Thursday, February 18, 2016

Journal Entry for May 19, 2004: An Evening with Another El Madhi

Attended a speech by Sadiq El Mahdi this evening. It was part of a regular Wednesday evening gathering of the Umma Party faithful at the party HQ in Omdurman. It was really hot and I hunkered down for two hours of Arabic. Desert cooling once again put to the test. Crowd numbered maybe two thousand on the veranda and lawn of the building. Some guy kept popping up from the side singing praise. At one point he seemed to get very agitated and appeared to be pointing to me, the only gringo on the scene. He may have been singing my praise or calling down the wrath of God or neither.

Until Sadiq showed up, Mr. Kalifa sat next to me and we chatted in English. Kalifa is the grandson of the Kalifa, the follower of The Mahdi who took over at his death and ruled Sudan until the British defeated him. Kalifa the Younger is now #3 in the Umma Party.

Sadiq -- the former Prime Minister overthrown in 1989 -- arrived to great ovation and sat next to me. He asked me how much of the speeches I was following. I said "none at all" although I think I did hear an occasional salaam (peace) and Ameriki. He got his niece to translate for me during his speech. (He spoke about Darfur and peace.) When he was done, and after two hours of sweating steadily but gently and watching little tiny moths land on my white shirt, I took my leave. Another wonderful night in Sudan.

Note:  Previous El Mahdi encounter here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

04 Khartoum 0528: Mudawi Trial Drags On*

* The case against Mudawi Adam was dropped later in the year but he faced continual harassment and imprisonment by the Sudan government.  He remains active and appears to be on Facebook:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Journal Entry for May 14, 2004: Darfur, Khartoum night life and local traffic

Spent this evening chatting and having a few beers with the African Union team that has just been to the west (Darfur) to arrange the logistics for a peace monitoring effort. We sat on the roof of my political officer, also part of the team. It cooled down rapidly tonight. Fell to 98 degrees by 7:30. But it was still 98 at 10pm. There were lots of people out at clubs, restaurants and on the street. On the way back, passed one well-lit place with two people in full body costumes out in front. They were waving and looking jolly. The costumes were furry and, I am quite sure, like a sauna inside. One was a rabbit. The ears drooped and the arms were too long for the person, so they drooped too. I hope it is shift work.

As usual, drove through the new phase of road construction. Lots of it going on. Roads are being broadened and extended. This is very necessary because of the burgeoning traffic congestion. But roads are built or rebuilt without any discernible attention to alternate traffic routes. Sometimes, you'll come to a street that used to go somewhere but now ends in a ditch or pile of dirt. Sometimes, you'll be riding on an old road when it stops. You can see the new road ahead or to the side but you'll need to go over some rough ground to get there. Everybody going both ways faces the same challenge. So the traffic backs up and everyone runs for whatever space they can get. Soon, everyone is lost in the dust, especially at night. The same thing happens in reverse. You'll be zooming down a nice new paved road until suddenly it stops. There may or may not be another road in sight. My driver always seems to know where to go and eventually we get there.

My favorite example of road work is a large exchange near the embassy. Four lanes of traffic meet at a major intersection. The old intersection: a couple of dirt roads plus a paved one. They are building a new exchange which is sorely needed. Only problem is that while they are building it, where the old one used to be, there is now no official intersection at all. Instead, the two roads pass close enough together that traffic "leaks" from one to the other over maybe 20 feet of construction area. Here traffic congeals and cars pass each other every which way and up. I like to think of it as a macro example of the physics phenomenon of "quantum tunneling." Particles from two different realms get so close they just sort of "pass through" barriers to magically reach the other side. Who needs an actual intersection. That is so old physics!