Monday, December 1, 2008

To be continued...

I was sick, burnt out, becoming cynical, and feeling like I was working on a project that wasn't doing good anymore (more on that later)- so last month I decided that it was time to leave Sudan. It was a sad day, I never wanted to leave the country that I learned to love but knew that the longer I stayed there the harder it would be to leave and come back to a 'normal' life. There are a million things that I will miss, but for now I am just trying to catch up on sleep, readjust to waking up in my own bed, have running water, good food all the time and my family close to me. I have thousands of photos and stories floating around in my head which I will continue to post. And as soon as I am recovered fully I will start the job search again with the hope of continuing to work towards peace in Sudan in some way or another.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The dreaded mozzies!!

I recently got diagnosed with malaria after returning from the swampland and being eaten alive every night by mosquitoes! It turns out that it was a fluke, which I found out after I had already taken all of the drugs to treat malaria which was actually worse than the malaria itself (malaria is a commonly misdiagnoses disease in Africa). The whole scary experience and being personally affected got me thinking more about diseases here, because I know that I was very lucky compared to many others in that I have the resources and knowledge to get well. Additionally we are insured with medical evacuation by flying ambulance should one of us really fall seriously ill. Malaria infects more than 500 million people a year and kills more than a million— one person dies about every 30 seconds!! I'm sure that many people die in Sudan due to lack of proper health clinics and infrastructure. When I first felt sick I was lucky to be in Juba where there is more access to healthcare, relatively speaking of course. I went to a local clinic where I was the only Kawaja. That whole clinic experience in and of itself was enough to make me never want to get sick again! There was one doctor and about 50 patients waiting to see the doctor for the few hours that he is there during the night. The doctor works alone in a one room clinic attached to the lab where they do blood tests and give injections. Every patient gets about 2 minutes to talk to the doctor before you are ushered out to give your blood in the equally as crowded lab. The test for malaria is simple and takes about 10 minutes, but you do need lab equipment and some expertise to be able to identify the disease. The treatment is also simple and cheap (although not always effective for all types of malaria). It costs less than $10 in Nairobi, which for me is nothing but to the average Sudanese family is probably a lot. Not to mention the costs that most people have to travel in order to actually reach a clinic to get a test and get the medicines to treat it. Malaria can come on quickly and if you don't catch it early enough people are not able to recover. It made me think about what can be done to stop people from dying of malaria. I guess as in every other health problem, the best cure is prevention. I recently heard of this charity who has a very simple mission- giving everyone a mosquito net... If everyone could sleep under a mosquito net they would be much safer from malaria. The difficulty again is the cost, because although for me $10 for a net is not much. For the average Sudanese-way too much! The charity nothing but nets ( is a good place to start on preventing malaria. Then of course there is the fact that the West is focusing more on impotence than research on diseases like malaria. Drugs to treat malaria should be cheaper, malaria tests should be cheaper, and maybe someday it will be eradicated (wishful thinking I know...)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Just another day (stuck) in the office

Our car slid off the road today and ended up stuck in the swamps... It took about 3 hours and lots of mud to finally get the car out. Not your typical day in the office unless you are working in Sudan!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oil country

Going out to the field last week I flew into a perfect airport with a great all weather airstrip and get into the car to drive on perfect roads. This is a new experience for me... You must be thinking that I'm in Juba or Khartoum or another big city in Sudan, but I actually just landed in a place called Tarjath (seriously in the middle of nowhere in Sudan). I'm sure you couldn't even find it on a map if you tried. (it's in Unity state if you do want to try...) The reason for the perfect roads, the perfect airstrip and the 3 flights a week here (as opposed to one flight a week to other places) is that this is the heart of the oil fields. Sudan is one of the largest oil producing countries in Africa, and much of it is being extracted by Chinese oil companies in this area. This was a driving factor in the long civil war and continues to be a major sticking point to lasting peace. (see Abyei for example). As I drive North of Tarjath to the place I will be staying, I see mile after mile of empty land except for the oil rigs and oil compounds that I see in the distance. All oil wells are connected by nice roads built only to take the oil out of Sudan. The workers at "the Companies" (as local people refer to them) are either expats or Sudanese brought in from the North. Local people might get a job as a cleaner or a cook, but never anything above that. Of course in the villages surrouding this enourmous wealth there is no school (the UNICEF tent that used to serve as a school fell down so students still learn under a tree), no clinic (although the oil companies have their own clinic only available to them), and hardly any development to show for the wealth but a few well maintained roads. Aside from the lack of development in the area the oil companies (and the bombings during the war) have driven away the animals. I was told that elephants used to migrate here but now they have moved to other areas, leaving the land is as deserted of animals as it is of people.

Yay for Yei?

I recently returned from a fabulous R&R (see previous post on Rest and Relaxation), which is why I haven't posted in a while. This vacation I left the continent of Africa, and it was much needed! I recommend it to anyone living and working in Sudan. It's amazing to remember how different your reality can be in Sudan when you go to the outside world. Anyway, I could write forever about my vacation but since this blog is about Sudan I will get back to my reality right now...
Before leaving for my R&R I had in my mind a post about the place where I spend much of my time- in Yei. I was going to write about all of the successes of the place and how it's so far ahead of other places that I have been in Sudan. I recently saw Salva Kiir (the President of South Sudan and the Vice-President of all of Sudan- confusing I know) open the first electric plant in South Sudan so that there will now be power everywhere. This means that hospitals will have power all the time without generators, streets will be lit, etc. etc. In Yei there are also fuel stations, a vibrant Sudanese middle class, a market where prices are not ridiculous and you can buy almost anything, decent roads, Ethiopian coffee, and relatively perfect weather. Yei is also nicknamed small London because of it's cosmopolitan nature. On the border of Uganda, the DRC, and not too far from Kenya you get all types of people living in Yei.
But back to the point of why my post title is now Yay for Yei??? (question mark) Instead of Yay for Yei!! (exclamation mark). Upon arriving back from my R&R I started hearing stories about women in town being caned. I thought it was a mistake as I had always felt like Yei was one of the most progressive and safest places in Sudan, but after hearing the same story from several people and hearing it later discussed in a conference I knew it was true. Women were being stopped for wearing trousers that were too tight (or just generally for wearing trousers and not a skirt!) One kawaja was even stopped and told to go home and put on a skirt. This is due to the so called 'morality laws' which someone suddenly decided was a good idea! Isn't this the same sort of thing that the South was fighting for all of these years? I hope that soon this ridiculousness will stop and I that my next post will be only Yay for Yei!! Until then I'm not going back to Yei until I buy a skirt.... (since I currently don't have any).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tent life

This time in Sudan I'm living in a tent more than a hut. Every time I mention my tent to people they don't really understand the living in a tent concept. It's not a pop-up tent like you carry with you when backpacking. It's more of a safari style tent which you get in the nice hotels when you go on Safari in places like Kenya. (but believe me I'm still roughing it...) Some of the tents are even en-suite tents where you have a separate room as your bathroom with flush toilets and everything you have in a real bathroom. Of course you still end up showering with lizards and various other creatures, but when I can get a tent with my own bathroom I'm in heaven!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I traveled last month to the Agok/ Abyei area (on the frontline of the North-South border). Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Abyei area got special status (because it was basically an unresolvable issue at the time). As soon as I landed I saw that the area felt distinctly different from other places that I have been in Sudan. The tension was palpable and there was talk from everyone in the town that people were just waiting for the other side to make the first move for the fighting to break out. Soldiers had moved their families out of the town, which is never a good sign... Then last week fighting erupted in Abyei destroying the town and displacing some 10's of thousands of people. NGO's (including my colleagues) were evacuated from the area leaving with nothing but what they had with them at the time they heard the first gunshots. The fighting here is especially worrying because of the importance of the area (OIL!, and their still as yet unresolved status under the CPA).

Enough! recently wrote a good factpiece about the importance of Abyei in ensuring that the CPA is implemented:

The BBC recently covered the story much better than I can:

Or watch the video coverage by Al Jazeera:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Beautiful Things

With all of the ugliness around sometimes it's better to just focus on the small things, the things that I will always find beautiful no matter where I travel to in Sudan:

A child's smile
The beautiful nature
Breathtaking sunsets

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trouble in Khartoum

The latest news out of Khartoum this week. I'm glad right now that I'm in the South and away from the fighting. The conflict in Darfur is separate from the civil war in the South, but in order for peace to stick in South Sudan the conflict in Darfur must be resolved.

From Sudan Radio Service:

12 May 2008 – (Khartoum) – Seventeen Sudan Armed Forces soldiers are confirmed dead and more than 15 wounded in an attack by the Darfur anti-government group, the Justice and Equality Movement, on Saturday in Omdurman.

The number of JEM soldiers killed has not been confirmed. However, Sudan Television reports two commanders of the movement, convoy leader Mohammed Salih Jabra and the intelligence chief Mohammed Nouri-Din, were killed.

No specific information about the number of civilians killed or wounded is yet available.

Sudan Radio Service Khartoum bureau producer Nichola Mandil reports that on Sunday the Governor of Khartoum state, Dr. Abdelalim Al-Mutasi, announced that a curfew is being imposed in order to help security organs search for any JEM fighters who may still be in the capital. The curfew means people will be restricted to their homes from 5 p.m. until 10 a.m. the next day.

Mandil says despite the curfew, Khartoum itself is starting to return to normal, with only Omdurman still off-limits.

[Nichola Mandil]: “From eastern Sudan, Port Sudan and Kassala, people are coming to Khartoum by bus. From Gezira, Madeni and from El-Obeid the movement is fine. Only movement is restricted in Omdurman and also in some areas from Khartoum-North. But otherwise in different areas the markets are opened, but only to enter Omdurman is not possible at all and from Omdurman to enter Khartoum is not possible.”

Mandil quotes Governor Al-Mutasi asking citizens in the capital to respect the curfew and report what the governor called “suspicious movements.”

Meanwhile, Sudan Television is quoting sources within the Sudan Armed Forces as saying they will pay 250 million Sudanese pounds for any information that leads to the capture or death of JEM leader, Dr. Khalil Ibrahim.

On Sunday, Dr. Ibrahim told the BBC that he was in Khartoum and was headed to the Republican Palace in order to topple the Sudan government, but the Sudan Armed Forces says it has repulsed and chased the movement away from the capital. Early Monday morning there were some reports that Dr. Ibrahim has now been captured, but this could not be confirmed.

Some eyewitnesses in Khartoum told Sudan Radio Service on Sunday said that they saw many dead bodies lying on the streets in Omdurman and vehicles apparently belonging to JEM were destroyed and burning.

The eyewitnesses also said that they saw JEM soldiers moving all over Omdurman, especially around Suk Libya and even up to Suk Al-Shabi.

After returning from Saudi Arabia, President Omer Al-Bashir says that Sudan has cut diplomatic relations with Chad following the attack, blaming Chad for supporting and financing the anti-government group. Some alleged JEM soldiers who were captured appeared on Sudan Television saying they came from Chad.

However, Chad says it was not involved in the attacks. Speaking to Al-Jazeera television, the Chadian information minister called on the Sudanese government and all the Darfur movements to continue seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict.

But a peaceful solution seems further away than ever. Presidential Adviser Mustafa Osman Ismail says that peace talks between the national government and the Justice and Equality Movement would be suspended as a result of the attacks.

The attack on the capital had impact outside Darfur, as well. First Vice President of the Republic and President of the Government of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, condemned the attacks and announced the SPLM would postpone its second national convention, which was supposed to start in Juba on Sunday.

The attack also garnered attention from outside the country. The United States government says it is very concerned by the outbreak of violence in Khartoum and is urging both sides to exercise restraint. And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also expressed concern about the fighting and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Since I’ve returned to Sudan I’ve made 2 trips to Juba (the capital of South Sudan). I complained before about how much I hated Juba and the dirtiness, the trash, the cost of living, but almost a year later I feel a bit differently about the place. People are putting up buildings, roads are improving, restaurants and hotels are opening, and generally you can see development happening (the development is even sometimes Sudanese driven finally). On this trip to Juba I had what could be a typical weekend for someone living in a big city in Europe or America. I went to the International Juba Film Festival, had 2 great (free) yoga classes in an air conditioned office/ studio, got invited to spend a Sunday by the pool, had long lunches with friends of great Lebanese food, Chinese food, and Indian food, and went to a fabulous party! The party I went to was at an actual bar… where you could get real drinks… and even ice-cream!! I also visited 2 friends who lived in real accommodations. One friend has an apartment which had nice furniture imported from Ikea, art on the walls, her own kitchen, satellite TV and a porch which overlooks the Nile. I spent another afternoon drinking good wine with another friend with an equally fabulous place while playing with their pet Dik-Dik (a very small antelope which had been domesticated and was as friendly as a dog). Maybe it was the fact that I got to see some of the wonderful friends that I have made in Sudan, or maybe I’m just tired of living in a tent in a place where you have to make your own entertainment- but this time Juba was ‘Jubalicious’. (well aside from the usual Sudan things and the recent rise in insecurity there...)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Some of my favorite Sudanese expressions and the names of places that make me smile:

Somehow -
- Adjective (in Sudan at least)
1. Instead of saying that you are doing well or doing badly, you are always just doing 'somehow'
2. Ie: "How are you? Somehow. "How was your trip to Juba? Somehow.

1. As a way to say can you imagine? but said only as Imagine! (with a certain emphasis that I can't convey in text)
2. Ie:"I was hit by a truck, lost my bag, and then was chased by a crazy goat and ended up not being able to come into work." Response: Imagine!!

Those of **
- Adverb
1. This is used to describe one person or a group of people and who you belong to.
2. Ie: "where are those of John?"- This could mean John himself, John and his family, John and the organization he works for, John and his dog, etc. etc.

1. Usually a greeting to someone in the morning, but in Sudan it's used as a greeting at any time of day. Children will yell "morning" to you after the sun has gone down (this is especially true in Juba)

1. To give up to your enemy. But in Sudan you can surrender to many things
2. ie: Most commonly used when you can't finish your food or drink- you say I 'surrender' as if you your food has won.

Bukra Inshallah-
1. In Arabic this literally translates to "Tomorrow, God willing". It's used basically to say that it will never ever ever happen. But, if God was willing it, then tomorrow it will happen...

Here are some names of places in Sudan which are amusing:
- The towns of Wau and Yei! Wow! Yay!
- The Kuku tribe
- Budi county.
- The town of Isoke. Rumor has it that the first Kawaja came here said of the place-'it's okay' and it stuck!

You have to love the English language and it's many interpretations in other parts of the world. If anyone else has their own favorite Sudan expressions or places- send me a comment.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A dream come true

I recently posted a story about how much I love to fly in Sudan and how I've wanted to become a pilot. Well, my dream came true when I recently flew from Agok to Loki! I boarded a missionary flight (who knew that the Church had enough money to buy all these planes- maybe I'm in the wrong field?) The first part of the flight was from Agok to Rumbek. I was leaving Sudan suddenly for unfortunate family reasons, but somehow this flight made it a better way to leave. I had a moment of panic when getting on the plane and realizing that it was only the pilot and I. I had images of the pilot passing out, having a heart attack, freaking out, suddenly becoming suicidal, etc, and being alone up in the air with no idea what to do next or even how to radio for help. So, the fact that he let me sit in the copilot seat was really only a security measure in case something were to happen right? I told the pilot that I had always wanted to fly and that my grandfather had been in the Royal Air Force during WWII so the pilot kindly agreed to give me a lesson on how to fly. (Thank you to the pilot if you ever read my blog!) He taught me not only to fly in the air, but how to land in Rumbek and take off again! You can't imagine the rush of pulling back on the controls and having the whole plane go up in the air. The second part of the flight was to Loki which means that we flew over the Eastern Equatoria area where I used to work. (At this point we had other passengers, so the pilot put the controls back on autopilot so they wouldn't get motion sickness from my jerky movements) I told the pilot about my love for the hills of Eastern Equatoria after which the flight turned into somewhat of a personal scenic flight. We flew in circles around the Didinga hills to see the villages perched up on top of the hills completely isolated from anyone else. The pilot checked out the runway perched on top of the mountain which looked impossible to land on (causing quite a scare to the other two passengers on the plane). One misjudgement and you fall of the side of the mountain... He flew the plane so that I could get the perfect shot of my favorite place in Sudan. Now, only in Sudan would you have a day like this- I can't imagine just being given the controls of a plane anywhere else in the world and being given a personal tour like this!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sudan Hiatus

Last year the generator stopped working, the rains came and I started feeling sick. It was enough for me to decide to take a 'Sudan Hiatus' to regain my sanity. I decided 6 months in the Middle East working with Iraqi refugees should just about do it and now I'm back! Now I know that for most people that sounds horribly difficult and not much of a break, but believe me living in a city with all the modern amenities you are used to really was the break that I needed. Hopefully this time back I'm coming in refreshed and ready for another Sudan experience. I'm based in Yei and will be traveling to new areas of Sudan including the transitional areas (which are not officially North or South Sudan yet). I'm hoping to stay through the census, the elections and will definitely be following the referendum closely in 2011. It really is a fascinating time in history to be working in a place like Sudan. Stay tuned...