Shattered Sudan | Drilling for Oil, Hoping for Peace, National Geographic

Sudan is the largest country in Africa. Two and a half million Sudanese have died—the most casualties anywhere since WWII—in a seemingly endless civil war that finally led to division in 2011.

During the recent civil war, northerners kidnapped southern Africans and forced them to fight their own people.  Most in the North acted as if there wasn’t even a war going on because it just didn’t affect them. Meanwhile in the south, brother was killing brother.

It takes years to become an expert. I am not, and this is a very complex country. Facts are elusive. Press releases in the north have conflicting information in Arabic and in English. In the south you can barely get through to rebel offices in …

Shattered Sudan | Drilling for Oil, Hoping for Peace, National Geographic

Sudan is the largest country in Africa. Two and a half million Sudanese have died—the most casualties anywhere since WWII—in a seemingly endless civil war that finally led to division in 2011.

During the recent civil war, northerners kidnapped southern Africans and forced them to fight their own people.  Most in the North acted as if there wasn’t even a war going on because it just didn’t affect them. Meanwhile in the south, brother was killing brother.

It takes years to become an expert. I am not, and this is a very complex country. Facts are elusive. Press releases in the north have conflicting information in Arabic and in English. In the south you can barely get through to rebel offices in Nairobi, often because they can’t pay their phone bills.

In the middle of this assignment, in the middle of this civil war, I had to adjust to whatever came along. The transitions are usually the most difficult.

You leave your comfy, little life . . . and you enter travel hell, which usually includes some Idi Amin look-alike screaming at you to put all 600 rolls of film through a 1950s X-ray machine the size of a semi that looks like it was actually built for time travel. You wonder why part of the machine is battered until the belt stops moving and a guy beats it with a stick to get it going again.

It seems you always land in the same third world airport—always in the dark—with the same weirdly-angled fluorescent tubes flickering on and off, ballasts almost dead and whining away into the night.

When you step off the plane, something WILL hit you. Extreme heat, extreme cold, a certain smell or set of smells that lets you know for certain you’re very, very far from home.  Then you remember that wheels on bags don’t help in any of these places but you try to drag your bag along anyway, over chunks of broken concrete with rebar poking through it.

If you are lucky you end up, at least initially, in a hotel, which is often a pile-of-rubble-kind-of-structure.  (The one I stayed in was nestled right next to the bombed out shell of owner’s previous hotel.)

Usually by the next morning you’re excited to be in a new place and ready to get to work. But this first morning in Sudan I was greeted with this editorial in the local paper (Translated from Arabic by my fixer):

Photography is prohibited

Dear Sudanese tourist, our country and its unique exotic beauty may entice you; you may elatedly walk about the Nile Avenue, attracted by nature and its grace, which is evident on the riverbank.  A sinful hand of yours may then reach for the camera to take a snap of the breathtaking scene, having the Nile as a magnificent background.  You must realize then that you have violated an officially impermissible action, that you intentionally and openly subject your own self to criminal interrogation.

Sudan shares borders with nine other countries and there are times when they have been at war with ALL of them.  This creates a militarized provincial environment where anyone with a camera is treated as a spy.

Being on assignment for National Geographic Magazine in Sudan posed inconceivable challenges. Imagine that you wanted to photograph a housewife in Poughkeepsie, but to do so you had to call Condoleezza Rice’s personal cell phone and convince her to mobilize her entire staff to first notify the CIA, FBI, local police, NSA, park police, the mayor’s office and all other authorities.

Then Secretary Rice would have to send high-ranking security officers along with you to Poughkeepsie, who would take you to visit the mayor and chief of police. They would show everyone the papers from Secretary Rice, the local officials would then assign a security guy and a PR officer to join your entourage, and off you go to the address in Poughkeepsie.

Five to ten people are with you when you arrive at the poor woman’s house. She makes tea for everyone and you wait for her to get away from the group so you can photograph her . . . she goes outside to hang laundry and you follow. But a neighbor sees you with a camera, and since only spies have cameras, the neighbor calls a relative who is the local dogcatcher. He shows up in the middle of the night with some of his goons and takes all of your cameras and film and tells you to take the next flight out of town.  (This actually happened to me.)

When you get back to DC, Condoleezza explains that they really don’t know all of the factions in Poughkeepsie and next time they will send someone with you who knows the dogcatcher personally, so you won’t be in this particular kind of fix again.

Next you decide it’s important to photograph the wild horse roundup at Chincoteague, so you call Donald Rumsfeld on his personal cell phone because he knows more security people in Chincoteague than any of the other ministers . . .

And the process starts all over again.

Oh, and its 130 degrees and the light sucks all day long. And, my problems were minor when compared with what the average Sudanese deals with on a daily basis. What is their story really about?

Every newspaper and magazine article on Sudan that I’ve seen begins with the phrase: “The Islamic North vs. Christian Animist South,” basically framing it as a simplistic war of ideology.

Ideology is clearly a component, but I think it is more accurate to say it is primarily a war about resources. Either way, the suffering of the citizens continues. Those in power there don’t seem to care.

[ … ] Read The Full Story
Rebel Soldiers | Ruweng County | Southern Sudan Government of Sudan Bombs Ruweng County | Southern Sudan Nice light in the Interior of Restaurant in Northern Sudan El Kurru Cemetery | Northern Sudan Giant Statue | Tombos Quarry | Northern Sudan Suakin Port | Ancient, Roman and Unused | Port Sudan | Northern Sudan Migrant Workers Return for Wedding | North Sudan Sugar Cane Migrant Worker War Refugee | Northern Sudan War Torn Sudan | Boys Covered in Mud Only Have Leaves to Eat South Sudanese Hide from North Sudanese Military Dinka Slave House | Freed Dinka Slave Girl |Northern Sudan Mulahareen Tribesmen in Market | Darfur Region | Northern Sudan Sudan Oil Fields | War Refugee Serves Tea | Southern Sudan Dinka Oil Worker With Scarification | Oil Fields, Southern Sudan Dinka Oil Workers With Scarification | Oil Fields, Southern Sudan Ruweng County War Zone | Only Leaves to Eat | South Sudan Ruweng County War Zone | Only Leaves and Swamp Water | South Sudan Rebels With Ancient Machine Gun | Ruweng County | South Sudan Wounded South Sudanese Rescued By Media Flight in “No-Fly” Zone Five Wounded South Sudanese Rescued By Media Flight in “No-Fly” Zone Starving Dinka Girl in Juba Garrison Town | South Sudan
« | »