Monday, April 30, 2007

Global Day for Darfur

From the BBC website, Sunday 29 April:

Protests have taken place around the world to demand intervention to end the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region.

Organisers of the Global Day for Darfur said events were taking place in 35 capitals to mark the fourth anniversary of the conflict.

Protests included a rally in Downing Street in London, as well as a march on Rome's Coliseum and a demonstration in the German capital Berlin.
Celebrities backing the campaign, such as George Clooney and Mick Jagger, have signed a statement accusing the international community of apathy.
Under the slogan "Time is up... protect Darfur", demonstrators will turn round some 10,000 hourglasses filled with fake blood to highlight the continuing violence in Darfur.
A letter addressed to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for him "to use your influence to push the international community to call for action".

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Another dust storm. This one meant my flight couldn't take off today. When you see it you know why. Electricity went off, the dust obscured the sun, the world went dark, the doors were shut and the dust still steamed in and condensed on everything.

Nothing lost, nothing gained

Today I very stupidly lost my bag. I was coming out of the airport and forgot to pick it up off the conveyor belt at baggage reclaim (which is always a bit of a battle anyway). I was just being absent-minded. I grabbed the big bag and forgot to wait for the small one. It wasn’t until I got back to the office that I realised, and then had to rush back to the airport to search frantically for it, ask everyone… It was nowhere to be found. Inside was my camera (with most of my holiday photos), my spare pair of prescription glasses, expensive designer sunglasses, lots of exciting new and ridiculously over-priced development books from Nairobi, assorted toiletries, body moisturiser, face moisturiser, hand cream, special foot cream, Chanel moisturiser… you know essential things. But things I really treasured, not having so many belongings with me here. I surprised myself by feeling an almost uncontrollable desire to cry. I was so tired and I just really wanted my bag back. We got into the car to leave the airport and I was feeling a bit over-emotional about the whole thing (but hopefully smiling convincingly and hiding it well!). I was with the Logistician and the Driver, and I suddenly realised that they looked nearly as sad as I felt inside. What was in the bag? they asked. “Sorry, sorry” the Logistician repeated, shaking his head gravely and glancing downwards as if someone died every time I remembered another type of lost moisturiser. The camera of course rewarded particular dramatic effect and pathos. But as I listed the things they seemed suddenly dispensable and unimportant – of course. I don’t want to be trite and say I feel guilty about my relative wealth and good fortune, and the fact that I even own a digital camera and D&G sunglasses, but it did occur to me that feeling sad was a little melodramatic and not really necessary. At some point I can buy all those things again, but Mohammed the Driver will probably never own a digital camera, even once. Their sympathy and kindness made me realise what a spoilt girl I can be. I looked out of the window, and really looked at everyone making their way through the midday heat (44 degrees today) and the dust. I examined the lines and expressions on people’s faces and tried to imagine what they might have lost today. From my air conditioned bubble I felt the lightness of my fortunate life, and remembered that I’ll be just fine without Chanel.

Rest and Relaxation, Recuperation, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Reintegration…

For the first two days of my holiday, aka R&R, I had a constant headache. I felt detached from the world. I could walk in a straight line, and I’m sure I could have passed the standing on one foot with my eyes closed test, but inside I was pretty wobbly. After 2 days the headache faded, relaxation began. I started to absorb my new environment. Kenya is a world away from South Sudan, and it was all pretty exciting. “God, the roads are so smooth and flat, are they all surfaced? Wow, you’ve got a nice shower, do you have hot water? Where does the water come from? Do you have a generator? Will the electricity be on all night? Oooh there’s real milk in the fridge. Yum, cheese, can I have some?” I’m sure I was a bit tiresome to my friends. I tried very hard not to begin every sentence with “In Sudan…” or make too many satisfied noises when eating. I was a text-book example of a stressed aid worker slowly unwinding, and it was interesting to observe these stereotypical symptoms in myself.

So began the holiday process:

Relaxation: sleeping, eating, swimming, eating, drinking.
Reconstruction: eating more, having a haircut, general MOT!, walking on the beach, playing tennis, getting my strength back.

Reintegration: sitting down to proper dinners in nice restaurants, talking about topics of conversation other than humanitarian aid, hearing about films recently released (realising I’d seen none of them), discussing the French elections, getting shocked and excited for my friends who are expecting a baby, going clubbing and remembering how to dance, slow reintegration back into society, expansion of world-view beyond South Sudan.

Physical reconstruction and social reintegration process now complete, I have returned with supplies of Kenyan coffee, good parmesan and chocolate, ready for the next stint.

if we took a holiday

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Daily Bread

I remember someone telling me once that if you have a bank account you are in the top 10% (or was it 1%?) of wealthiest people on this earth. It enables you to save or borrow money. You can manage your money and make plans for the future. Such ways of being are completely ingrained into me, since opening my first piggy bank account at the age of 5 and having to decide which sweets to buy with my pocket money, or saving up for a Michael Jackson tape.

I realised recently just how difficult it is for my colleagues to manage their money. For example: we had been discussing for a few weeks how to solve the problem of food in the office, and it was decided after much debate that all those who wanted to eat lunch could contribute 200 dinars (ie 1 dollar) a day, towards food, which the cook would cook for everyone. Everyone agreed that this was cheaper than buying food in the market. For the whole month this meant the staff would spend about 5% of their salary on lunch.

For one week the system worked beautifully, and we all sat together at lunchtime, waving away the flies and tucking in to a variety of dishes. The khawajas tended to go more for the rice and lentils and the Sudanese seemed to prefer the asida and dried fish in sauce (which my colleague has appropriately named ‘fish and snot’!). We sat around Sudanese style sharing the food from the same big plate, eating with our right hand and keeping our left hand below the table. We would laugh about who ate the most, and eat until everything was finished. Finally everyone had something to eat at lunch. For pudding there were mangoes a plenty, and more swatting of flies.

However, come the end of the second week, no-one turned up for lunch anymore. They went off somewhere during lunchtime, walking around the neighbours’ mud-huts or sitting outside chatting to the guards. I couldn’t work out the problem, did they not like the food? Were they getting ill? So I sat down with a couple of staff who finally divulged that they had no money left. It was about the 8th of the month, and everyone was broke. They’d given money to their wives and families, and so they just weren’t eating during the day. I asked if they could bring some food from home, but they said all the food was always finished the night before, there was never any food left-over.

Financial planning is an alien concept. But then again, in Sudan, if you are hungry, someone will usually feed you, even a stranger. Especially if you are a man; in Darfur the men eat out on the street and if you pass by at fatoor time they will invite you to eat with them. (As a woman it’s not so easy as you have to eat inside the compound, but someone will always help you out).

In the end my colleague and I paid for everyone's food for the rest of that month, and this month we started afresh and people have paid in advance (if they wanted to) for the whole month. So we can still all eat together. Though when it’s the horrible smelly ‘fish and snot’ dish I try to sit at the other end of the table.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Peace Dancers

Credit goes to a friend of mine here, who has talent, and a camera with a big lens.