Shattered Sudan | Drilling for Oil, Hoping for Peace, National Geographic: Dinka Oil Workers With Scarification | Oil Fields, Southern Sudan

Dinka Oil Workers With Scarification | Oil Fields, Southern Sudan

Dinka Oil Workers With Scarification | Oil Fields, Southern Sudan

Oil is the new currency in Sudan… not enough to be a world power, but enough to get some respect.

With huge IMF debt overhangs, Northern Sudan has to continue exploration and acquisition of oil in rebel territory to pay down the debt.

This platform is part of that exploration… Rig 15 can be put up in 24 hours.  It is 50 semi trailers of stuff—they’ve been drilling for five days and have four more to go in this spot.  Then they pack the whole platform and move again.

From my journal:

We’ve arranged to fly back by cargo plane.  It’s supposed to leave at 10 or 11 but this is an Aleutian and it takes longer to load—truck after truck of military supplies come off this thing.  They let us on and I think we will take off, but they just keep loading the plane.  They pull a big lift truck into the middle of the plane and then start stuffing things under and around it—furniture, luggage etc.  I am wondering how well these teenagers are taught load management and whether the truck will plow thru the front cabin on takeoff.  We have the only 3 good seats on the plane—they have worn red material and broken spines and are jammed backwards against the instruments that open and close the cargo doors—any bump and your head will go up into the hard edges of the instrument panels.  The army finishes loading and are sweating and squirming around in front, at our feet, trying to get comfortable.  When the plane takes off the hull twists and cracks and snaps and lurches.  One of the soldiers has his wife and young girls—the youngest is completely terrified—she’s never flown before.

It’s still about a hundred degrees in the plane and pressurization is slow in this huge open area—so this is what dogs feel like in cargo holds.  My head is starting to feel light.  I lean back, close my eyes and need to go somewhere safe. 

The navigator invites us up and we sit over the bottom of the Soviet nose cone that is completely made of a floor of glass panels.  I figure this will be my one and only view of the swamps of the Sud.  These dusty villages look so bleak from the air.  The washes off the Amazon form fractal like patterns.

They allow us to land while I am still sitting on the glass floor of the nose cone of this Antonov.  The navigator holds his hands on my shoulder as we touch down—I guess you just need that little added bit of safety when you’re landing with no seat belt sitting on a glass window in an ancient Russian cargo plane.

Abubaker has arranged for our charter pilot to meet us and take us to look at the plane I’ll use for aerials.  The plane looks great and we try to leave the airport, but are ushered into a security office.  Someone on the plane has accused me of taking photos out the window on the trip.  Once we figure out what’s going on, we respond vehemently that we did not… this could end badly… aerials without permission can send you to jail.  I have all my hard fought film from Juba in a case at my feet.  There are about eight people in this sweaty little room talking fast and one of them is on the phone with the head of airport security.  Kamal is arguing for us and showing them still photos on Cherri’s digital camera and explaining our trip is sponsored by the Minister of Information.  I’m thinking I need to get my shot film the fuck out of this country.

It turns out the accuser was in the room saying he saw me take photos out the window. When we threaten to call some powerful ministers he backs down—maybe he didn’t see me actually holding a camera-he says.  After they let us go, I figure out that this whole problem is because I took my fanny pack with me when we went to the nosecone.  I took it because it had a lot of money and I didn’t want anyone screwing around with it.  My accuser just assumed I was taking photos even though I never had a camera out of the case the whole trip.

This is how unprotected people end up in jail or worse—just on the suspicions of some security asshole who doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.

We have a room at the Acropole for an hour—switch out film and clothes and shower.  We drive into the night to be at a camp near the Meroitic Kingdom.  We are driving on the best road in Sudan, built by Osama Bin Laden.

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