Nyala, where I am, is a great town. The commercial capital of Darfur and a thriving metropolis in Darfur terms. It has a couple of sets of traffic lights, some bitumen roads, and about 3 restaurants. The streets aren’t packed but there are 3 wheel tuk tuks, little yellow cabs, Utes (pick ups for the non Aussies) and UN /NGO 4wds everywhere. There is a market… stalls of wilted vegetables, plenty of oranges and grapefruit, dodging ditches of muddy water, lots shoes for sale on tarps and bright cloth and spices and orange lentils and sundried tomatoes and okra laid out on more tarps to dry in the sun. Piles of huge watermelons and platters of oil with taameya (falafel) bubbling away. Many of the sellers are women with bright cloth wrapped around them and half-heartedly draped over their heads. There is even an open air cinema here — Arabic films only — and plenty of shops and a bus station and an airport. Around the corner from our guest house is some kind of function centre — some days lots of men sitting outside watching football or something on TV, other times wedding parties, complete with reggae bands and people dancing and yelling.
Nyala is also surprisingly green! So much for being in the desert! It’s actually rainy season here, meaning it pours down at least once every 3 days, and the thunder bellows and shakes the house, rain slams in through every crack and it’s a great show before it comes with huge sky scapes of bright sheet and fork lightening. After the rain the wadis (dry creek beds) fill with water, everything goes green and the roads (largely dirt) turn to bogs. We need the 4wds and access to camps can be tricky. 15 kms takes a good 45 minutes to navigate. There are even frangipani trees and palm trees.
So many things are different and weird to get used to. We (UN) have a curfew at 10pm and the NGOs curfew is 11 — much later than in other cities. We have radio check each evening (I never knew my foxtrot charlie delta indigo stuff before now) and you have to remember to carry your heavy clunky radio with you everywhere. And in theory have it on. As for phones, the mobile phone network is temperamental at best. So email and skype it is!
Electricity is up and down and the back up generator gets regular use. We live in a “guest house” like most UN agencies and NGOs, which effectively means its rented by the organization and we have a per night rate. It has 3 bedrooms and a living space above the office with the usual high walls, barbed wire, sleepy smiling security guard or two, the tattered UN flag, and a couple of land cruisers. The kitchen is downstairs in another small building and a lovely smiling Sudanese woman comes and cooks us Fatoor (breakfast) each day at about 11am consisting of beans, eggplant, bread, chilli, and omelet, so the office eats together during the week.
Getting from Khartoum to the field, and between places, we go on the World Food Program (WFP) planes (the airline is called UNHAS — UN Humanitarian Air Services). There are also UNMIS flights (but unless you are UNMIS staff, your priority is wait-listed after the baggage). There are also AMIS (African Mission in Sudan) helicopters to remote places but I understand they are low on fuel so not flying so much. The down side of these flights is the limit: basically a day pack… and when you have computers and radios it doesn’t leave much to live in until the rest of your luggage arrives by cargo.
As for getting around here — big white UN 4wds, some with snorkels and roof racks, large radio antennae and often covered in mud. There is one blue car with UN painted on in orange. The story (and I have no idea if this is true) is that it came from Iraq. Apparently all the militia had got themselves white land cruisers. So the UN were told they had 24 hours to paint all their cars blue because the next day anything white would be fair game. So we have a blue and orange land cruiser floating around.
It’s hard to realize at times that there is a conflict here — life in town is pretty easy, especially for the aid workers. Although I have seen plenty of trucks of armed men driving through town. Some in uniform, many not. I am gradually learning who these groups are. Sometimes we see men with camels in town and as you drive out of town many more camel herders, and herds of cattle too. What we do see is the frustrations of the work here, some things which should be easy somehow take on a political dimension and become impossible.
Outside of the town are the camps of persons displaced by conflict. 90, 000 or more in the one I visit most regularly. And these people all have their stories and fears. But I know that elsewhere, in the north of Darfur and in the south of this state, it is more tense.. just watch the news, the numbers of military growing, especially north of El Fasher. And here I wonder how long till we too see these changes?