Shattered Sudan | Drilling for Oil, Hoping for Peace, National Geographic: Migrant Workers Return for Wedding | North Sudan

Migrant Workers Return for Wedding | North Sudan

Villagers in the far north of Sudan greet each other before a family wedding. These men rarely see each other. There is no work for them in their villages and most of them work in neighboring countries.  Sudan is a difficult place to live if you a not a member of the elite few in Khartoum.

From my journal:

We pound our way back to Nyala—conditions are still bad for aerials.  We’ve generally just camped in people’s courtyards, but this is the first time in a small town local hotel.  There’s a TV at the front desk that radios whatever channel they are watching into the rooms.  It is almost always tuned to the Aljazeera network. Right now they are doing a biography piece on Arafat.  The early photos of his life they are showing look like they’ve been trampled after coming out of a copy machine that is low on toner.  There is early footage of him marching in youth Palestinian group and they try to highlight him with a lighter circle, but most of the footage he is outside the frame.  There is a lot of footage of burning Israeli flags and a rock video that alternates between four black guys with headphones in front of a mixing board and atrocities in Palestine.  Footage of the dead and wounded kicking and screaming—crying and getting gassed.  Clinton and Bush and Sharon are on the screen quite a bit as well, but not as much as Arafat and Quadafi.  Al Jazeera is way hipper than all the Arab TV I’ve seen.  They have mostly women reporters. 

Now they are changing channels at the front desk, which changes all the TV’s in the rooms, so my TV changes to a more typical Arab TV—hours and hours of some ugly guy in a turban blathering on in Arabic.  There’s a commercial for Dettol—some kind of germicide cleaner… the footage shows a kid urinating and missing the bowl… meanwhile a woman outside my door is sweeping dust an inch high that accumulated in only one day.  She is using a fistful of tall grass as a broom.  I don’t expect a towel or anything here, but the shower doesn’t work and the squat toilet doesn’t flush.  So the toilet is full of the feces of the last occupant.  I’m used to taking showers with handfuls of water from sinks.  I get almost all of my hair cut off before trips like this. 

The power is off more than it is on here.  The floor is a coating of chipped and torn vinyl over tile that has cracked and shifted over the years.  the bathroom door is meant to be locked in the closed position and there is a clanging exhaust fan but that doesn’t keep the cockroaches from coming under the door.  When the fan is off in power outages the bathroom smell wafts back into the room.  There are two completely worn out toothbrushes and a huge bar of soap on the sink.  There’s an un-emptied wastebasket by the one piece of furniture in the room.  This piece of furniture has a small cabinet at the bottom and a huge backboard with four misshapen hooks and a folded prayer rug tossed across the top.   The hooks must be for a towel and an extra jalabia—pretty bleak. 

This is a place you can stay only after adapting to the third world for a while.  I can just now eat at the “best” restaurants—places where bread is slapped down on wet tables by grimy hands.  If you don’t eat all the bread, it’s picked back up for the next customer.  Bread is dipped in fool—basically pasty beans or beans and meat that is served in these aluminum pans with more dings than you would think possible.  The pans are washed in grey water.  Everyone slops their bread in the same pan and makes contented smacking noises.  Fingers and hands get covered in the goo and when you are done eating you leave immediately and abruptly to wash your hands.  It took me a while to learn to do this… I would sit at a table after eating and they would keep forcing food on me… the only way to get out of this is to leave.

Since we still can’t fly, I’m stuck back in this hotel… Now there’s a cartoon about a gap toothed American commando and his evil plans are overheard by a big-eyed Islamic boy hiding under his jeep.  They discover the boy and shoot at him as he rides away on a bike into a very pleasant world of very attractive Arab cartoon characters in turbans.  The boy does some clever maneuver that crashes their jeep and they lie in the road with tongues hanging out and dazed faces.  Black children in turbans and Arabic skullcaps discuss what to do with the problem.  Then an email is sent and the boy and girl hold hands and dance into the sunset down flower-lined lane.

There are men praying in the courtyard of the hotel, which has a washing station in the center like a mosque. There are more photos on TV now of soldiers pulling up their shirts to show their scars… blunt photos of head wounds… more pictures of Arafat. I find out from Melissa that Sharon is surrounding Arafat with tanks and Cairo is having anti-American protests. 

My personal internal security guy (FBI) gave his boots to one of the locals at the volcano who broke one of his plastic shoes.  It looks like his big toe was shot off.  He tells me “my money is finished… I need money for food.”  I give it to him wondering where that big toe went.  I ask Yahia about it later and he says it’s a war injury from the south… a land mine.  

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