Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back Home

My final week in the Sudan flew by. I conducted another three-day training with the Community Development Association, a Darfur-based organization that is well-networked into the Darfurian community in Khartoum. Several Darfurian activists and Members of Parliament attended the training. All in all it was quite a successful training. In addition, I was fitting in last meetings, finishing all of my work at Salmmah, and saying goodbye to friends. I left with a list of several remaining topics to be researched, a handful of meetings I didn’t have time to schedule, and feeling like an additional two weeks would have enabled me to accomplish everything. But in reality, whenever I left the Sudan, be it earlier this week or next month, I would have felt that an additional two weeks would have been a sufficient amount of time to complete everything. I think this is all a part of the process of leaving a place as rich and complex as the Sudan.

I arrived back in the States earlier this week following a long, eventful 33 hour trip home. The young woman sitting next to me on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda who was being sent home for medical treatment for an unidentified stomach bug. It was obvious between her frequent trips to the bathroom and the fact that she had not kept food down or in for several days that she was very ill. About two-thirds of the way through the flight, she began seizing, and we had to call a doctor for help. Three doctors offered assistance, and they inserted an IV immediately. Initially, they thought we would have to divert to Canada for her to get treatment, but fortunately, the doctors stabilized her and the flight landed as scheduled. The last time I saw her, an emergency team was wheeling her away from the gate to a Detroit hospital. Hopefully they were able to get her the treatment she needed.

I’ve begun to reflect more upon my summer experience, listing my “highlights” and “lowlights”, as we used to say on backpacking trips. I firmly believe that much of what one takes away from experiences such as these isn’t fully realized for some time, so what follows is a preliminary list.

This summer was incredibly fulfilling for me personally. It reaffirmed my love for Africa and my interest in doing further research and work there. It also reminded me of how much I enjoy instructing, designing a curriculum, and doing research. Additionally, it felt great to be back in the field and challenging myself culturally, physically, and intellectually after a very draining and difficult experience with evasive abdominal surgery in the spring. My “lowlights” included being ill several times and finding myself frustrated beyond words and lacking any patience at times with “the Sudanese way” of doing things.

Sudan is a challenging place. I used to think that Haiti was the most challenging place I had ever visited due to the lack of infrastructure, economic and national security, and severe poverty, that when combined, prevent any sustainable economic development. However, the ongoing conflicts, government manipulation and corruption, and poverty of the Sudan make this country without a doubt the most challenging country I’ve ever visited and tried to understand.

The GoS has mastered the art of creating civil conflict in order to avoid investing in and sharing resources with any part of the country outside of Khartoum. They arm militias and tribes to fight against each other in every region of the country. Our eyes and ears are currently attuned to Darfur, however, the Janjaweed and are only one of hundreds of examples of how the Sudanese government has manipulated and fueled conflict within its own borders.

My time in Sudan made me very critical of the many U.S. based advocacy organizations with tunnel vision on Darfur. Darfur is only one piece of a much larger pie, and without ensuring the complete implementation of the CPA, peace will never be sustained in Sudan or the entire region. U.S. foreign policy never addresses the south or the east, as if once a peace agreement is signed, the job is done. Did you know that there was a conflict in East Sudan, for which the East Sudan Peace Agreement was signed in October 2006? Or that the Eastern agreement has barely been implemented? Or that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 is dangerously close to falling apart? I welcome one of our umpteen Presidential candidates to articulate how they plan to pursue a peace agenda in Darfur which includes a plan for maintaining and implementing the fragile peace that exists in the rest of the country.

One thing is very clear to me: Sudan’s greatest asset is its people. I have never worked with more generous, open, and resilient people in my life. Friends and colleagues in the north and in the south welcomed me with open arms, women and men whom I interviewed were very candid and trusting in their responses, and I found people in general to be extremely helpful. These people and this set of qualities represents the majority in the Sudan, which is why I did not leave the country feeling completely overwhelmed by the enormity of its problems. I am confident that one day, a truly comprehensive, sustainable peace will be found in this country. It’s a matter of time and timing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Juba Raha

As travel would have it in the Sudan, heavy rains and a haboub cancelled flights from Juba back to Khartoum for two days, delaying my return to the north. While it is frustrating to make multiple trips to the airport, only to find out that the flights were cancelled, I must admit that I enjoyed my extra time in Juba.

The training with the SuWEP south women went incredibly well. In the end, we had 12 participants and we fit the three day training into two days, eight hours each day. Since English is the language of the GOSS, all of the participants were fluent in English making translation unnecessary and speeding up the pace of the workshop. All of the women were very satisfied and complementary of the training, and they expressed their gratitude for the time I put into the training. Below is a picture of the women with their certificates upon completion of the training.

I filled my extra time in Juba with meetings. I met with some women Parliamentarians in the GOSS, a local women’s organization, and attended the first National Prayer Breakfast for the GOSS. President Salva Kiir, Vice President Riek Machar, Rebecca Garang (wife of John Garang) and many other impressive leaders from the south were all in attendance. I enjoyed listening to the prayers and speeches given by these prominent figures about good governance and their hopes and promises for a New Sudan. I found it ironic however, that a government so committed to being “secular” would host a prayer breakfast which was about 95% Christian, 5% Muslim.

My last night in Juba I went with some friends to the Village, one of a handful of western style restaurants in Juba, for pizza, and from there we went to listen to local reggae bands play at Juba Raha, the Ugandan campground where all of the LRA peace negotiations have taken place. When there are no peace talks going on at the camp, the bar and outdoor space serves as a local party spot. We listened to some pretty interesting reggae and East African music with a strong Ugandan influence. We left the Raha slightly after 11:15 PM, giving us enough time to get back to camp before the midnight curfew. Because of the plethora of small arms held by all of the current and former SPLA in Juba, one must be careful about driving home late at night and running into drunken brawls which have been known to turn deadly on occasion. Thankfully, we made it back to camp without a problem, and just in time for a few hours of sleep before driving back out to the airport to fly back to Khartoum.

Commercial airlines in Sudan are an experience in themselves. There are no seat assignments, no boarding procedures, except to push forward as hard as you can and cram yourself into the line to board the plane, and flights rarely take off on time. Since two days of flights were cancelled from Juba to Khartoum, Marsland Airlines brought in an extra plane and flew three days worth of passengers back north on two aircraft. The beauty of this process was that no one knew which plane they were supposed to be on and luggage was randomly loaded into either plane. We waited three hours to board while the airline tried to make some sense of how they were getting all of the passengers and their luggage onto the planes. I was fortunate, or so I thought, to be pushed, literally, onto the first plane until I realized that my luggage was loaded on the second plane which departed a full hour and a half after the first one. So after landing in Khartoum, I waited in baggage claim for an additional two hours for my bags. I don’t think I will ever complain about airport travel in the U.S. again!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Feeling at home in Juba

The Government of Sudan makes it virtually impossible for foreigners to stay in Sudan and to travel within the country. My last ten days have been dominated by paperwork, permissions, and visits to various organizations and government Ministries in order to renew my permit to stay here and receive clearance to travel to Juba to run another training. Unbeknownst to me, visitors must renew their permits on a monthly basis, even with a three month visa. After securing a renewal letter from Ahfad (on university letterhead with an official stamp), Abdul Asim’s friend took my passport, photos, and forms to the Ministry to renew my permit. Four days later, two days of which someone waited at the Ministry all day on my behalf, I received my passport back with my permit. And this is not even the half of all the running around, gathering of letters, and scheduling and rescheduling that took place for me to get to Juba. I was about ready to pull my hair out in frustration the whole process was so irritating.

But alas, I am here in Juba now, sitting right along the Nile and watching the sun set. I feel so much more at home here in the capital of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), perhaps because most of the people speak English, or most are Christian, or maybe it’s that the lush green landscape and people remind me very much of Kenya and of the Africa that is familiar to me. Regardless, I can already tell that I am going to feel much more comfortable here than I do in the north.

Decades of war destroyed the infrastructure of southern Sudan. Communication here is incredibly difficult – most people have two cell phones: one on the Ugandan network and the other on a Sudanese network. When attempting to make a call, you often must try five or six times before your phone actually connects to a network. The phone Sharaf lent me, which is on a Sudanese network, only works about 25% of the time. Electricity is at a minimum and everything runs off generators. Transport requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle and skilled driver, as the roads are a sea of deep potholes and ditches. There is no public transport, at least that I’ve been able to identify.

Most aid agencies have their staff live and work out of their office (UNDP, UNMIS, UNICEF, etc.). Other organizations rent tents and containers in one of a handful of camps set up for visitors. These camps are making quite a profit off of the humanitarian and international organizations. A tent is $160/night, and a container is $220/night. With vehicle rental costing about $150/day, organizations are easily spending $325/day to have their staff stay in Juba. The prices for everything here are exorbitant.

I spent most of my day today with Beatrice, the Coordinator for SuWEP South, running from office to office recruiting women to come to the workshop tomorrow. With the phones being so bad, the best way to meet with people or schedule appointments is to go directly to their office. We met with several of the women who are Members of Parliament in the GOSS, and several who are working in various Ministries or government funded peace and relief organizations. Since the legislature is still in session, many of these women will not be able to attend the training, so who knows how many women will actually show up tomorrow morning for the training. At the end of the day, we walked into Vice President Riek Machar’s office and scheduled an appointment for Thursday afternoon. A friend from Khartoum wrote a letter on my behalf asking for a meeting with the VP. I’m looking forward to meeting the man who split the SPLA and asking for his thoughts about the current and future political situation of Southern Sudan. It is quite amazing how easily one can meet with officials in the government down here.

But for now, it’s great to be relaxing by the mother of all rivers after a very long day of travel and running around (flights from Khartoum to Juba leave at 7:00 AM so I was at the airport by 5:00). I can tell I’m really going to enjoy being here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ancient Cities and Pyramids

On Saturday, we rented a car and paid a driver to drive us up to Meroe and Musawwarat es Sufra, ancient Meroitic sites dating back to about 500 BC to 500 AD when Meroe became the capital of the Kushite Kingdom. Meroe, which is approximately 4 hours north of Khartoum, is the site of the Royal City and Royal cemetery, or pyramids.

We went first to the pyramids. We rode camels up to the base of the pyramids and spent an hour walking around and exploring. Originally, there were 57 pyramids in the cemetery, but hundreds of years of sand and wind and robbers seeking treasures have decapitated and destroyed most of ruins. Most of the gold found in these pyramids eventually found it’s way to Egyptian museums in Berlin and Munich.

From the pyramids, we drove over to the Royal City where the park attendant took us on a tour of the remains of the royal palace, Amun Temple, and baths. The baths, which clearly have a Roman influence, are the best preserved of the ruins here, though you can still make out the columns and alter of the temple fairly well.

After visiting Meroe, we headed back south and then drove straight east across the desert to Musawwarat es Sufra, site of the largest Merotic remains in the Sudan, and in my opinion, the most impressive. These sites can only be reached if you have an experienced driver or GPS, as we drove approximately 45 km across the desert to reach these ruins. The large complex of remains at Musawwarat is called the “Great Enclosure.” At the center of the sprawling compound is a large temple. All of the walls and columns are covered in elephants, Egyptian carvings and hieroglyphics. It is unclear how this site was used; some hypothesize that it was a training ground for war and a place where prisoners were housed, while others surmise that it was a pilgrimage site dedicated to the God Apedemak.

To the east of the Great Enclosure stands the Lion temple, which is clearly dedicated to Apedemak. The temple was built around 230 BC, and reconstructed in 1969 by German archaeologists. The carvings and columns inside the temple were particularly impressive.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nuba Wrestling

I’ve quite enjoyed this week; nothing especially new or exciting to write about in terms of my work and research, as both are progressing quite well.

I’m reading Emma’s War again. For those of you who are interested in learning more about the history of the war between the north and the south in the Sudan, this is an excellent read. Emma McCune was a British aid worker who married Riek Machar, one of the SPLA commanders in the Blue Nile region of the Sudan. Riek Machar was one of three commanders who launched a coup against John Garang, the leader of the SPLA, in 1991 and split the southern rebel movement for several years. John Garang often referred to this attempted coup and war amongst the SPLA factions as Emma’s War, and thought Emma was a spy sent to break apart the SPLA. I love the way the author, Deborah Scroggins, paints the history and circumstances of the conflict through both Emma’s story and her own experience as a journalist in the south. Now that I am more familiar with the wars, tribes, and geography of Sudan, I’m finding the book even more informative the second time around.

On Friday afternoon, a contingent of Harvard-Fletcher folks ventured to North Khartoum to watch a Nuba wrestling match. For the tribes who live in the Nuba Mountains in the south, these wrestling matches are held to uphold the honor of the village. Nuba wrestlers spend two weeks before a match preparing – eating, exercising, and greasing their bodies with oil, as they wrestle half-naked or wearing a few animal skins. If a wrestler loses a match on more than one occasion he risks being thrown out of the tribe, so the stakes are high. Here in Khartoum, the teams are organized by municipality and the wrestlers wear soccer uniforms in accordance with the local Islamic custom.

The match was a fascinating combination of wrestling and negotiation. A wrestler from one team came to the middle of the circle and the opposing team sent a group of three wrestlers to negotiate which wrestler from their team would participate. After negotiating, the three wrestlers return to their team to select a teammate to fight. This teammate then walks to the middle of the circle to meet his opponent; if he does not want to fight the man, he can return to his team and demand that another wrestler be chosen. We saw this same pattern of negotiation occur three times with one of the wrestlers the red team put forward to wrestle. As it turns out, this particular wrestler had a reputation for being a “killer”, meaning that he seriously injured or killed another wrestler in a previous match by breaking his neck or back. No wonder no one wanted to wrestle him! After the wrestlers have agreed to wrestle, the two lock arms and begin the process of trying to lift the opponent’s feet off the ground or knock him to the ground completely.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Haboubs and brown rain

The coming of the rainy season here in the Sudan is a mixed blessing. For us khawajas, the 5-10 degree drop in the temperature is a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat. However, for the majority of Sudanese people, the downpours and haboubs (dust clouds) that precede them bring flooding and difficult times. Interestingly, even the rain here is brown with dust and sand.

In Khartoum the sand and dust, leaking roofs, and huge puddles in the streets are mostly just a nuisance. The sewer system in my apartment began overflowing with the rains; definitely not a pleasant predicament in which to find oneself. Luckily, my one month of rent was about finished and my friend Michelle’s roommates were taking off for 4 weeks of R&R in Europe, so a room was available in her apartment. So, I packed up my things and switched apartments … and what a difference in quality of life the move is already making.

My new apartment is on the ninth floor of a large apartment building overlooking a mosque on one side and the city of Khartoum on the other. The picture below is of a haboub moving in over the city right before a rain storm. As you can see, we have a great view off our deck. Additionally, we have comfy furniture, a fully equipped kitchen, and a satellite TV, and a wonderful, young woman named Rose comes a couple times a week to clean and do laundry. It could not be more opposite from the open-air Sudanese apartment in which I was previously living.

And while I’m sitting on the couch watching Oprah and Alias on TV at night (the people here LOVE Oprah – everyone talks about her show and I feel the need to watch in order to be in the know), thousands of other people’s lives across the Sudan are being devastated by the floods. Everyday there is new story in the newspaper about flooded villages and people who are moving because they have lost their homes and crops. Here in Khartoum, the Nile has overflowed its banks, displacing all the squatters along the river who have small plots of crops. This migration of people also brings increased conflict between tribes as nomads move their livestock across or settle upon agriculturalists’ lands. Cholera season has begun, and the mosquitoes are out with a vengeance. It is a devastating time for many people here in the Sudan, which makes me feel especially guilty about the pleasure and comfort I have found in my new apartment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Concluding the first workshop

Today, I completed the fourth and final day of training for the SuWEP women in Khartoum on elections, fundraising, and advocacy. I have mixed feelings: relieved to no longer have the stress of preparing and designing the sessions, accomplished in that I can actually point to something that I was able to create and contribute towards the women’s movement here, and humbled by the gratitude I received from the participants in the training.

At the conclusion of the last session, we handed out workshop certificates to all of the participants. Rawda put the certificate content together and Ayman professionally designed them. Logos for Salmmah, SuWEP, and Harvard are at the top of the certificate which acknowledges each woman’s participation in the trainings, and Fahima, Rawda, and I each signed at the bottom. You would not believe how excited the women were to receive their certificates. We even did a rating system where women received a 1 for attending all the sessions, a 2 if they missed one session, and a 3 if they missed two or more sessions. It was made clear to me that we must distinguish between those with perfect attendance and those who missed some sessions.

A reporter for the El Maidan newspaper attended the training and will be writing an article about it. She is interested in writing about women peace builders taking a role in advocacy campaigns and the upcoming elections. I am doing an interview with her on Sunday, and she will be publishing an article (in Arabic, of course) the following week. I’ll be sure to let you know how it turns out after I’m able to have my colleagues translate it for me.