Week two in Sudan and I have now seen the capitals of north and south Darfur, but still not been able to get to the camps due to security concerns. That inability to move, and do what I need to, will be the most frustrating thing about this job, I am sure.
I am sitting outside on the concrete floor of the compound of the UNDP guest house of El Fasher, with a hedgehog. Its about 10pm and this gentleman is apparently one of a family of 5 who lives here. I have seen a couple here this evening, and added to the hedgehog I rescued from the bathroom of the medecin du monde guest house during the party in Nyala, I seem to be doing a fair bit of hedgehog spotting. Apart from the hedgehogs there are plenty of other animals – donkeys braying during the night, roosters as a morning call (and this was no duet: we are talking grand orchestra). The next noise was the army singing as they jogged past — songs in Arabic about beautiful women apparently (I think that is the nice euphemism from my Sudanese colleague) and then the children starting school across the road singing the national anthem.
Seen plenty of donkeys, but missed the horses and camels. And until now no glimpses of the dreadlocked janjaweed fighters, just African Union and Sudanese Army troops driving about town.
We left Nyala on Tuesday morning, flying in what I am told is called a caravan (I thought is this was a joke – the latest in chitty chitty bang bang theories? Caravans?). Technical term (?) for a 12 seater little single propeller plane where you sit behind the pilots for the best view and they can throw coke bottles out the window a la gods must be crazy if they want. As we rose above Nyala we did a loop above Kalma IDP camp — huge, 90,000 people is the estimate, and it looks like a city. It is so big, but its made of tents. Leaving green Nyala the scenery quickly became desert with the odd wadi (dry river bed) snaking across the desert floor. Some areas were clearly agricultural plots at some recent time, but not now. It is planting season yet you see no sign of recent activity. The villages, squares of brick fences with round tukul huts, all look deserted. We flew over many of these. Closer to Fasher there were more signs of activity but the absence of activity in what appeared to be the majority of villages on the way was stark. It would seem everyone is too scared to farm so food production limited to the major city surrounds now. What will this mean for the people of Darfur come harvest season?
Al Fasher (we are here for the all Darfur protection working group meeting) used to be the capital of all of Darfur — it is much older than Nyala but also much poorer. The old Sultanate of Darfur was based here and it apparrently has Darfur’s best university. But its much poorer than Nyala. There are a few paved roads, including one near the guest house, only the cars can’t actually drive on it but only on the mud gutters on either side. It is under construction apparently. There is mud everywhere. The wadi has flooded and the stadium is now part of the river. Half of the roads have become enormous mud puddles that the UN four wheel drives plow through happily and we traipse mud into the compounds on our shoes. And still it’s hot, and the rains come loud and noisy daily here it seems, and when they come there are crashes and the electricity goes. Which is fine except the back-up generator here decided to give up the ghost so that was it for fans and lights and email (the server battery died after being starved of electricity for 2 days). Kind of makes working hard, but we just shrugged and headed to the workshop and pray it will be fixed. And then tonight there was electricity again.
Kirsten – I love your stories. And who knew good writing runs in your family? Keep it coming.
These are an excellent idea – it’s good to hear from someone who is actually working at the coal face of human crisis. I admire what you are doing (still think you’re crazy but hey thats not new).
Thank you for posting this. As one who MAY be moving out to Al Fasher to work with an IRC program out there I am glad to read about the mundane and the overwhelming elements of living in Northern Darfur.