Sudan Visit: the sand rises

Darfur, | June 27th, 2012

We are due to travel home from Tartora to El Fasher on Monday. Yet after only ten minutes we turn back. I am confused, and think perhaps we are picking up more passengers. But I am not Sudanese, and cannot sense the bigger problem. My colleagues know better and point to the sky: “look  – the ‘haboob’ is coming.”

The ‘haboob’ is a sand storm. The dust wind, the ‘ghubar’, is responsible. In five minutes, the skyscape is transformed from a pale white vista to a colossal mountain range of sand, swirling towers which move  as one – and faster than you can imagine. We run for shelter, fleeing from the unstoppable wind and sand.

I am naïve and stop to take photos. The sensible ones run fast.

The beginning of the 'haboob'

The beginning of the 'haboob'

Then everything goes dark. An inky night time blackness surrounds us in the mid afternoon. It is a strange, surreal experience. The wind is raging and the rain begins to fall. I feel like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Later the darkness lifts, and all is bathed in an eerie tangerine light. Silence. It seems like the end of the world, and I am one of the few survivors.

Every year the sand storm comes. The insubstantial hay and mud homes in which most people live are ripped apart, and everyone is forced to rebuild their homes and their lives.

The storm is a symbol of the elemental quality of life here.

In spite of our advances in technology and our tendency to dominate the land, to colonize the green with concrete, we do not rule the earth and we cannot control it. It is good to be reminded of that fact, to remember one’s own insignificance.

I think Schumacher (founder of Practical Action) writes it better than I ever can: “Modern man talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that if he won the battle he would find himself on the losing side.”

Nowhere is the rule of nature more evident than in here in Darfur. The people depend on the land to grow crops to eat and sell, and they depend on the rains to come so that those crops will grow. If the rains do not come, there is nothing. So there is profound gratitude among people I meet in Darfur for the ‘haboob’, because it brings one day of rain. They are praying for more. Last year there was none, which means this year people are struggling to find enough food to eat. 60% of the villagers in one small community Kulkul (I do not visit but I meet people from this place) are malnourished, and so desperate that they are forced to forage for food, sometimes subsisting only on hard berries. For these people I hope with all my heart that the ‘haboob’ I witnessed is the start of the rainy season. The alternative – that this year too will be a year of not enough rain – is too worrying to even contemplate.

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