Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sharing milk with Tuareg refugees

Posted by Francoise Kabore, Plan Burkina Faso Communications Manager

Tuareg men in Mentao camp for Malian refugees
Over the past weeks when I have travelled to the Mentao refugee camp, I have had the chance to talk with Tuareg refugees. In our conversations, the topic will go from their current situation in the camps, to the violence back home in Mali, their families, their herds and then to food.

When it comes to food, you will not finish the discussion without hearing the following words: meat, milk, tea, and butter.

These refugees, who have almost nothing, will always offer you tea. A small glass of very sweet, hot, mint tea. You watch them, women and men alike, drinking the tea.

Some hold it straight at the center of their mouth, others in the corner to take a noisy sip - letting all know it is really sweet. Even if you are not thirsty, your mouth will water and you will want to taste its sweetness for yourself.

Milk rations
It is milk, however, that is missed the most. Recently, during a conversation with young girls and women, they spoke at length about adding milk to the rations provided in the camp. Their words moved me. I remembered I had a 25ml bottle of milk in our car, which I had brought along for my own breakfast. I took it out and gave it to Aicha, a woman of 50, for her 2 year old granddaughter. Her actions surprised me.

Precious drops
She immediately opened the bottle, attracting at the same time another 5 children around her. She carefully poured a few drops into the bottle cap for each child to take a sip.

Another mother came with a cup. Aicha again carefully poured a few drops into the cup and the mother gave it to another child.

When we went in the tent, the tiny bit left in this 25ml bottle was shared between 3 other children. Not a drop was wasted. It seemed the milk was more precious than gold.

Surviving in the camps is difficult enough, keeping your culture alive and passing it on to the next generation might be impossible.

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