The hut of thatch walls was as rickety and windblown as any other in Zamzam Camp for refugees on the sand dunes of western Sudan, but dozens of men and boys squeezed inside to watch the TV broadcasts of the World Cup.
“It’s so … different,” said 11-year-old Abdelazziz Adam, pointing to the lush green grass of a German soccer stadium.
Many in the hut were too poor to pay the admission fee, and the refugees with a different view of the May 5 peace accord watched the match from a separate cinema-hut.
“I’ve come every afternoon since the cup began,” said Adam, turning his back on the open door that let in gusts of sand.
His eyes fixated on the screen, Adam clung to his shoe-polisher’s box.
Adam said he polished shoes every morning to pay for his ticket to the hut. At 50 Sudanese dinars (about 17c), the sum is a fortune for Darfur’s refugees. Most are farmers who have lost all their possessions in the militia raids that have plagued this vast, arid region since the fighting began in February 2003.
“The ticket is costing me more than half the money I earned this morning,” Adam said. He said he attended school, but he was evasive when asked how he fitted it in. He claimed he was currently on holiday.
Adam said he could not remember how long he had been at Zamzam, a camp where some 40,000 people take refuge from the Janjaweed militia, who are blamed for most of the atrocities in a war that has killed more than 180,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.
“We left my village after the Janjaweed attacked and killed my uncle,” Adam said. His mother died of sickness shortly after the family arrived at Zamzam.
The hut’s manager, Elfateh Ishat, said he bought the satellite dish and TV sets a few months ago with about €1,755 that he saved while working as a paramedic for an aid agency.
He began to recoup his money only when the World Cup started last week, drawing more than 100 people a day to his hut.
“The problem is that they’ve got no money, so I have to let many of them in for free,” Ishat said.
“They give me what they can in return,” he said, slapping hands with members of the audience in an African gesture of friendship.
Dressed in white gowns with a dagger on their left side, most of the spectators hailed from the Fur tribe – Darfur means “land of the Fur”.
Ishat said his customers used to include members of the camp’s other important tribe, Zaghawa, but that relations had soured since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement on May 5.
While the leader of the main Darfur rebel group, Minni Minnawi, a Zaghawa signed the accord with the Sudanese government, the dissident rebel leader Abdelwahid Elnur, a Fur, refused.
Zamzam camp consists mostly of Elnur supporters but it stands close to Minnawi’s bases. Inside the camp, discussion of the peace agreement has become a taboo.
Ishat said the Zaghawas had created their own venue to watch the game, “but I heard it’s much less nice and smaller”.
Wearing the purple jersey of Nigeria’s World Cup team, spectator Assadis Abdallah said most people in Zamzam wanted South Africa to win the tournament as it was the African side with the best chance. “We all love football here,” he said.
Most refugees cannot leave the camp for fear of the militia that roam the area, killing men and raping women, Abdallah said.
“There’s not much else to do here anyway than watch the soccer,” he said, sitting in the hut among an entirely male audience.
Outside the hut, 11-year-old Asma Adham said she and the girls around her would not mind watching a World Cup game, but they had neither the money nor the time.
“There’s water to fetch, firewood to collect, and the children to look after,” said Adham, who was taking care of her one-year-old sister.
“Soccer is just for boys,” she said.