I don’t know where to start. I wish I had taken my wife. Who am I without my school certificates? These three remarks by refugees, scribbled into notebooks by The Niles correspondents, support the Sudanese proverb that ‘experience is a solid walking stick’. War, hunger and poverty have repeatedly forced both Sudanese and South Sudanese to flee their homes. Right now more than 4.5 million people are on the road in the two countries, like these passengers on a bus from Khartoum to Shendi. The fifth edition of The Niles documents their journeys, following their routes to neighbouring villages, fast-expanding cities or the other side of the globe, revealing diverse experiences with a recurring theme: When you leave home, the familiar is lost but the essential remains.
16 The Niles Jamal Adam fled from Eritrea to Kassala, Sudan, but still misses his hometown. Edison Mwangi, who hails from Kenya, earns a living sharpening knives. South Sudanese Victor Ngor Majok Ngor chose to study in Uganda. 700 900 940 km km km > Departure: Adi Quala, Eritrea > Arrival: Wad Sherifay refugee camp in Kassala, Sudan > Distance: 700km “We are waiting for the unknown” > Departure: Dalang, Nuba Mountains, Sudan > Arrival: Kassala, Sudan > Distance: 810km “I had to leave behind my ten-year-old son” > Departure: Kenya > Arrival: Yei, South Sudan > Distance: 900km Scouting for greener pastures > Name: Jamal Adam, 31 years old. > Previous occupation: Military service in Eritrea for more than 10 years. > Current occupation: None. Where did you run from? From the Jeberti ethnic group in Eritrea to Wad Sherifay refugee camp in Kassala, Sudan. Where do you plan to go? The Sudanese security authorities limit our movement. We are now waiting for the unknown and cannot return to our home country in light of the current political situation and because we may be brought before the military courts. The option of resettlement in a third country became non-existent over the last two years. What item do you wish you had taken with you? Why do you still dream of this item? My house where I was born and grew up is the most precious thing I left there and if I could, I would have brought it with me. I would not have hesitated for a moment. The road that passes in front of my house, my neighbours and relatives will always be dear to me, for as long as I live. What is your favourite item now? Nothing. Interview by Hamid Ibrahim > Name: Aziza Kafi Abdullah. > Previous occupation: None. > Current occupation: Cracking and selling stones. Where did you run from? Dalang, Nuba Mountains. Where do you plan to go? I wish that peace would prevail in the Nuba Mountains so that I could return to my hometown of Dalang. What item do you wish you had taken with you? The most precious thing I left behind is my ten-year-old son, who I left with his aunt in Kadugli for fear of the risks on the road during our displacement. Why do you still dream of this? My son is in the fifth grade of basic education. Whenever I hear about the intense military operations, I feel very sad and I fear for my son and family who stayed in the mountains. What is your favourite item now? My work, although it is hard. What makes this item very precious? Because it brings income enough to support my family including my two daughters. Interview by Hamid Ibrahim Edison Mwangi, a 51-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur, travels around Yei digging boreholes and sharpening knives by back-pedalling his specially adapted bicycle. He spent all his life on the road and is still on the lookout for new opportunities. By Ochan Hannington I started sharpening knives a while ago. When I make knives I take my time. I cut them, burn them, sharpen them, and get them ready for market. They cost two pounds, three pounds, five pounds. After a while I noticed that making knives is not enough, so I started constructing wells. The first ones I made did not work very well, but practice makes perfect. There is a bad saying that experience teaches fools, but I think experience is the best teacher. What I am doing now is perfect. There are many people digging boreholes but people wait for me because they know the quality of my work. If you are not happy with your work you cannot enjoy it. I am very happy. I prosper. My work is creative. I go fast on my bicycle to wherever I can get money very quickly. I can go anywhere, provided I earn a living. That’s why I came to South Sudan. I could go to the Democratic Republic of Congo. When I hear of greener pastures, I just rush there. But where there’s war, there’s no development. We have seen the Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony fight the president of Uganda. Kony is torturing his own people! In Mbarara or Kampala there is development, that’s because there’s no war. But because of Kony, because of the wars, many people are lagging behind. I had to be creative. Now I am accumulating money. For about two years I have not been sending any money home. By sharpening knives, I get about 20 South Sudanese pounds (US$7). I use it for food. I want to settle in Uganda. There are strict laws about buying land, but at least no one will burn down your hut or your house. At first I couldn’t make enough money. Now everyone knows me and they give me good work. Next year I want to bring one of my sons to take over my job. I will leave him here while I go to see my family for a month. My wife is a very hardworking woman. These days, wives must be creative. That’s important, in case you die – if so, what will she do? Sell her body? No, she must be creative. I miss her very much indeed. I hope that one day we will meet again. theniles_enar_20150327.indd 16 2015/3/31 1:50 PM
The Niles 17 > Departure: Warrap State, South Sudan > Arrival: Kampala, Uganda > Distance: 940km Lessons in life Victor Ngor Majok Ngor is one of thousands of young South Sudanese studying in Uganda. Ngor, who already has a diploma in business administration, is enrolled in software engineering at an institute for computer training in Kampala. By Marvis Birungi Victor Ngor Majok Ngor postponed visiting his former home in South Sudan when conflict broke out more than a year ago, deciding instead to focus on his studies in software engineering. But he hopes to return. “My main achievement will be graduating, then I’ll head straight home to work. I love South Sudan and am proud to be South Sudanese,” he says. “If only we can work through our challenges.” Ngor, the son of a South Sudanese business man, pays US$1,800 annually for his education at the APTECH Computer Education school. “This money could be paid to our own institutions if we had quality ones,” he says. “It’s sad that many of us are studying outside South Sudan as our leaders struggle for power. This will not help us.” Corruption, which has affected the provision of services and wealth distribution, is one of the major hurdles he sees for his nation. World Bank figures indicate that South Sudan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and is still struggling to achieve basic services like the provision of water, health, and education. Ngor has had first-hand experiences of his country’s difficult transition to independent statehood. During an internship in 2012, Ngor worked with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) police as a language assistant, where he says he witnessed the deep-seated problems facing the force. “What I saw was a great will to study but a deep inability to learn,” he says. “Some were unable to read or even write.” Figures from the United Nations show that only 27 percent of South Sudanese are literate, largely an inheritance from the country’s extended civil war. His stint in the Ugandan capital is the most recent of a string of moves for Ngor, whose biography reflects his country’s turbulent recent history. Born in 1986 in Warrap State, he moved to Koboko, a district in northern Uganda bordering South Sudan, when he was 15 amid the raging civil war. After spending five months in the town of Koboko, Ngor once again felt his safety was on the line, so he moved to the Rhino refugee camp in northwestern Uganda in 2001. Outside the classroom, Ngor organises concerts in Kampala, arranging for South Sudanese musicians to travel from Juba to perform. He lives with his five siblings in the capital city where services are affordable compared to the spiralling costs of everyday life in his home country. He feels settled, he says, at least for the time being. > Departure: Gezira State, Sudan > Arrival: Aswan, Egypt > Distance: 990km A home away from home Mohammed Hassan Hamdan is among as many as 6,000 Sudanese citizens in Aswan, Egypt. He has mixed feelings about the 30 years he has spent living on “Sudanese Street”. By Esmat Tawfiq Egypt is a place of transit for many young Sudanese on their way to Libya or other countries in the Gulf,” says Hassan Hamdan, the oldest vendor in the so-called Sudanese Street in Aswan. “But some lose their way in Egypt and stay until the end of their lives.” Hamdan is among those who lost their way. He arrived in Aswan from Sudan’s Gezira region some 30 years ago, en route to one of the Gulf nations. Back then, in the mid-80s, Egypt’s economy was as robust as those in the Gulf region thanks to an economic boom in the commerce and tourism sectors. Many Sudanese merchants established themselves in Aswan, particularly in Hamimi Al-Jebelawi Street, which was nicknamed the Sudanese Street. “We worked hard selling watches, sunglasses, shoes, and Sudanese agricultural products and we made big profits. The free trade agreement between Egypt and Sudan allowed us to enter Egypt on our personal ID documents without requiring a visa,” he says. Hamdan is one of an estimated five or six thousand Sudanese living in Aswan. Most newcomers sell Sudanese products, perfumes, or household supplies. Others work as mechanics, metalworkers, or carpenters. They have their own consulate to deal with issues like travelling via the High Dam docks or the Qastal-Ashket border crossing, saving them having to make the costly journey to Cairo. But the numbers of Sudanese in Aswan have risen and fallen in tandem with the fortunes of the city. Hamdan describes how the community shrank following the Gulf War in the 1990s: “Then things began to change for the worse: Young Egyptians began returning from the Gulf in large numbers to join the long lines of unemployed. Tourism to Aswan dropped in the tense security situation.” Around this time Egyptian-Sudanese relations also soured after accusations that some Sudanese had been involved in an assassination attempt on former President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa. Restrictions on Sudanese tightened and newcomers required visas rather than just ID documents. Only long-term Sudanese residents of Aswan, such as Hamdan, were exempt from the new laws. Hamdan married an Egyptian woman in 1988, typical of many Sudanese merchants whose inter-cultural relationships reflected parallels in customs and traditions between the two Nilotic nations. The children of Sudanese nationals living in Egypt were treated as Egyptian citizens, particularly when it came to access to education and healthcare. Those with Egyptian mothers could also obtain Egyptian citizenship. Hamdan predicts that the numbers of Sudanese immigrants will continue to rise because of the recently-opened Qastal-Ashket road linking Egypt and Sudan. The road eases a journey that once involved a twenty-hour ferry crossing of Lake Nasser. With ferries leaving once a week, Sudanese typically had to wait in hotels for their boat to leave, exhausting their financial resources. The new road, on the other hand, is open 24 hours a day and journeys between Wadi Halfa and Aswan take only six hours. Hamdan has mixed emotions about his thirty years in Aswan, saying that if he had his time again, he would “take advantage of every opportunity. I wasted opportunities, so deep down I feel my time in Aswan has been a failure”, he surmised. “If I was to go back in time I’d do the same again. I’d still leave my birthplace in Sudan and come to Egypt.” The free trade agreement allowed Sudanese to enter Egypt without visas. 650km 750 800 850 950 990 km 1000 theniles_enar_20150327.indd 17 2015/3/31 1:50 PM