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