January 14 – May 31, 2019
Lee McKenna's Journal: Sudan, November 2008, Entry 4
January 27, 2009 | bpfna
Lee McKenna's Journal
Sudan, November 2008
The journey to the compound is quiet today, with businesses closed for the Muslim day of prayer. The air is easier to breathe, the dust swirls with less ferocity. Only the beggars are still at work. Little boys still leap up onto the hood of the jeep to wash a window – without water or soap – in hopes of a penny or two. Older boys trawl up and down the queue of cars at stoplights flogging the oddest things – from facial tissue to barbecue lighters, toilet seats, pink plastic vanity shelves and lottery tickets. While the infrastructure building (that is, to support the military, corporate collusion and the occasional accidental tourist) continues apace, I notice that those intersections that feature odd attempts at public art look more derelict than ever, the poured-cement shapes now covered in flaking paint, graffiti and bits and pieces of old and new notices. The boulevards of royal palms look sad, some of them reduced to dried-up trunks bent over like an elderly gentleman bowing to his dance partner.
The huge development we have read about is indeed taking shape right on the flood plain of the Nile; this would be illegal in Canada, I say to no one in particular. Right now there are small earth movers and other equipment slowly levelling what must be millions of tons of red-soil fill in preparation for the erection of hotels, office buildings, a tourist resort and shops. On the other side, ancient agriculture continues, rows of guar gum trees, smaller rows of plants and bushes, striped with small streams of pumped-in water and dotted with small dwellings made of canvas and animal skins stretched over stick frames with tin roofs held down by whatever heavy refuse could be found.
I read this morning that Hillary has accepted Obama’s invitation to serve as secretary of state, that Zimbabwe has refused entry to three of the ‘Elders’, Jimmy Carter, Graça Machel and Kofi Annan and that the UN Security Council has urged an increase in the numbers of peacekeepers in the DRC. Elsewhere the paper has an article about the 17,000 DRC peacekeepers that, in the opinion of the writer, are living ‘high off the hog’, passive and disinterested observers to atrocities; another Rwanda, they say. Sigh.
Twenty new faces greet us. And I feel that mixture of trepidation – wondering what in the heck makes me think I can do any good here in this place of ecological, social, cultural and political exotica – and joy that threatens to burst my seams at the thought that the numbers will grow again, the number of trained trainers going out to touch and challenge and organise and reconcile and restore, to do risky things in the great grand hope for peace.
SONAD (the Sudanese Organisation for Non-violence and Development), our local partner, uses its pan-Sudan contacts to gather together and select individuals from communities and organisations already doing risky work. While previous trainings were intentionally composed of more women than men and equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, this group is different, I notice: there are more men than women, apparently, guessing, more Muslims than Christians. Though some have travelled long and dangerous distances to get here; I still get the prize for the longest distance travelled.
The faces in the circle are guarded, curious, as we sit down. Strangers now; but that will change. In the days to come, we will delve into each others’ lives, discovering things we never imagined, stretched and perhaps a little battered, challenged, witnesses to one another’s deaths and births.
We begin – I sometimes think, rather nastily – with introductions unlike most other introductions. Paired with someone they don’t know, they are to find out their partner’s name, birthplace, tribe, what they like to do; and then, with their ‘wrong’ hand, draw their picture, depicting one or more elements of their story. Paper and pens are distributed and the conversations begin. And, somewhere down deep, to my surprise, no one jumps up and says, what’s this silliness about? I thought we were here to figure out how to bring about peace in Sudan?
The results are both funny and revealing. Mohammed Yakub, West Darfur, likes to read and study and he is pictured in a chair reading. Hala lives in what she calls ‘the war place’ and the picture drawn by Mamun, who lives in the Nuba Mountains, draws her surrounded by janjawiid. Mazahr comes from west of Nyala, South Darfur State and Tongo James, one of the storied Lost Boys, likes to read and play volleyball and, in James’ left-handed picture, she is holding a volleyball in one hand and a book in the other. Afra is from Tutti, 20 years old, tiny, clearly mischievous. Ghada and Rafaat are both from North Kordofan, Nubians, their first language Kenuzi-Dongola. Samuel, a Moro, a Christian and a southerner from Northern Bahr El Ghazal, captures Abdulatif, named for the hero of the 1924 revolution that overthrew British rule, a Masalit from El Geneina in West Darfur, a few kilometres from the border with Chad and a few hundred metres from IDP camps holding a combined total of one million people, with his much-fringed teacher’s mortar board. Farah, whose refugee family was able to flee beyond the IDP camps of Darfur, and who now lives in Blue Nile either missed the instructions or decides that his drawing is too important to use his left hand, creates an egregiously high quality drawing of Noura, a Furian, who likes music and reading. Joseph, who, not so long ago, was a soldier with the SPLA (Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army) under John Garang, turning to studies and chaplaincy in 2000, draws Julia, a 32 year-old German woman who is seconded to SONAD from DED (German Development Organisation) with her guitar in hand.
The training will be ten days, with one day off in the middle. The first three days are Introductory, the following four are termed ‘Digging Deeper’ and the final three days take us into the actual Training of Trainers. Today, we get to know one another a bit through energisers that remind us of everyone’s names, through the formation of buddy pairs where each expresses their hopes, their fears, and the extent of their awareness of when and how they might be tempted to ‘check out’, what it might look like, how their buddy could help them to stay connected. We talk about discomfort, physical, mental, emotional, as a sign of attentiveness and a state of heightened awareness and learning – something to stay with, to welcome, not fear. We covenant together to listen to and respect one another, to arrive on time and, in this land of inconsistent infrastructure but cellphones everywhere – to use them only during meals and breaks. Times for Muslim prayer are agreed upon, mats provided; notes about translation and key word lists are posted.
The methodology is explained. Though I have been here several times to your country, I am not the expert; you are the experts. Though I have some understanding of conflict, how it happens, why it happens and some ideas about our common humanity, the dynamics of conflict and alternatives paths to violence, I do not come with the answers. Instead, I come with the confidence that the wisdom already lies within you. The answers to peace in Sudan are already gestating inside of you and I am merely your midwife. I will do my best to provide a safe place and all the tools and encouragement you need, but the work, the birthing is yours. I then hold my hands out in front of me, cupped, describing a stretched-out belly and affecting a late-term waddle: you are all pregnant. The women giggle as I walk round the circle, my hands clasped around this imaginary bundle, making eye-contact with each one; the men, smile hesitantly, not quite sure what to make of this. They may have been called many things before, but never pregnant. You are all pregnant, I tell them, with the new Sudan. The circle erupts, the nervous laughter become something else, flowing and filling the room, creating gaping holes in fences of race, religion, tribe and gender.
Although the participants are all literate, some graduates of post-secondary institutions and experienced leaders in their clan, tribes, camps and communities and they work for NGOs, they are mostly unremunerated volunteers. Few have paid employment. Three of the twenty are married, most of them unpartnered, it would seem, caught in the cultural requirements of dowry and debt, tradition and tribe. Those who have gathered here receive from SONAD a few pounds per day to provide for their needs while here; accommodation is primitive, the water cloudy with mysterious particulates, the food just adequate. Still, the nearby market stalls have a remarkable variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, spices and household supplies on offer. Surrounded by endless desert, it is difficult to imagine the plush fields and orchards from which these treasures issue.
I crawl under my mosquito netting, the day’s dust, sweat and grit mostly washed away. One of the flying beasts has found a way in (though it seems quieter than its Canadian cousins, the worse-than-the-bite buzz absent) and I wonder where, in this desert land mosquitoes find breeding grounds. Ah yes; perhaps those little, initially puzzling, pools of water that lie about on streets and alleyways, the results of broken water pipes, part of an infrastructure that is either failing or slapped together in the first place with a political insouciance that accompanies the provision of services to the poor. And the open sewers that collect black waters and assorted refuse. A dog barks outside in a night that falls early and fast. The air is dry and cools quickly following sunset. My little flashlight and a good book combine with, above my head, a fan that spins slowly, fa-woomp, fa-woomp, fa-woomp, moving enough air to bring on sleep.
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