MRN News Service – A division of Media Review Network
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien for MRN (2008)
“Living in a country that just came out of a 21-year civil war and that still battles with Darfur gets to you, but the people are amazing.” That’s the standard response to anyone who asks the inevitable: “What was it like?”
You know, nobody asks for the hard-knocked life. And that’s not what I expected during a seven-month stint in Sudan to acquire the Arabic tongue, work with aid agencies and bleed words from my fingertips as a freelance journalist.
I landed in a boiling Khartoum – this North African country’s capital city – on July 1 2007. I had enrolled for an Arabic language course at the International University of Africa, but should have guessed that facilities would be way less than grand.
This so-called university seemed worse off than a poverty-stricken primary school in rural South Africa.
I was also introduced to the world of aid agencies; those organisations that aim to Make Things Better in conflict hotspots like Darfur. This took me to various parts of Sudan and offered insight into the strength and resilience of the warm Sudanese citizens. It also brought me face-to-face with the military regime that governs this land with little mercy.
These trips took me back to the first time I visited Darfur, in October 2004, to accompany a South African aid agency to deliver aid to displaced persons. During that trip, children’s smiles reached out to me, somewhat in defiance of their miserable fate in a refugee camp near Al Fashir town in Darfur.
By the time I returned, my responsibility with one particular aid agency was to photograph and write about relief activities, which exposed me to the depth of need in Sudan.
This country has been plagued with conflict for almost as long as I have been alive. Its post-colonial history started in 1956, when England and Egypt handed back the reigns of leadership to the local population.
Despite not having learnt as much Arabic as I had hoped, there were thankfully numerous encounters with truly amazing persons. Besides, I ditched the university course because it wasn’t up to any referable standard. Instead, I focused on my writing and photography and sold work to Reuter’s news agency, South African media and even a major newspaper in London. But soon I felt ready to leave Sudan after months of learning patience, patience and more patience with life’s hardships. Patience is the first attribute one acquires in this harsh climate – think floods and overbearing heat – and when dealing with an infrastructure that needs to be upgraded. What one learns most from the Sudanese is humility; how to treat another human being who co-habits the world alongside you. And so the daily life struggles of the ordinary citizenry are eased by the communal nature of being in Sudan. Nowhere previously during my travels had I been invited for lunch by complete strangers on the city’s streets. This is regardless of the clear fact that the person inviting you doesn’t have much for himself. Sudan has etched on my soul an understanding that there are so many more important things to worry about than so many trivial, mundane non-issues. Through this experience I have also learnt something vital about the Sudanese. Their patience and faith will carry them through the toughest times. * Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Media Review Network is an advocacy group based in Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa)