Shattered Sudan | Drilling for Oil, Hoping for Peace, National Geographic: Rebel Soldiers | Ruweng County | Southern Sudan

Rebel Soldiers | Ruweng County | Southern Sudan

Ruweng County is an island surrounded by enemies. It is the last stand for the rebels in the existing oil field area. They hike in plastic shoes that are taped and tied together and slog thru swamps with the goal of putting put a mortar shell or two into an existing oil operation. Armed with Kalishnikovs, they prepare to fight.

From the journal:

When the plane lands in Ruweng County, hundreds of people have been waiting by and are coming at us through the Savannah.  These people are hoping to be reunited with their families; to leave to get to school, to take care of medical problems one boy had a brain tumor, so many people so many needs.  The last flights in here were the World Health Organization with a polio campaign in mid April.  And they only brought the vaccine; we were the first aid flight since February 1st.  When I say aid flight I mean that I was trying to get here but since I had an entire airplane for myself I am also carrying 3 tons of corn that I bought for a hundred dollars a ton and medical supplies from MedAir—the only NGO operating in this area.  Since Februarythe 3-4,000 people here have only had 25 50 kg bags of maize and 75% of that went to the army.

Either you remain in Ruweng County and die or you are forced into a government garrison town.  It is a six-hour walk to Panrieng, a government town.   This is a full day’s walk for someone like me; it is a 14-hour walk to the front-line from this airstrip.  There are all these people surrounding the plane with so many needs and the pilots did not want to be on the ground for very long because they are afraid of helicopter gun ships.  The co-pilot speaks English but is never been here before and is being overrun by people who want to get out.  We spend way too much time sorting this entire thing out with this plane on the ground in a no-fly. .  Finally the village all puts the various packages on their heads that we have brought.  A total of 1.5 ton of high protein biscuits, medical supplies, mosquito nets, my camera equipment and food.  We head out on the two-hour walk to the village in blazing sun.  The humidity here is much higher than northern Sudan.  We walk over cracked earth in the 120-degree sunlight. 

Benjamin, recently saw people digging in the cracks for durra, sorghum—little bits of it that fell in from the last food drop in February.  This is the only NGO brave enough to operate in this area—and Benjamin doesn’t know how much longer he wants to stick around.  I am staying at the MedAir compound—four huts with a straw fence—a dirt floor and no amenities.  I am staring at an open can of tuna—starving—and can’t believe I forgot a spoon.  MedAir is no help—a spoon is way too exotic here. So I dish the tuna out of the can with my fingers and go off to meet commander George Athoor.   It is another half hour’s walk to his compound—There are no roads in the S P L A  controlled Sudan.  Distances are always given in hours for walking and you double the time for Americans.  It is hard for a military commander to have presence when the only raw materials at your disposal are sticks and straw but George achieves it any way.  Multiple armed guards have been alerted and I am ushered into a huge straw walled area with one chair in the middle.  George is sitting in the chair—regal in his thatch Castle.  He is like everyone I’ve met here in southern Sudan—honest and dignified.  I tell him I want to show how his people are suffering—He wants to know some general information about my dealings in the north and it is just that simple—I start to work. 

I don’t know exactly how to explain this but in the Arab world north of here–everyone shifted responsibility elsewhere—here people that are starving don’t even ask me for food.  The man who loaded the airplane forgot water and had to run for it at the last minute. It meant we were 15 minutes late taking off and he apologized forever.  I was shocked because he was taking responsibility for his actions–he knew that I wanted good light and he had screwed up.  Just like every other Western visitor here, I am assigned a guide—Gabrielle—a good Christian African name–it takes him two days to work up the courage to ask for an a water bottle. 

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