Sudan

Travels through Sudan I – The Uncomparable Insanity of Life

Sudan.

     Hmmm. Sudan. How to describe Sudan? How to open a story about this country. Honestly, I don’t know where to begin and really couldn’t even touch upon the country’s history or current events even if I tried. Sudan is big, dry, muslim, christian, arab, black, rich in oil, extremely corrupt and to a point, insane. The biggest country in Africa. Sudan is truly survival of fittest, and all too often its women and children who aren’t that. It’s different from a lot of Africa, or southern or west Africa I should say. The people here are not only fighting each other for survival but they are fighting nature itself to survive. The Sahara controls much of the north, with most people there crowding around the Nile. The president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity. No one really knows how many have died in the western region of Darfur, at last count in 2007 it was estimated at 400,000, some say it’s up to a million now. The south has just seceded by vote. A few of the headlines at the time of this article:

Approximate Route shown in Red

…Sudan has deployed troops at the Libyan border to prevent arms smuggling to rebels in Darfur and closed the Libyan consulate in the troubled region
…Kadugli, Sudan (AFP) – A heavily armed Sudanese military convoy entered the flashpoint border district of Abyei, sparking clashes that left up to 14 people dead
…eight people killed in armed attacks in south Sudan
…Sudan clashes kill 20 near border
…UN News Sudan: UN Agency Suspends Food Aid in Parts of Southern Sudan After Attacks
…Juba, Sudan – At least 105 people have died in violence between government forces and rebel militias in Southern Sudan this week, an official said Sunday

…etc, etc. Of course I’m just picking out the bad here also, but man, my heart goes out to these people. It seems the decades long civil wars are still waging and, in my opinion, the succession of the south will only give reason for the continuation of it.

     There is another side though. The people. They are interesting, resilient, tough and most are spectacular. Everyone has a story. Travelling through Sudan is like a lesson in humanity and the different forms it has developed into in one of the toughest countries of the world. Meeting a group of nomads four days from the nearest road, strolling through the desert with a few camels and everything they own on those camels. Sitting down around the fire at night, talking with a few members of the Janjaweed – PS: definitely not recommended as a “safe” type of pastime here. Simply asking them “Why?”. “What can you possibly think is good reasoning to rape women, kill whole villages, enslave children?”. They try to explain. I will give them that. I know a lot of people who would try, or think they would try, to take that opportunity to disarm, arrest or even kill these guys. My question is always: “How?”. Throw and a cup at them and hope they are out of bullets. We were in their territory, in the middle of God knows where, days driving from any type of help. They were heavily armed, AK’s, RPG’s, truck mounted 50. …we had butter knives, cups, plates, tea, coffee and bread.

     We started the trip in Aswan, Egypt. Took the ferry to Wadi Halfa at the end of Lake Nassar in Sudan. Drove days down the Nile making a few twists and turns through the desert, bouncing off the Nile for a few days, and then back to follow the Nile into Khartoum, nine days of desert driving. I gotta tell you, without the Nile this part of the country would be dead and devoid of life. The Nile is the lifeline of Northern Sudan and without it, virtually no one would be there. At Khartoum we took a left and made a beeline to Ethiopia. Two weeks from beginning to end, and this just in a small area of the country. In that time we saw the worst that humanity has to offer, the best that humanity has to offer, as well as some of the most spectacular sights and landscapes you could ever wish to see.

     As a whole, it’s a spectacular country, full of history. It’s definitely not an easy country to travel through, and I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone. With all that spectacular also comes the child soldiers on the corner, the guns, the starvation, the heat and the discomfort. In the end though, when you get spit out the other side, all that combines to make such an experience that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of those countries that you have to experience to really understand I guess, and having experienced it, I can say I understand so very little. Almost uncomparable, even when I look back to places like Nigeria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso and the like. Sudan is definitely an uncomparable insanity of life and situation. No one is responsible, everyone is responsible. The reasons for the way it is has been lost in decades of civil war and who was initially responsible or who started what has been lost in the importance of living life that day, for that day, and making it through that day to see another.

     So this is the first in a set of articles of my experiences travelling through Sudan, one of the “nastiest” countries on earth. A country in a situation that shouldn’t exist in the world today, yet it does, maybe because of the political thinking of the world today, maybe because most countries know that to get involved will only bring sorrow and regret to thier own. TIA, this is Africa, and to get involved is futile, because what is is what is, and thats how it is and how it has been for centuries. TIA. Actually just the “mid-section” of a longer trip in which we drove the length of the Blue Nile from the Mediterranean to Lake Tana in Ethiopia, around two months in total, which was actually just the “mid-section” of the total trip, Istanbul to Dakar, which took six months total.

     I figured I would get most of the gloom and doom out-of-the-way here. It is what it is, and no matter how this article sounds, it’s a great country with mostly great people. The Sahara at it’s finest. I did it, and would do it again, but not without a good reason. This one was rough. Really rough, and we only went through the “safe” and “easy” areas of the country. It’s all relative. In two weeks we saw three “tourists”. This is one where you leave the cell phone at home, forget the laptop, don’t even think of the iPad. You’ll need all that space for water …and baby wipes if you want to take a shower. Forget about hotels, there are none from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum and be prepared to be woken in the middle of the night by heavily armed local militia. It’s all part of the journey, and this one is all about the journey, where the destination is all too often just getting out alive.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Sudan II – The Beginning

10 comments on “Travels through Sudan I – The Uncomparable Insanity of Life

  1. Look forward to reading more about this troubled yet fascinating country. By the way, did those guys ever answer your question of “why?”?

    • Rebecca, yes they did, and honestly, they made it sound good. Now, you have to remember that this is a different world here, it is much more complicated. That said, there is no reason for what they do in my opinion, but saying that, if you talked to them and knew nothing about what is going on here, you may think these are a bunch of great guys. They have their reasons and they have explanations for those reasons …a good argument actually. Unfortunately, I did know something about what was going on and as a human being they should be ashamed of themselves, but they did answer …I will go into in a future post. The thing is, they thought they were right, and that is the saddest part. …and this is where things get complicated, because the saddest part is in part due to years of nothing but war.
      Some of these guys had their whole families killed, burned, raped and/or displaced. It’s like a never ending retaliation. No one knows who started it, no one knows where it will end. They just know that they were harmed, and they want revenge for that harm. They see nothing bad about that. In turn the people they harm want revenge. A never ending circle. Again, unfortunately, women and children are the easiest targets.
      To be an outsider looking in, it is so easy, you don’t kill children, you don’t rape women. To be an insider in that situation, it becomes so complicated with everyting else. Nothing will ever convince me that they have justification for what they do. It is, truly, abominable. The problem is convincing them of that.
      The other problem is religion. This is not a religion fight, although most lead you to believe that it is. Religion is just an excuse for the underlying, true, reasons. This isn’t a christian vs. islam war, this is a war about the world today, where money is power and land is money. There is so little there, and what is there is being fought over for the simple reason of saying “that is mine”. So many tribes, so little money, so many people. Everyone wants that land, that money, that title, that power. All the while the more powerful countries come in and steal all that from right under their noses. Ashame really. They are wrong with the ways they go about trying to secure the land, the janjaweed that is, absolutely no doubt about that, but being there, it is so much more complicated than most think it is, no matter how bad it sounds. A source of water here is worth more than a high rise in Manhattan. The underlying question almost always turned out to be “What would you do to get to that well?”. “What is YOUR family, children, wife worth to do that?”. That is what they were answering. …and no, I do not give them any kind of respect, reason, understanding or whatever for what they do, but they think they are justified for what they do, and are backed by a very rich and powerful government …which is backed by other rich and powerful governments, which gives them only more justification. It’s a sad country, filled with mostly great people, being suppressed by the few. They will make it through one day though. The only question is when. Until than, life is not worth anything more than a dollar, maybe less, and no one is really too willing to help…

  2. Your photos and posts are amazing. You blog is a true gem. I Love the pics. America really needs to see your blog to get a better glimpse of what the outside world is like. Keep up the amazing work.

  3. Compelling, fascinating stuff Poppeye. Can’t wait for the next part. My plan was to travel through part of Sudan back in 2000 when I was in West Africa. Back then I figured the trip from Chad east through Darfur to Khartoum wouldn’t be too risky. (since back then they were busy killing people in the South and the war hadn’t reached the west yet) Never quite made it, but always wanted to reach the Nile and follow it down into Egypt. Maybe some day!

  4. The worst place I’ve been thus far is Ethiopia…I can’t imagine Sudan. It’s very humbling…what we Westerners think is hard stuff…pretty much puts life into a proper perspective, doesn’t it? So glad you made it out of there alive and are able to share with the rest of us.

  5. Wow, I have wanted to go, just because. I’ve had friends from Sudan who tell me how bad it is but somehow it’s hard to imagine ‘bad’ when nothing in your experience can equate. What’s bad for me, might be a party for someone else.
    This is a complicated country with an incredible backstory. You’re right – there’s no point in trying to figure out who’s at fault. It’s futile.
    It’s difficult for Africa — too many players, I think. But I don’t think it’s hopeless.
    Thanks for bringing this to us. I can’t wait to read your next post.

    • Thanks for the comment IJ …definitely not hopeless, but good call on th “too many players”. I guess it all depends on exactly where you are, but depending on that, bad is a living nightmare that any american couldn’t even dream of. I don’t think I’ve seen anything worse than starvation. …it’s slow, it’s psychologically painful, and it’s nothing less than torture. It is truly insane in this world today. It’s not hopeless though. People just need to realize…

  6. This is such a fascinating and complex situation, and, as you say, everyone has a story to tell. Your well written posts and wonderful photos tell it from the heart, from a world of wonders rich in misery and hope. . . I can sit here in the comfort of my own home, having all the hopes in the world while wanting to do something, but what???
    Looking fwd to more, thank you!

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