, 23 March 2016

view from M'Bera from the twin water tanks
M'Bera. I had been told is the third city in Mauritania in number of inhabitants, after Nouakchott, the capital and Nouadhibou, the economic capital. But I wasn't prepared for the size of it.
In the beginning of the events in North Mali in 2012 the camp hold 80.000 people.
Today they're just under 50.000.
The camp is divided in 4 areas each has its primary schools and its vegetable gardens.
We must be aware as well that the Malien frontier is only 50/60km away and that another refugee camp lays there in Fassala and that the whole region of Hodh El Chargui is one of the regions in Mauritania where access to water is the most difficult and scarce.
If you want to learn more about the conflit and the refugees check this article in english by tuareg journalist Intagrist El Ansari, refugee in Nouakchott.

4th year
advanced with children from 10 to 16 year old
resolving the same equation
each school has its cantine where children are fed porridge mid morning
Schools in the camp were a priority for the journaliste of e-global, so in the morning we visited different classes in 'École 2'. 
This schools where built by Fare Studio. Sand castle is the name of this   projet as the walls where built with sand bags. Its worth a visit to their website.
The teacher's told me it was a Portuguese architect that had come to work on the projet, João Sobral, and that the classrooms where warm in the winter and stayed cool in the summer.
Kids and adults learn by repeating out loudly what the teacher says. And when a question is posed those that know the answer snap their fingers and repeat -'me, Mister, me Mister'.
Different children are called up to the blackboard to finish an equation.
Around eleven children are offered a porridge that they drink its made of soja with added nutrients and vitamins its called CSB and used by the HRC everywhere.

Ahmed et sa moto Kingo
What to draw ? the young man in the motorbike or the family of artisans that the journaliste and the photographer are talking to ? Just draw fast and do both forgetting about the details...behind the young Ahmed a meat seller, and a few other stalls, there will be never enough time to do those, first I'm always with people in a hurry jumping in and out of our UN car to make a few questions and take a few photographs. In some situations I don't even have time to ask for the name or from where they come from.

family of artisans without their wares as there wasn't enough time to stop
Registration Center and on the right interview with refugees who want to go back to Mali
And then the journalist and photographer have to leave as they cannot risk to loose their flight back to Portugal. But fortunately I managed to stay with the Associate Public Information Officer ( APIO) that is organizing an event for the World Refugee Day . So I was dropped at the Registration Center where I started sketching someone waiting in a bench waiting to get registered, when someone else told me to follow them and I joined the APIO.
APIO was filming the declarations of the man on the right hand side of the drawing. He and his family want to go back to Mali - volunteer repatriation refugees - and are helped through the process.
The older man was feeling uncomfortable by the sun. 

Tinelbarka, tuareg refugee, student 
students and Khadijetou, HCR worker at M'Berra
The interviews keep going on, the turn of a young student who has participated in a few campaigns with UNICEF for awareness. Beautiful smile and she knows my name. I didn't recognize her as I first met her in Nouakchott in 2012 when her and her family first arrived. Musicians and artisans they tried to survive in the city with their work but where forced eventually to come to the camp to be able to survive. Malians refugees outside the camp have no right to aid.
Khadijetou, like most workers at M'Bera and Bassikounou is Mauritanian or from a country of West Africa. Due to security concerns whites are not supposed to stay to long nor to move too much.

Next was a meeting with the responsables of the local populations and the refugees.
Both communities try to work together to resolve the problems rising from a forced cohabitation.
Resource management is vital. Both populations use wood to cook and build shelters.  
Most of them are shepherds and both populations share the same watering places and the same pasture.
New watering places have been built in M'Bera and in Bassikonou taps have been installed, they benefit both populations.

goat and sheep, camel and cow shepherd, from left to right
Looking at the way the camp has been transformed, most of the shelters provided by the HCR have had a fence made up of a desert plant the 'ifernan' (euphorbia balsamifera) and adictionel shelters with the branches of Turja - Calatropis procera, a lot of branches have been cut all around the area of 4 km2 of the camp.
 On the drive back to Bassikounou I get to see all the plants that are growing back but missing their branches, what's really amazing is that the fences made of Ifernan are alive and the tips of the branches are sprouting. 
Not all shelters have this fences around but the ones that have provide a bit of privacy and a definition of space that lacks in the rest of the camp.  Camps are cold and meant to be seen as temporary and semi permanent spaces.
 I can tell most people around me (and I don't mean the refugees) believe that if you make the camps  confortable refugees will never want to go back home...you cannot be more wrong in reasoning.

make shift dry toilette and shower
Having arrived in 2012 fleeing a conflit in the north of Mali people arrived in by hundreds everyday, sometimes reaching the 1500 per day.  Water access and toilettes didn't exist and they where completed a year later. A million makeshift shower/toilet like the one you see in the sketch where done. That makes the ratio of one to be shared by 23 people.

Hama Ag Awayssoune, musician
And another meeting, this time with a musicien that will come to Nouakchott to play in the world refugee day. Discussion of who and how and when.

Abdel Azize Mohamed
A young man joins us, he says he represents the Youth of the Camp.(Others say that he has attributed this role to himself). But he has serious concerns like the lack of activities for young adults that make them fragile and easy to indoctrinate or to be led into easy jobs related to organized crime. 
He also let us know that the nurseries that exist in each schools are on strike but I don't know why.
It was not the point of the meeting with the musicien to approach problems related with education or youth idleness.

view from the headquarters of the HCR in M'Bera
We go to the headquarters of the HCR, there we'll wait for the other teams that work in the camp to join us and we'll return to Bassikounou its around 2 pm, lunch will be awaiting us even if I'm curious to try one of the restaurants existing in the camp, many are barbecues places offer grilled meat with bread cooked in traditionnel ovens. a few offer also rice with meat sauce.

waiting for our gendarmerie escort to arrive
When all the workers arrive we get in the UN cars and go to the gate and await that the patrol that escort us to and from Bassikounou is ready for depart. 
We wait approximately 25 minutes and the we're off in this magnificent landscape of golden sands and Âmûr - acacias nilotica, Talh - acacia tortilis,and Techot - balanites aegyptiaca, speck the landscape.

Bassikounou, mais square
When back to Bassikounou, after eating, I start working in the drawings a bit of color some I managed to start in the camp others I have now the time to add.
Around 5 pm I go to the main square of Basikounou. I met a Malien family of Tuaregs that have a small shop and have been in Bassikounou since 2006, I ask them if I can sit in the front and sketch.
The place is lively the heat is going down and donkey carts, move from one side to the other. People linger and milk sellers sit at ground level with their milk conditioned in plastique bags.

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