A sand storm makes the windows shake and whistle loudly. Even inside the apartment my eyes get full of dust if I stand too close to one of them. You can look straight at the sun, the red sky and a perfectly round white ball stares back. People walk in the streets below while the trees shake. It is 40 degrees, sunny and dusty in Khartoum.
The roads are good. The land is dry. As far as the eye can see there is only sand and dust.
People come and go with the patience of those used to walking long distances, one foot in front of the other, no hurry in their step. My stomach tightens as we approach the IDP camps. I don’t know we are near, all the same the pain takes hold, so much so that the driver asks if I am feeling ok. After a brief stop to show our license to the police, the one that allows us to peer into this part of society, (particularly important given there is a white foreigner in the car), we turn off the main road past a grand white building that stretches out for at least a block. I enquire about it.
“its a hospital,’ the driver responds, ‘a very special hospital.”
I am impressed. It is new, large, and well kept.
“it is a military hospital” comes further clarification from the back seat.
Now it makes more sense. There it is, big, new and expensive. Hovering over the landless and the displaced.
The IDP camp pleasantly surprises me. It is not as poor and miserable as I might have expected. The houses are made of traditional clay, held together by long thin sticks. They look quite beautiful when fully finished. Some are painted in traditional colours and symetric shapes, some even have windows and doors. Yes, it is misery. Entire families living in one, maybe two rooms, but so much better than other camps I have visited. Sadly, this kind of poverty no longer impresses me.
The school also looks ok. Until I count the number of little colorful chairs in the kinder class: 90. They fit, but how do they mange so many children? Then I see the teachers, the ones recently trained on child rights, walking around with hard sticks and whips, the children instinctively run away from them.
At the orphanage the same stories repeat themselves: high positions belong to men. The men talk, the women listen, and the children struggle to remain invisible. Every now and then I manage to pull away from the ranks and steal a moment with one of them. They are both intrigued and entertained by me. We are aliens from the moon touching down on mars. Soon a crowd is surrounding the car. Looking at the strange foreigner making faces to make them laugh. They place their hands on my window, looking for a more personal interaction, and I struggle to give each and one of them one smile, one shake, one laugh… it is so crowded around the car now that I fear we may run over a little one as we pull away, then the whip approaches and they immediately disperse.
The mandatory visits to the relevant authorities prove as disappointing as ever. As he walks into the room a soft voice behind me whispers,
“I’m not too sure how much he will know about the project”
He speaks, but doesn’t have a clear view of the project, and speaks, and doesn’t know what we train on, and brings issues to the table that have nothing to do with what we came here for, and speaks. All I can think of is how wonderful it would be to photograph him. His dark rough skin, against the white of his eyes. A well kept beard that is turning into thin silver. A long white robe and headscarf give him an air of importance and clout.
They need more money, more support, always more. My questions go unanswered, and his requests will too. The young boy next to him wears snakeskin shoes. The color and texture, which could easily blend in with the red of the sand below his feet, stand out against the rubber sandals that most wear. Eyes and ears around us as government counterparts “accompany” us through our visit.
Just the day before the government has stated that they hope to cut back on all these foreigners’ visits. It takes a lot of time to process their visas, they say, and there is not much to show for it. … obviously, they are not making a link between these annoying strangers and all the money that is flowing in.