Friday, August 1, 2014
Journal Entries for visit to Nuba region (covered in 03 Khartoum 0861)
September 8: Writing here after a full day, not yet over, of touring the Nuba Mountains. It is rainy season so very green, and cooler than Khartoum. Fields full of sorghum. Met with people on both government side and SPLA side. Carried about in a big helicopter after flying in on an Antinov -- all flown by Russians.
September 9: The morning started before 7 today. It's now five pm. We traveled to the outlying sectors of the JMC area -- which is, as the commanding general points out, as big as Austria. We visited three sites and then came back to visit the market to see the development that happened since the ceasefire. We helicoptered around but it warmed up after the clouds went away. (It rained hard last night as I was falling asleep in my AC'd container. My head hurts because I keep hitting it on low doorways. But it was an invigorating day. I feel properly tired after a good day.)
Later. Ended a busy day as I did yesterday getting a briefing on the General's "veranda" while smoking one of his cigars. I visited a market today as well. Got some good photos. I feel overwhelmed by the work there is to do. But there are some good people trying to prepare for peace while taking advantage of opportunities to help the Nuba people make their ceasefire work. Off to bed under my mosquito net.
September 10: Flew the length of Southern Kordofan (home province of Nuba) to get to the capital of El Obied. Met the commander of the military central command. Spent around four hours in the air -- with stop in Dilling on the way -- to and from. On the way, read a bit of Churchill's River War. Read how 180 years ago yesterday, British General Hicks marched out of Khartoum toward El Obied with a force of mostly Egyptians and to his defeat and death at the hands of El Mahdi in the first big engagement of the war. The Sudanese commander today met me in the former British HQ of its Sudan camel corps. He recited his corps' history of battles -- which were all in the service of the British Empire. The living history here can give you whiplash.
September 12: Spent four days in the Nuba Mountains this week. Nuba is one of the three "conflict areas" in Sudan. These are areas outside the traditional south -- which the government and SPLA have been fighting over -- but where the SPLA has support among local black African groups. The Nuba people lived mixed with a group of black Arabs known as the Bagara. Some of the Nuba are Moslem, some Christian. The Nuba have for centuries been abused and hunted by the Arabs, who took them as slaves. The Nuban Mountains are piles of rock above otherwise flat plains. It rains in Nuba so crops can grow. But during the dry season, the land turns brown and the rivers dry. The only water is at wells and that is often not enough for everyone so there has always been tension between the Nuban farmers and the Bagara cattle and camel herders.
In 2002, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire in the Nuba. This began the current peace process. The Joint Military Commission (JMC) was created to monitor the ceasefire. I visited the JMC.
The Nuba area is as big as Austria. It’s 1½ hours from Khartoum by air but at least two days by road. We got there on Russian-made planes flown by former Soviet pilots and got around on Soviet MI-8 (Hip) helicopters. Because it is rainy season in Nuba, everything is green. Many of the rivers have water in them and the roads are often impassable because they have turned into mud or riverbeds. Most of Nuba is exactly like the rest of Sudan, flat as a pancake. But there are stony hills that are mostly just 600-1000 feet above the plains. The blacks have traditionally hidden in the hills to escape the slave-traders and to hide from the government army. The SPLA controlled some of the mountains but almost none of the plains. The Sudanese military could not dislodge the SPLA from the mountains. Stalemate and eventually ceasefire. Really simple to understand. In some places there were piles of spent ammunition casings and at one camp, they had found four bodies (skeletons) while clearing fields.
I visited all seven JMC camps in various parts of Nuba. I also met with the chief of the SPLA for Nuba in his mountain HQ and with the General in command of the military for the whole region. We flew over a lot of country and you can see a picture of a typical village of round mud huts surrounded by mud walls. People have cattle or goats and mostly grow sorghum. I discovered that sorghum looks a lot like corn without the ears. It is related to corn but in this case, the tassel part grows into clumps of seeds that mature and then get ground into flour.
We visited the market in Kadugli, near the JMC HQ. It had grown from a few shops to a large collection of people selling most everything. In one place they had the people selling things they made from metal, including teapots (made from inside out tin cans) and knives. Food, spices, plastic containers, bikes and bike parts, cloths, shoes, it is like an outside Third World shopping mall without the AC. In fact the smell is incredible. It’s Africa, a combination of excrement, earth, cooking food, spices, coffee, animals, people and everything. Strong, pungent but alive. Once my nose was sensitized to it, I could smell it on the wind as the helicopter approached larger villages.
Outside the camp, it was the 12th century. I sat at the end of the day watching little kids playing in the tall grass, women carrying loads on their heads, men walking their fields. No electricity, no running water, no relief from the heat other than the thick walls of the huts. I would not like to live that way, but in rainy season as the sun began setting, it was beautiful.