Shattered Sudan | Drilling for Oil, Hoping for Peace, National Geographic: El Kurru Cemetery | Northern Sudan

El Kurru Cemetery | Northern Sudan

Egyptian empire began to decay in 1000BC and in 660BC Kingdom of Kush ruled an empire stretching from central Sudan to the borders of Palestine. This is the Tomb of a ruler, in northern Sudan who controlled Egypt in the 25th dynasty. Rome and Greece were little bitty players at this time. El-Kurru was one of the royal cemeteries used by the Nubian royal family. The area is divided in to three parts by two wadis. The central section seems to be the oldest and contains several tumulus type tombs that predate the Kingdom of Napata.

From my journal:

We spend the night in Kerma—the first city of Nubian culture from 2050BC.  There is this strange old mud brick HUGE fortress that was used to control trade in the middle Nile.  They take my bags into a room full of dust… just the act of walking into this room creates clouds… I decide to sleep outside… I can tell this will be two months of taking bucket baths on mud floors in mud outhouses and sleeping in my bug net on rope beds in courtyards.

I call my sister on the sat phone—my family is all worried about me working in a “terrorist country”—I tell her about camel carcasses—bleached bones all along the 40 day road with waves of camels and shepherds.

We are at a wayside with only the workers here—when we came through here before it was full of people and Kamal said it was not good to photograph because these folks were traveling and didn’t feel settled.  Kamal and I have had quite a few discussions on this trip and I will try to compact them in a non-ethnocentric way.  Kamal hates the IMF.  He says that for Sudan to get IMF loans, they have to meet all sorts of criteria—one of which is to let their currency float—so before floating, 3 dinar equaled 1 dollar, now 263 dinar equals 1 dollar.  Since the average man buys imported goods—tires, cars, books, whatever—everything is more expensive just so the country can qualify for the loans—but then the loans are sucked up by a corrupt government.

Sudanese also have the same feelings toward America as so much of the rest of the world—we are the bully of the planet.  We have the biggest fists, the biggest guns—and they believe we own all the raw materials in their country and we are sucking them dry, leaving all the poor people to just live in the dust.

You can see how this happens… the media here is really slap dash and has an anti American/west bias… then this news gets passed thru the countryside as if they were using tin cans with string.  But we have the same slant to our news—Saddam Hussein always looks like Hitler in our papers.  But in Sudan and Pakistan there he is in the papers beaming as he opens new schools and hospitals.

We spend the night with our driver Adile’s family.  This is a very sweet, animated family.  His brother has two wives under one roof and they all live in an extended family compound.  This is the first time in Sudan that I’ve been allowed to photograph women.

I feel silly at times for having two cars and five people to ferry just me around, but when I tell one of the drivers to take the cook and head on back so I don’t have to pay for another day he refuses saying it is too dangerous.  This driver has been doing this for a long time so I feel better about being safe and don’t worry about the money.  These drivers don’t drive at night because they like to use the sun to navigate.

So Adile’s brother invites me to his daughter’s wedding.  This is a long drive for a wedding, but he tells me this is one of the last places where they still practice the old traditions—the most interesting is at the groom’s party, they work themselves into a frenzy and then start whipping each other until only one man is standing—that man is the only real man of the group.  I decide to make the trip back.

So we head back to Khartoum—7 hours in two cars, leaving plumes of dust behind as we fly across open desert.

I talk to the fixer and Mahdi about getting into “the camps” – the refugee ring around Khartoum that is the largest in the world.

There is a story in this months foreign affairs called “The Perfect War” and the author talks about how southerners are moved out of the oil fields, forced into garrison towns and eventually end up in this refugee ring.  The government then abducts kids to train as soldiers and they are sent to fight their own brothers in the south.  Northerners are oblivious to this war because southerners (mostly civilians) are the only ones affected.

The next night at Mahdi’s house, he has gathered all the players we need to see—the head of antiquities and museums, head of security, an assembly woman in charge of “peace,” a guy they’ve hired to generate propaganda and a few other journalists.  I get stuck with the propaganda guy for a while—if I give him a sound byte from the western world (“bombing aid workers” etc.) he immediately launches into exactly the opposite of the worldview—he does this time after time and finally I say, “no matter what I say, you will say the opposite.”

“No I won’t,” he says.

Mahdi’s house has elaborate furnishings and huge swashes of red velvet curtains—the main rooms are so big that there is plenty of seating for a bank of women on one side and men on the other.

Mahdi is a real mystery–a hardliner—my fixer says when the names of the hijackers came out for the 911 attack that Mahdi knew two of them and called their families and said the FBI had the names wrong… turns out the FBI did screw up the initial id’s… but just the fact that Mahdi has those kind of connections is interesting… everything in this government is done personally… one on one… so for Osama Bin Laden to build the best road in the country and the Port Sudan airport means that he had strong connections with the government.  The government paid for him to build the road in two ways: allowing him to collect tolls after it was finished and by allocating a large plot in the Gazera (irrigated scheme between the two Niles) for sharecropping.

Mahdi is very gracious and it seems we will at least get to start this project.

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