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.

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