A Walk in the Refugee Camp

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This weekend, one court-yard in the center of Central Park has been converted into a refugee camp. The exhibition, presented by the French foreign aid organization Doctors Without Borders, is an effort to show Americans what living in a refugee camp is really like. I took the subway down to 72nd and walked east into the park, following the signs to the exhibition. On the way there my friends and I joked about whether the exhibition would have real refugees inside and watched the weekend tourists roam the park in bicycle carriages.

Story continued after the jump…

On arrival the site appeared much like a street fair but with a more somber crowd. Tents and huts made from typical refugee camp materials were arranged around the fountain in the middle of the court yard, some filled with the typical possessions of refugees and others with the doctors’ supplies. Our helpful guide, a French man with long hair and a tan from his recent stay in Niger, explained the priorities of aid givers – food, water and shelter – and talked about the different diseases and problems that volunteers have to tackle on the job – everything from HIV to latrine-building to dead mule disposal. The camp is realistic, within reason, complete with sandals made out of tires, childrens’ toys littered about, a water reservoir attached to the fountain, a mine field, and the holes in the beds of cholera victims’ tents. Though the day was bright, I felt that familiar tug of sadness for the suffering that is so easy to forget as a cynical student.

Around the tents were posters that read a bit like a choose-your-own-adventures, beginning with things like “You’ve crossed the boarder and are now far from the turmoil of your homeland. But where do you go? What are your rights in this new place? What do you do if your child is sick?” The guide preached passionately about the curability of cholera and spoke earnestly about the unrealistic international standards for acceptable death rates in refugee camps. While talking to us about malnutrition in children, he measured the arm of a little boy in our tour group with a bracelet that indicates level of malnourishment – the boy, of course, was normal. Then he showed us the bracelet cinched in to the size of an adult man’s thumb. “We get a lot of five-year-olds with upper arms like this, but you’ve see that on TV.” Yes, I have, but it’s different to hear a weathered doctor speak of starving children as though they are normal.

The tour ended with the cholera quarantine zone, where volunteers “sprayed” us with disinfectant as we walked through. Cleansed, I surveyed the trees and then the horizon. A somewhat-ironic B-2 Stealth Bomber flew across the sky, and everyone in the tour stopped to watch it, and then went back to their walk through the park.

33 Million People Uprooted By War, a free event of the MSF, will run until tomorrow afternoon at 6:30 PM.

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  1. phenomenal post  

    any pictures by chance?

    also, a b-2 stealth bomber. are you sure it was that. i've lived around this part of new york all my life and have never ever seen one of those. the sight of one of those over manhattan would probably cause me so serious panic.

  2. Anna  

    It was definitely a stealth bomber! I checked pictures on wikipedia went I came back.

    I did not take any pictures while I was there. But the exhibit continues tomorrow and you should check it out!

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