Tuesday, April 28, 2015

04 Khartoum 0161 -- Washington delegation travels to Darfur (plus note from journal)

Journal entry for January 15:  I can hardly remember how I started the day, some meeting at the UN, I believe. I had two there today and then ended up at the UN rep's for dinner. (He is being canned, in part because USAID doesn't like him.) In between, I had Ken Bacon to my house for a meeting with him and his staff. He was press spokesman for the Pentagon under Clinton.... We had a good chat; he is CEO of some refugee-related NGO, maybe a Demo front organization. I sought to put out a balanced, nuanced picture of reality here. He seemed to buy it.

Mikie (Mckinley) and Mike (Ranneberger) come back tomorrow for one more day of trying to micro-manage my embassy and me. I sent a few cables this weekend that may take some of the wind from USAID's sails as they try to parley seeing burning villages into a declaration of war against the thugs we happen to be working with now. But tomorrow I plan to sleep in and find some time to open my present.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Journal Entries for February 13 & 14, 2004:

February 13:  The house is empty again and I'm fading already.  It was an exciting few days.  Between USAID and State fighting it out and at the same time trying to end two wars, there were moments of interest.  Was fun watching McKinley operating.  He can't stand to see a moment go by without launching a bureaucratic or policy-oriented action of some sort.  Compared to him, I am a watcher and I draw lines that he fudges with ease.  Though to be fair to myself, I have been doing pretty well here with the little info that filters to me from DC.  Armed with the information gleaned from my visitors and their "elephant love-making," I believe we can stay a bit ahead of the home office.  The next two months will tell if the peace process will work out or not.  After that, US domestic politics, the elections and the coming of a new Assistant Secretary from USAID will pull the rug out from under a balanced approach to Sudan.  I alerted my CT guys here to beef up cooperation so we can create some countervailing facts on the ground.

I plan to sleep in tomorrow and then do nothing.  Even closed the Embassy comms so no one has an excuse to work.

February 14:  Meant to do nothing but spent most of the day working on getting government people to understand that my visitors in Darfur did not get arrested and to let them know they will have big political problems with the US if they don't move quickly to stop the violence.  Finally did get to relax with dinner of stuffed peppers from the food stash left by James.  Then went out onto my patio for a martini, which I am hoping will depress my system somewhat.  Running on adrenalin and 5 hours sleep, I need to come down a bit.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Journal Entry for January 31: Visit to Sufi Mosque

Last evening I went to a Sufi mosque in Omdurman to watch part of their worship service. The Sheikh of the Summaniyya sect invited me when I first met him last year. The Sufis are a major tradition in Islam going back several hundred years. There are many Sufi “schools”, or sects, each founded by a particular sheikh (teacher). Sufi sects are various disciplines of worship usually seeking some sort of mystical (or inner) union with God (Allah). Some achieve this through music and dance. The “whirling dervishes” come from those Sufi sects that find mystical transport through dance. Sufism is popular in Sudan and fits the mostly gentle and tolerant approach of the Sudanese people. Sufism is pretty much the exact opposite of Islamist extremism.

The three largest sects in Sudan – the Mahdiyya, Khatmiyya and Summaniyya – are Sufi. Sheikh Hassan Qaribullah invited me to attend part of the prayer ceremony that actually started in the early afternoon and went on until late night. I arrived at 5:30 as they started the chanting phase and left – after a cup of tea with the Sheikh’s son – as they went into quiet prayer and discussion.

The ceremony took place outside of the Mosque on a street closed for the event on every Friday. The ground was spread with carpets and I took my shoes off to enter. Carpets were hung also on the fences and walls. Younger men were on one side and the sect’s elders on the other. They were chanting and bowing when I got there. Summaniyya is popular in Islamic Africa and I can see why. The chanting and movement was very African. The men did not dance in the sense of moving around but they did in place every dance step I’d ever seen in Africa or from Africa. There was even a brief moment I thought I was watching a long line of The Four Tops. The rhythm was African and there was even a touch of blues and jazz. The Sheikh or one of the elders led the chants – invocations of Allah – using microphones to be sure to encourage others in the neighborhood to join them. One of the younger men also had a mike to emphasize the various vocalizations they made along with their movements. There was no music per se but it was quite hypnotic and though I sat there for almost two hours, I didn’t want it to end. But at sunset, an elder called evening prayer and – after the Sheikh formally thanked me for attending -- I was invited inside for tea. Everyone was very nice and quite pleased the American Charge attended their prayers. They were also anxious to tell me that they are not political and like America. They don’t understand why America doesn’t like Sudan. I assured them that while we had problems with the fundamentalist government of the 90’s, we want better relations now. It was a very pleasant and moving evening. 


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bits from January 2004 Journal

January 27: Well, no snow or ice here except for the cubes in my drink. Just came up from having a nightcap with my visiting Marine BG. Nice evening talking pro to pro. Evening is quite nice with pleasant chill in the air. Turns out too that his Marine bodyguard was the deputy commander of the Marine contingent in Brasilia. He remembers the day we took the picture of Andy in full regalia!
Shit happening in and about Darfur. Washington is ready to jump in head first and I'm trying to point out that the pool might not have as much water as they think.

January 28: Last night was quite cool but had to get up early to see off my guest. Tonight I am too tired to write or open the windows. Day ended with 3 1/2 hour intense meeting with Assistant President. Was supposed to be at pizza night with staff. This weekend will last 8 days with Eid. Rest then.
January 30: The weather has been quite nice since I got back from holidays. The evenings are cool and the temperature falls to the lower 60 by early morning. Over the weekend, we are supposed to hit the 50s. This is open window weather and I do. Even during the day, in the office, I open the windows and the breeze makes it comfortable all day. (I'm on the 6th floor and can see to both Nile Rivers.) Not for years have I been able to open the windows in the office. Very nice.

With windows open, the air cools nicely in my house. I also get the smells of the city. Most every night, this includes the smell of burning garbage but is bearable and passes quickly. One morning this week, it was so bad it woke me and I put on a face mask that I has been reserving for the sand storms. But windows open is too good to pass up. Locals say it'll only last to February.

With the windows open, I hear lots of things. At night I hear sometimes the bass rhythms of Arab music. This morning as I was waking, I heard several different kinds of birds singing. The early morning sounds start earlier. I hear the night trains and their whistles as they pull into Khartoum Station. The first call to prayer is around 5:30. I can sleep through that but usually stir and then go back to sleep. For some reason, not all the mosques use the same schedule and there seems to be a second call around six. This week, perhaps because of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), the first call to prayer also seems to come with a chorus of some kind. There is much I don't know about Islam.

A boy's school sits just down the block from me. The boys all wear green pajamas (they look like pajamas to me). They start school pretty early. Well, the morning sounds include what I have taken to calling the Daily Harangue. Remember the school assemblies of old? Well, these may be like them. A voice, on a big load speakers, starts speaking something that sounds like the call to prayer. Very pleasant to listen to, almost like singing. But then he switches into the voice I imagine the Ayatollahs use to excite the faithful to slaughter the infidels. This goes on for some time and actually has convinced me not to go outside during it. Then as suddenly as it began, the harangue stops and the voice assumes the tome and cadence of your high school principal. When the daily is over, I know it's time to get up. Sort of a Khartoum alarm clock. I'll miss it when it's time to go back to AC.