Top 10 List for Keeping Spirits Up in Darfur

Yikee Chu, Catholic Relief Services’ operations manager in West Darfur, shares how she keeps her spirits up in a challenging environment.

Darfur is considered a hardship post for many reasons. If you watch the news, then you probably already have a good idea of why life and work can be challenging here. Nevertheless, aid workers have to find ways to adjust to life in Darfur and, most importantly, stay sane. Here are my top tips for doing that.

1. Whether you are located in the Sahara Desert or not, creating a beach day is a must.
The idea is to recreate what you’re nostalgic for – you just have to be creative! We punched holes into different containers, threw them in a bucket of water and then used them to sprinkle ourselves while lying on mats in the unshaded parts of the compound while reading gossip magazines. For a few hours, we forgot we were working in Darfur. We did a beach day simply because several of us missed the beach, but anything is possible.

2. Get addicted to a TV series on DVD.

There is nothing like the instant gratification of being able to watch just one episode of a TV series after a long work day. These shows offer a much-needed window into the outside world and are short enough so that you can still manage to go to bed at a decent hour.

Sudan drilling

Yikee Chu, CRS operations manager in West Darfur, made Valentine’s Day cookies for her colleagues. She believes little acts of kindness help keep spirits high in hardship posts like Darfur. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

3. Make up a ritual.

We all need something to look forward to in each week, otherwise the 10 weeks we work before getting a 10-day break start to blur and run into each other. When this happens, the work and stress starts to feel unending. So, it’s very important for you to something once a week that you look forward to and is fun. Do a regular ‘movie night’ or ‘pizza night.’ Trust me, it helps.
4. Get out of the compound.
Go visit a fellow aid worker in their compound. Have dinner together or even just tea, returning before the curfew. When you work and live with the same people—and you all often end up working at home on your off hours because there’s not much else to do—a change in scenery can be rejuvenating.
5. Celebrate all holidays!

Find a reason to celebrate, be it Christmas, Kwanzaa, Eid or Lunar New Year. You can even make up a reason to celebrate if you have to. Everyone around you will be grateful to celebrate a foreign holiday with you, especially when food is involved!
6. TV can be your friend!
The work will always be there. In fact, it will never end, so it’s you who has to step away and take a short break once in a while for your own sanity. So go ahead and zone out in front of the TV. I’m not advocating for people to turn into couch potatoes, but it’s okay to do it from time to time for a few hours, especially whenever ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ comes on.
7. Give it a rest.
Chances are that most of your days in Darfur are going be pretty tough—that’s why they call this a hardship post. But the last thing anyone needs is to come home to hear more ‘work talk’ about all the problems of the day. Trust me, you won’t get much sympathy because everyone probably had their lion’s share of challenges that same day. So, can we please keep the home life homey? Let’s save the work talk for work.
8. Little acts of kindness go a long way.
Showing little acts of kindness to your fellow colleagues can go a long way. Each one of us is here alone, without our family and friends. If we don’t spoil each other, who will spoil us? It doesn’t have to be anything too big: cook something nice or treat a colleague to a soda pop.

9. Being nice all the time is hard, but please try.

At the 11th hour of an impossibly long day, it’s natural for emails to take on an edgy tone and for people to become a little cranky. Try to remain courteous though and avoid the temptation to lash out via email or verbally. If this isn’t possible, fine. But don’t take it out on others. Go get some alone time. If you’re not fit for human company, then disengage and go cool down. Write that email tomorrow.

10. Pray

I have never found prayer so important as in a post like this where you will inevitably have those moments where you wonder if you’re making a difference or feel like a failure because something didn’t work out the way that you wanted. At the end of the day, all you can do is to try your best to make positive change happen, no matter how many obstacles or curve balls get thrown your way. Say prayers of thanks when things work and prayers for patience when they don’t, but just pray. You’ll feel better, especially when so little is in your control.

These are my tips for staying sane in Darfur. But really, in the end, all you have to do is have faith, keep yourself mentally healthy, and have fun whenever and wherever you can find it. If you do this, everything will be OK.

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One Response to “Top 10 List for Keeping Spirits Up in Darfur”

  1. Anna Leonis Says:

    I can only imagine how hard it is to work for the Catholic Relief Services in Darfur with the current state of affairs in Sudan. Its so upsetting there’s so many atrocities going on in Darfur and too few people know about it! The NY International Film Festival gave its award of Best International Film to Attack on Darfur a few weeks ago. Finally! A movie that puts the audience face to face with reality! Something has to be done, and this movie is a step in the right direction. 

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