Abraham Kenfa prays for his four children every night. He prays that they will get enough food and water to survive in this bone-dry desert that is so different from the green fields of home in Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia. He prays that his infant daughters will live.
The twins, born premature and underweight, mew softly. The farmer’s dark-brown eyes hardly wavered from their tiny faces. He followed their delicate hands as they fluttered about in mid-air.
The refugee camp doctor diagnosed his girls with weak immune systems, leaving them susceptible to bacterial infections. In this place, where there is no food and clean water, they’re vulnerable.
Abraham, 45, recalled how his wife died during childbirth as they fled from soldiers who invaded their village with guns and machetes, killing every man and boy in sight. While they hid in the cornfields, a few days later, his wife went into early labor and bled to death.
“It should have been me,” he says. “I should have been the one to die, not her. She’s a mother.”
Now a single father of four, Abraham buried his wife and other Ethiopians during his journey to Sudan. He dug graves for people he knew – neighbors and friends — and many others he didn’t know. There was a pregnant woman who died next to her husband. There was the small boy and his grandmother. The sight of the dead children was the hardest for the farmer.
There were teenagers and young children, many the same age as his youngest boy, Mickey. The soldiers had gone door to door, dragging people out of their homes. He had heard stories about the same thing happening in other villages, but he couldn’t be sure whether they were true. He and his wife were simple people, more concerned about their crops and tomorrow’s rainfall. That no longer matters.
“I’ve never seen so many people dead, killed by the soldiers,” Abraham says, “and for what?”
His family escaped by the “grace of God.” He carried his daughters, one on each arm. His oldest son, Daniel, walked beside him while Mickey sat on his shoulders. After two weeks of crossing the desert, his family arrived at the refugee camp, joining more than 60,000 thousand others fleeing the conflict in his homeland. He felt both hope and distress, eyeing the other refugees – all like him – who were uncertain about what tomorrow will bring.
Then his children’s soft cries cut through the misery, and he prayed some more.