Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lock Down

Today there will be ‘demonstrations’ in Nyala, Khartoum, probably all over Darfur. Demonstrations are a nice way of saying, ‘riots’. Flag-burning, car-burning, rock-throwing, general anarchy in the streets. At least we knew about it in advance. It’s the spontaneous ‘demonstrations’ that are worrying. So, we’re under lock down. No one allowed out of their compounds from 7am until further notice. Flights are cancelled. Travel forbidden. Offices closed.

The thing that no one tells you is how much preparation and coordination a good lock down will take. What if we’re not stuck inside for four hours but for four days? How much food and water do we need for that sort of thing? And, even if it is for four hours what, exactly, are we going to eat for lunch? Not matters of life and death, per se, but important nonetheless.

Well, in case you ever find yourself in the same situation, let me tell you what I recommend purchasing: 10 snickers bars, 5 cans of Pringles, 10 cans of tuna fish, 10 instant noodle packs, 1 jar of mayonnaise, 1 jar of mustard, 2 jars of peanut butter, 1 jar of strawberry jam, 3 packs of happy-cow cheese, 5 packs of crackers, 2 packs of cookies, and 36 2-litre bottles of water.

Also, it’s good to have a play list. It’s always good to have a play list. Like, in case you’re evacuated you would, of course, want to listen to Pearl Jam’s ‘Evacuation’, or David Gray’s ‘Say hello, wave goodbye’, or Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to run’. So in honour of our ‘demonstrations’ I’ve compiled a lock-down play list. Enjoy:

1. I predict a riot – Kaiser Chiefs
2. Where is the love – Black Eyed Peas
3. Don’t panic – ColdPlay
4. I want to be sedated – Social Distortion
5. It’s the end of the world as we know it – REM
6. Let your troubles roll by – Carbon Leaf
7. Bad day – Daniel Powter
8. Who will guard the door – Over the Rhine
9. Hold On – Sister Hazel
10. Be and be not afraid – Tracy Chapman

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hedgehog Poo

Meet Francois. In this picture, he’s being a little bit camera shy; hiding in the corner between the door and the wall. He moved in while I was gone and took up residence in the corner of my room between the mattress and the wall. He must have thought it was a rather nice place – quiet and dark with no one bothering him and asking all sorts of questions like, ‘who are you?’ and ‘what are you doing here?’. And then I come home and burst in. Seeing that my mosquito net is covered with dead bugs and my mattress soaked by the many recent rainstorms I go about making lots of noise, taking the net down, moving the mattress and, suddenly, there he is. Trying to hide; completely taken aback by all the light and noise. Although he gave me a start we became quick friends. He didn’t try to hide or run off - just kind of sleepily and warily eyed me as I stood there and eyed him. I’d like to say that we had a moment, Francois and I.

But then, I came back to my senses and took to eyeing all the hedgehog poo he’d messily left around the bed and said, as apologetically as possible, ‘one of us has to go.’ He didn’t budge. I tried to scoot him out the door with my shoe but it seemed so cruel to send him packing off in the broad daylight like that. So, he cuddled up between the door and the wall and I left him there.

I find that I’m becoming more sympathetic to living things after being in Darfur for five months now. I can’t stand to just wash bugs down the shower or crush ants on the pavement. I can’t stand for things to suffer and die – especially smaller, helpless things, even if they are a nuisance and poo around the bed. Maybe it’s misplaced sympathy.

Later that night some friends came over and we sat in the candlelight talking about our jobs and politics and books and other places in the world we’d like to be when out strolls Francois. He didn’t make a scene; didn’t pack a bag; didn’t tell me where he was going or when he’d be back. He just kind of trundled off and hasn’t been back since. I miss him already.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Movie recommendation

If you haven't seen, Lord of War, yet you need to. It has crept into my top five favorite (yes, Lizzy, favorite may be spelled without the 'u'!!) movies of all time. Not only because, poignantly - for me anyway, the last scene is them rolling into Sudan. It is also well written, beautifully shot, engaging, compelling and, in my opinion, true. Read more about it:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And why did he want to be rescued, exactly?

Monday, August 21, 2006

On proper verb conjugation...

As part of my civic duty, I would like to use this public space to make all Americans aware that the British have a tendency toward preciousness about the English language. (Of course, anyone who has spent any time at all with the British and have experienced their charming, if not patronizing, pedantic fondness for the English language, already know this.) I digress.

The point here is that I have, at some point on this blog, used the word 'drug' as the past tense of 'drag' which is, apparently, a serious offense to all British sensibilites of the language over which they - quaintly - feel ownership. Therefore, I would like to clarify the following...

The past tense of the verb 'to drag' is, in fact, 'dragged'. Unless, according to some very knowledgeable people on the internet, you are, "trying to render dialectical speech to convey a sense of down-home rusticity", or, according to Random House use the "nonstandard" past tense, or, according to Merriam-Webster, appear, "illiterate".

So, for the record, I would like to say that in my blogging I like to be rustic and nonstandard. It was, in no way, that I misused the past tense. At times, I just like to appear illiterate. And that is my perogative, as an American.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Top ten reasons that I love London...

1. Home office lackeys at immigration who have perfected being horrendously rude and humourous at the same time.
2. Ample amounts of the four food groups: wine, cheese, bacon, chocolate.
3. After banging on for several hours about the evils of Darfur my friends who offer a cup of tea as the genuine remedy.
4. Transport that might not run on time but still gets you where you need to go.
5. Marks and Spencers.
6. The fact that it's August and it's grey and rainy.
7. Internet that works all the time...seriously...all the time. Can you imagine?
8. Tony Blair.
9. The telephone - which I hear the British think they invented - that also works...well, all the time!
10. The 16 hour, BBC version of Pride and Prejudice that I intend to spend 16 hours watching before going out to the pub for a beer and some greasy fish and chips, doused in vinegar and dipped in ketchup. Mmmm...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Field Trip

It is early on a Wednesday morning and we are going to El Fadous. After the events of the previous week, someone with enough foresight (that I’ll never admit to the wisdom of) decided that it might be good for me to get out of the office. And so, in the early morning haze, I am packing water, and toilet paper, and a couple of snacks into a quick run bag while the drivers stand around chattering about the latest market gossip and checking tire pressure and fuel levels.

At 9am we are out of the compound and by 9:30 we are out of the town – driving through vigourously guarded SLA territory on a road that is little more than a sand track through ankle-deep shrub that stretches off the end of the earth in every direction as far as you can see. South Darfur is green, at the moment, golf-course green from all the pounding rain of the wet season. We drive through Dinka villages populated by those who fled one civil war right into the next one. We drive past farmers out planting their fields without any tools, past herds of goats being shephered by children, passed small groups of thatched tukels. The track becomes muddy and impassable in some places and the first in our convoy gets stuck in the deep tracks that has been carved by the few heavy lorries that passed this way earlier. Our driver stops a teenage boy who’s hoeing a field with a bamboo pole to ask for directions. The boy looks us over with large, brown eyes and beautiful, long eyelashes and points us across his field to another track that will hopefully take us where we want to go. The drivers squabble in Arabic over the radios and then head off in the direction the boy pointed.

Driving into El Fadous the first thing you notice is what is missing and that mainly is noise - the whir and buzzing to which we’ve become accustomed. There is no electricity, no phones ringing, no sound of aircraft overhead, no cars – except our own. Only the sounds of people in the market. It is remarkably peaceful.

When we arrive at the clinic there area already seven staff there weighing and measuring children who cry and wail as they are placed on the scales. This is the only time they make noise. There are about 50 children in the tent between the ages of six and 59 months being held quietly by their mothers - malnourished children are eerily subdued and inactive. Most are being fed plumpy nut to fend off starvation. The malnutrition rates here are not good. In fact, they are 10% past the threshold of what constitutes an ‘emergency.’ Some children are here because their families simply don’t have enough food; some are here because cholera and malaria have accentuated the problems – whatever the case they are all part of a suplemental feeding programme for all children under five in the region to hopefully keep the problem from worsening.

After the clinic finishes we have lunch in the center of town under a broken down looking stable where we watch police and GoS emerge periodically from the bush with AK47’s slung lazily over one shoulder. We eat beans and meat with our hands as water occassionally drips from the roof onto our chairs and table. The food is delicious but I know I will pay for it later in one form or another.

I spend most of my time with Joseph, one of our health promotion workers. A gregarious man from Southern Sudan with an irrepresible wide grin that lights up his face and more energy in his small finger than I think I’ve had in my entire life. His exuberance for the work is genuine – and exhausting.

We spend the afternoon visiting health clubs for women and children in IDP camps. In club after club I play the part of the ambassador’s wife introducing myself and telling them how wonderful it is that they are there and how delighted I am to get to meet them. Despite feeling completely useless, it is wonderful to be there and I am truly delighted to meet them. It is a glimpse of how the work we are doing is somehow contributing some goodness to a place desperately lacking in goodness.

After visiting dozens of these clubs we have to head home in order to make it back before dark and the curfew. We stop by the clinic to pick up one mother and child who is so malnourished that we have to take them to the closest hospital – over two hours away. Joseph happily chats away with the woman who is bewildered, has never been in a car, and is putting her child’s life in the hands of some foreigners who turn up every now again with food and medicine. I hold the baby, who is lethargic and literally skin and bone, in the front seat while he reassures the mother that now that a ‘khwaje’ is holding the baby surely everything will turn out right. I smile and wish I believed it. After a mile or two Joseph decides that my name is too hard too hard for the Sudanese to pronounce and need a new one. We bounce over the muddy road while he carries on a monologoue of Sudanese names before arriving on one. ‘I think Amani suits you,’ he finally decides and asks the mother if she agrees. ‘It means hope. From now on we will call you Amani.’ And from then on, he does.

Why it’s so complicated

When you watch the news about Darfur the conflict generally gets boiled down to being between a bunch of Arab nomads who, backed by the government, have mounted a genocide against a bunch of African farmers. But this oversimplification is unhelpful . Let me tell you a story – pure fiction – but one that might better help explain.

There was a tribe that lived in this rural area – let’s call them the Red Sox. They are poor, Muslim, and farmers. Right next to them live a tribe – let’s call them the Yankees - that is also poor, Muslim, and farmers. They hate each other. From time immemorial they launch raids on each others small plots, villages and flocks. The children of both groups die from preventable diseases, don’t have enough food, inadequate health care, and little clean water. Simple enough so far?

Every winter a bunch of different nomadic tribes (say…the whole American League) show up on the scene, passing through with their herds, both trampling and eating crops but also bringing meat and milk.

Then, one day, another tribe – let’s call them the Padres – show up fleeing the war where they live. They’re Christians and they settle down on the edge of town and scratch out a living. Their kids die of preventable diseases, and there’s general malnourishment and not enough water but they’re there. The Red Sox and the Yankees go on hating each other but put up with the Padres as an unavoidable nuisance.

Someone very rich somewhere gets wind of the fact that the Padres are there and that they’re starving. So they send food, a lot of it, and keep sending it for 15 years. They send medicine too, and health information. It doesn’t make the Padres lot in life any better, necessarily, but at least they’re not dying in droves so the very rich person somewhere gets to sleep better at night.

So, one year, it gets bad. There’s a drought, the Red Sox and the Yankees are starting to vie for land to farm. They decide to arm themselves and so now whenever they duke it out it tends to be bloodier. Added to that, they’re pretty cranky about this entire American League just trampling on everything so turn on them as well. The American League, however, has big guns of its own and begin using them at will to take what they want.

Then, another tribe – the Dodgers – turn up. They’re fleeing another war in another part of the country and don’t like the Red Sox or the Yankees, but they REALLY don’t like the Padres. They just generally make like a bit less liveable for everyone around.

The Red Sox, already cranky, start to think to themselves, ‘hey, wait a minute! These Padres over here just sit around and get food and free health care and we’re no better off than they are!’ So, they send letters to the rich guy saying that if they don’t get some of the beneies then they’ll stop the Padres getting them too. The rich guy thinks, ‘hey, I’m rich! Why not?’

Meanwhile, the Padres’ war at home ends but it’s not so easy to just uproot 5,000 people who have lived somewhere for 15 years. It takes some time. (Not to mention that they’ve gone and imported their own little militia from the war back home and staying somewhere where you are fed and cared for looks mighty fine compared to going back to who-knows-what where they came from)

And that’s Darfur in a nutshell. The Red Sox, the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Padres, and the entire rest of the American League all armed and jealous of one another….and one rich guy who doesn’t quite know left from right just trying to keep everyone fed and happy and not quite understanding why everyone isn’t just a touch more grateful.