Monday, June 30, 2008


So guess who is Sudan's latest best driver? That's right. I drove - and standard too - in Sudan all day today in a rented car. No accidents, only a couple angry horns and, while close, I never ran out of gas! So next time I'm in Egypt, no one can tell me I'm not capable of driving! Actually, while there are few rules, it is not hard to drive here. The big roads are paved and wide, and there are not that many cars. There are some traffic lights, and where there aren't, everyone just kind of moves towards the same space until someone slows down and someone takes the lead. I do have to learn to slow down though in those areas that are unpaved - it can be bumpy!

The second milestone is ... I ATE INTESTINES! Those same intestines I refused to eat in Senegal. I ate them here, by accident, without knowing - and the worst part is, THEY TASTED GOOD! I had some great Sudanese food the other day at a friend's house - eggplant sauce, yogurt sauce, meat and intestines, with bread. mmm....

Anyways, I'm off to northern Sudan in a couple hours (the bus leaves at 4 a.m. This should be interesting!) to a small village where I will apparently have electricity for one hour a day! I'm tired and overworked, I think. I've been running around like a crazy person this past week to the point that my last interview today was a complete disaster because I just didn't have the mental faculties left. So I think a slower pace of life will be good for a while. (Communities in the areaI am going to are afraid their ancient heritage will be wiped out and they themselves displaced when the government builds dams in the area).

Hopefully these villagers won't be too amazed at the sight of a microphone. Today the children in the neighbourhood I went to were so loud/in your face/curious/obstructive that I could not conduct a single interview properly as I was followed by a mob of sreaming children. This, after spending $50 on a car, $80 on a translator, waiting three days for permission to enter this site, and spending hours in the grueling sun. This is the life of a journalist in Sudan, I suppose!

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's Complicated!

So, what am I doing here anyway?

I'm here to write articles and produce radio pieces for some newspapers and radio stations in Canada and the US (as a freelancer). I want to look at some stories that I think haven't been told while the world focuses on Darfur. First of all, Sudan has been portrayed as a very violent place, where Arabs are killing blacks in a brutal genocide. But this isn't the case across the country, and in some villages, Arabs have hosted blacks fleeing the war in other parts and integrated them into their communities. Second, Darfurian rebels took up arms against the government claiming their region had been marginalised for years. But Darfur is not the only neglected area in Sudan, and actually there are many groups in different areas right across the country that have/are/want to take up arms against the government. Third, many people are not aware that there was a civil war between north and south Sudan that killed 10 times the number of people who died in Darfur. That war ended in 2005, but in the past few months, has come dangerously close to re-erupting because many parts of the peace agreement have not been implemented by the government.

Anyways, those are some of the things I plan to look at, but this place is just so damn complicated that I'm trying to sort everything out in my head before I blog about it (that's why I haven't been blogging much. My days have been mostly consumed by work and my work is not at a stage of explanation yet! Plus, I received a grant from an organisation that funds journalists who go to 'under-reported' areas, and will be blogging for them (the Pulitzer Center) about the more journalism-oriented parts of this experience. I'll send you the link when it's live.)
So instead of telling you my thoughts on the conflicts here, I instead will reassure you that I have said goodbye to my friend the lizard, and moved on to cleaner pastures: ie. a UN guesthouse. My feet are starting to crack from the dryness, my skin is always sticky from the heat, I drink an incredible amount of water everday (Sometimes your mouth is so thirsty but your stomach is already bloated from all the liquids) and I'm becoming accustomed to wearing a scarf everytime I leave the house (which unfortunately means no tan).
I did get to one cultural event yesterday though. Here are some pics from a Sufi ritual I went to. Every week, hundreds gather to pay hommage to a great Sudanese Sufi leader, Hamd El-Nil (from what I understood) outside his tomb in a big cemetary. They stand in a huge circle, swaying to the drumming, chanting La illiha illa Alllah (there is only one God), until the sun sets.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

All over again?

I was thinking of what I would blog about on this trip, and whether it would feel (for me and for you) like I was going away for the first time all over again, or more like, "been there, done that". I haven't really figured out the answer to that, but I think a little bit of both. I think everywhere you go, there are new and different things/people/issues, etc. But to some extent, it's always a bit of the same. Today, I stopped thinking about work for long enough to remember that I was in a new country and should probably discover it! I found a local restaurant and asked for some traditional food (which was on the house because they were so pleased I was Egyptian and interested in their food), and had that feeling of discovery and excitement for a second again. But I realized that that feeling is much less present this time around. There is much less culture shock (partly because I speak Arabic, I imagine) and much less transitioning. I have to say, it feels a lot easier. (My dad would argue that takes away from the fun). I think you just get to a point where new and exciting is normal. Does this make any sense?

Anyways, the weirdest thing about being here, I would say, is the fact that Darfur is right next door and you'd never even know it by being here. There is really nothing to indicate that there is a so-called genocide happening a couple states west of here. It is a lively city, with cheerful people, going about their business. Living here, it's as if Darfur does not even exist. And once in a while I do wonder if the West has, as the president of Sudan alleges, exaggerated the genocide for their own interests. But when you look at the numbers, it's just not true. Almost 190,000 have had to flee their homes in Darfur this year (2008) alone! Can you imagine? This thing is still raging on, five years later.

In more uplifting news, apparently even in Islamic conservative societies, 82-year-old men ask single women they meet to marry them. And I thought it was only in Senegal!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And... We're Back!

Oh, it feels good to be back in Africa! I thought Sudan would be a lot like Chad, but it's way better - full of life and much more developed. I'm loving it so far! (It has only been one day, and I'm sure I will take that back later!) But I'm definately exhausted.

I don't think I have ever really experienced jet lag until now. I slept badly Friday night in Canada, left for Sudan Saturday afternoon and arrived - after two nights on planes/airport benches - in Khartoum, the capital, Monday morning. So as you can imagine, the lack of sleep is catching up with me. This morning I woke up at 3am, and could not get back to sleep after that.

The flight here was full of all the regular chaos. Flight attendants who spoke no Arabic. Passengers who spoke no English. Overflowing overhead compartments. People sitting in each other's seats. But amazingly, the whole thing went really smoothly. None of the three flights I had to take were delayed. I had no problems getting through customs. My bag arrived unharmed. And someone was waiting for me at the airport to bring me to my ... hotel, if you could call it that.

For $20 a night, the cheapest you can get here, I got a room with paint chipping off the walls, a lizard crawling around, sheets that looked like they had never been washed, and ants everywhere. This morning, I shared my shower with a different lizard. I think he was as scared of me and the water as I was of him, so he wasn't too dangerous.

Sudan is really an interesting place. A neat mix of Arab and African. Actually, my arabic gets me very far here, and when I fling a scarf around my head, I don't look too out of place here. (Most women here cover their hair, and the northern part of the country is governed by Sharia law).

I've met a few people here who seem nice, including another Canadian journalist. And I had a fool (bean) sandwich this morning which reminded me of Egypt.

Hope everyone is doing well, and talk to you all soon insha'Allah!