Monday, September 15, 2014

Journal Entry for October 28, 2013*
October 28: Went to Darfur on Monday, leaving early on a WFP plane. Darfur means "land of the Fur" and was an independent Sultanate until 1916 when the British made it part of Sudan. Flying out with us was a new government minister brought in to deal with the conflict in Darfur, a grandson of the last Sultan. We went first to Geneina, close to the Chad border. We met there, and in our second stop El Fasher, with the local Wali (governor) and Emirs (tribal chiefs). Darfur, like everyplace in Sudan, has a rich mixture of different tribes and peoples. All are Moslem and all consider themselves Arab, though most would be judged as “African” by non-Sudanese. There is an age old conflict between farmers and herders and between cattle herders and camel herders. Many members of the government and military come from Darfur but the government has never given much attention or resources to the region. Then this year, a small scale civil war broke out and the government troops were beaten. The government then gave the camel herders guns and unleashed them on the others. Some 600,000 people lost their homes and had to flee the war. Most are still refugees. USAID is helping feed them and care for their children through WFP, UNICEF and other UN agencies. I went to Darfur accompanying the AID Director.

The people we met treated us very well because they know how much help the US has given them and because they need more help. We wanted them to know that we are ready to do more when the government ends the war.

Monday was the second day of Ramadan. Our hosts in El Fasher – where we stayed for the night – fed us four meals even though they were fasting. Ramadan is the holiest month in the year for Moslems. It is a month of peace. It begins on the first day of the 10th month in the Moslem calender when the first crescent moon is sighted after sunset. The faithful fast from sunup to sundown, taking no food and no water. Someone told me that Mohammed set up the rules in this way so that for that month, no one would have the energy to fight. I fasted today to see what it was like and I can say I was not anxious for strenuous activity.

I got the idea for fasting last night at breakfast. At around 6:30, when the sun goes down here, the faithful break their fast with a quick light meal before evening prayer. The traditional meal included dates, nuts, liquid and a mixture of sorghum and meat paste. We were invited by our hosts – who had spent the afternoon talking with us – to join them. We removed our shoes and sat on large turkish rugs laid out on the lawn(picture below).  After prayer, we joined them for a larger meal. They set up some tables for us and some joined us while most took their meal on the carpets. We ate outdoors under the gaze of a tame gazelle. At my table, one of the Sudanese suggested I try the fast because it would help clean out my system and make me feel better. So I did.

The sleeping quarters were very humble (and this morning there was no water.) But I did have a cigar and some bourbon with a couple of colleagues under the stars while evening prayer was called. We talked about war and peace and how good it can feel to be in Africa.

*Note:  see 03Khartoum 0959 below 

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