Sudan Visit: Joy in Darfur

I think Darfur will change my life.

I step off the plane and all I see is colour. After the grey white sandiness of Khartoum, the colour is a joy. The cornflower blue of the huge huge sky. Swathes of sand, burnt yellow. Rows of slightly crumbling pastel painted houses in El Fasher. The flash of a dreamy pink flowering plant gracing the walls of the guesthouse in which I am staying.

I feel I can breathe here.

On Saturday I am 25 in Darfur. I wake early and expect to ache for home. Instead, I shower in the sunlight and sit serenely in the peace of the morning, enjoying one of those moments of complete perfect happiness.

Later, we drive for hours across the desert of Darfur, passing misty mountains which burst up through the earth. We visit Wad Koti, a small rural community just outside El Fasher. Here, Practical Action is helping the community to separate the water for animals and the water for people. At the moment, everyone – person and animal alike – drinks from the same trough. And invariably, the people – especially the little children – fall ill. I speak with one beautiful, but very timid, 9 year old boy who is responsible for caring for his family’s herd of animals three days a week, preventing him from attending school. He is not holding a gun. He is one of the few children here who is not. As I look around at all the cows and goats that have gathered to drink water, all I can see are the innocents holding guns. Guns which are too big, too adult for them. It is a horrifying reminder of the reality of living here in North Darfur. Although the conflict is officially over, there are many rebel groups who still struggle against the government. Peace in Darfur is something of a fragile veil. And as one mother tells me later: “We always have the fear that something will happen, but in order to survive we have no choice but to overcome it. We pray to God for safety.”

The insecurity in Darfur means that many NGOs and UN agencies that operate here use convoys of armoured vehicles. On Sunday, I accompany one such convoy north to Tartora, a small village which was close to the heart of the conflict.While travelling I look to the earth of Darfur. At first glance, it is barren. But the more you look the more it moves, it lives. People moving across the sand, leading their animals to pasture. Making lives and livelihoods from what appears to be dead. It is amazing.

When we arrive in Tartora we are welcomed with a traditional Sudanese greeting. Crowds of smiling women in technicolour dresses and scarves  clap and click their fingers, gently sway and then produce the most astonishing half-song, half-whistle, the ‘zaghrouda’. It fills the air, my head, my heart. There is so much joy here. In spite of all that Tartora has witnessed, and the little it has in terms of services – still there is so much joy. The women here are joyful because Practical Action is going to help them to build a huge earth embankment along their ‘wadi ‘ – the fertile, clay soil. This means that when the rains fall, the water will not run off on to the sandy soil and be wasted, but stay and nourish the embryonic seedlings in the ‘wadi’ on which the community so depends. The work has not even started, yet already there is joy. It is hardwired into the hearts of Darfur. I remember the ‘gratitude diaries’ that we in the West are encouraged to write by advocates of positive thinking, and think how strange they would seem to the people of North Darfur. No-one here writes their gratitude – instead it is felt keenly, sharply, viscerally, every single day. And there is so much gratitude for life itself – however hard that life might be.

Joyful women in Tartora, North Darfur

Joyful women in Tartora, North Darfur

5 responses to “Sudan Visit: Joy in Darfur”

  1. Raj Jani Says:

    Hi Ella, I am moved reading about your blogs to know about the extreme vulnerability of Sudanese people in the wake of ethnic conflicts coupled with extreme susceptibility of dying with diseases, even if they remain alive! Kudos to aid workers like you and organisations like PAC, as you are doing a great humanitarian deed of filling rays of hope in the fearful eyes of these innocent people!

  2. Raj Jani Says:

    My heart goes for the vulnerable, gullible people of African continent whose lives are nothing but an everyday struggle to survive first and then live disease-free and healthy! I want to congratulate all the aid agencies working in those remote places amidst all the adversity, braving themselves and their beneficiaries, giving them hopes through knowledge, skills, better techniques and courage above all to come out winner like any other human being in a more privileged world! Kudos!

  3. Sheikh Idris Arka Says:

    Hi Ella it’s great to reading your Impressions about your visit to Darfur and the good Darfur community responses, actually I believe our Sudanese culture affecting in the our personal relations so I think your character its positive effect to community visit resulted the mission succeed, thanks

  4. Ella Jolly Says:

    Dear Raj – Thank you so much for your comment – I’m so glad you are inspired by the work that Practical Action and other NGOs are doing in the region. I share your admiration for the people living in Sudan who struggle to survive in the most challenging circumstances – but who do it with great joy and dignity. Hope you can keep reading. Thanks, Ella

  5. Ella Jolly Says:

    Hi Sheikh Idris!
    Great to hear from you – how are you doing? Thank you for you lovely comment. I miss you and everyone from the office very much indeed!

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