I went to Sinnar yesterday for the first time. Actually it was Sinja, which is the capital locality in Sinnar. I was collected from home at around 6:40 a.m. and off we went. We were in 2 cars, and the one I was in had the lady who directed the Emergencies and Humanitarian Affairs in the federal ministry. It was the same team as last time (Port Sudan), minus the health insurance guy. The driver alternated speeds between 20 and 120 km/her, and I spent roughly 30% of the time in the air, since every few minutes we would go over a bump or wave in the road, and depending on the speed I would fly out of my seat and crash back down. Roads in Sudan have the strange property of rivers; they’re never completely flat. I tried to read for a while, then chatted a bit with the Emergencies lady, then tried to sleep, but mostly just looked out the window at the interesting scenery passing us by. On the way I counted the road kill: 6 dead dogs, 2 donkeys, 3 cows and 3 unidentified objects squashed in the middle of the road, one of which still had a tail and looked suspiciously like a skunk. I think I also saw a fox but I’m not sure. One of the cows was fresh (so to say) and looked like it had been hit no later than yesterday. As we zoomed past it I saw the look of utmost surprise and dismay on its face. It looked shocked. Like it had been lying dead on the side of the road for the past day or two and still couldn’t believe it had been run over. Then there were the live animals, walking around in all directions, both led and free roaming. It seems the entire area between Khartoum and Sinnar is occupied by herds and herders; there were dozens of them in all sizes. Some had dogs, some rode donkeys, some walked alongside or behind the herd. There were both goats and cattle. Most of the cattle were either brown or white, but once I saw a far off herd that were mostly black, and a few of them had those huge horns that I could see above the cloud of dust surrounding them. Once there was a herd of about a dozen cows walking unattended by either a dog or a person, walking in an organized group towards the road. The leading cow stopped near the road to wait for the rest of the cows to catch, and I could’ve sworn I saw those cows looking left and right down the road before crossing. A couple of small donkeys, on separate occasions, were seen trotting alongside the road, one of them looking suspiciously like it was trying to run away from the group it was attached to. The other one was white and hairy all over, looking like it was wearing thick rugby socks all the way up to its shoulders and hips.
Then there were people. A whole lot of people, mostly dirty, mostly shoeless, some riding and some walking, with bare clothes that didn’t match and looked rarely washed. But there were also old men in clean 3aragis, riding bikes or donkeys or rakshas. I saw about a thousand missed pictures and regretted not bringing my camera every second of the way. But to be honest at the speed we were going the picture would be lost in the past before I could have gotten my camera in place anyway. Like the small group of girls wearing different bright coloured dresses and carrying matching jerry cans on their heads, crossing a shallow ditch together. Or the 3 tiny kids on the 2 donkeys, also with jerry cans but tied on either side, riding beside the road. Once we passed next to a sort of forest with thin, tall bare trees, out of which emerged an old man leaning on a stick, walking with long, slow strides, followed a short distance away by a little kid who looked too small to even be standing upright unsupported, probably his grandson or great grandson. There were a couple of markets in the few towns that were close to the road, both with what looked like a livestock market with hundreds of people milling around with their animals.
The lady and the driver had both been covering epidemics emergencies for a while, and I listed to their stories of terribly haemorrhagic fevers, cholera, meningitis, and others. Apparently, every single disease known to man exists in Sudan. There was even an outbreak of Diptheria: a disease that’s supposed to be extinct. That, of course, had been in Darfour, where a large segment of the young population has never been vaccinated. Then she mentioned an incidence that made my blood freeze: pneumonia and haemorrhagic measles in gold miners in the North: the plague! Since nothing is ever regulated in Sudan, people have been randomly mining in all these weird places in the 21st century gold rush of Sudan. I’ve heard stories of hundreds dying, either getting lost in the desert and dying of thirst, or getting blown up with their own dynamite, or buried under a cave-in. But this was new. Apparently, in all that digging and messing around in places they shouldn’t be in, a few people have managed to find pockets of diseases from God knows where, and were bringing back home illnesses that have long been forgotten.
Eventually, we reached Sinnar and headed towards Sinja, where they had moved the capital to in an attempt to revive the less advantaged localities of the state. It was small and dirty, but had these cute traffic lights (on the wrong sides of the streets) at every other crossroads. I think with a little cleaning and some pavements it could be very nice. The other car with the undersecretary and his friends had gotten lost and were late, so we looked for a place to eat, and found a pizza parlour called Delicious (how original). It wasn’t too dirty and the food was good. The waiters were a couple of Ethiopians that looked fresh off the boat, and who were stuck to a couple of chairs and watching MTV. Eventually the other people showed up, and we were escorted by the head of some directorate and another head of another directorate to some health centre where we entered a tent, which turned out to be the opening of the state’s immunization week. Everyone gave a speech, during which I was surrounded by ‘Allaho Akbars!’ from the women in the crowd. Then everyone got up and walked into the next yard where the first vaccination of the week took place, the models of which were a bunch of little kids that were crying their little eyes out. The undersecretary was handed a syringe and I couldn’t hold back my laughter as he very seriously poked it into a little girl in a green dress’s arm, then picked her up sportily to try and make her shut up, then handed her back to her mother. Then we were whisked off to the ministry of health, where we met a whole lot of people and gave our presentations, took and answered questions, listened to suggestions, etc etc. We were then taken to a whole bunch of hospitals and dialysis centres, then back to the hospitality building where we had lunch. I was so bored I almost fell asleep at the table, but there was no way out. Then we were packed back into the cars and drove out to Sinnar to meet the Wali who was on his way back from some place or another, and in the meantime we were to inspect another building, where I stayed in the car and tried to work on the review I was supposed to have handed in the day before.
Finally, after about a zillion years, it was time to head home. The guy driving the other car was afraid of getting lost again, and insisted we drive slow enough for him to follow us at least to Medani. That meant we were moving at around 30 km/hr, at which rate we would easily reach home in 5 hours instead of 3. So we stopped about an hour out of Sinnar at one of the market place villages we had seen earlier in the day to have some tea and coffee. We found a male sit shay (for want of a better word) and ordered tea. I asked him if he has any powdered milk (cuz I hate fresh milk. Yeah, no healthy stuff for me), and he said, around here there ain’t no such thing as powdered milk, fresh bas. I sighed as the burnt smell of laban maganan came to my nose, and went back to my seat. Sure enough, along came the shay maganan, but to my horror in huge juice glasses filled to the brim, with some horrible half-burnt ligeimat. I ate and drank and tried not to throw up, and watched the drivers sitting a short distance from us. The guy driving our car was a young, short funny man with a nice sense of humour. From his easy talk with the lady accompanying me I figured he had been in the ministry for quite a while, and had been to some of the roughest places in the country with the Epidemics Emergency team the lady had served in. In the car he was confident and at ease, remembering stories from those terrible days when they were battling death on each side, trying to deliver medicine in muddy forests, getting pulled out by tractors and carried on rickety ships, and other stories of adventure. That was when it was just me and the other lady. But when the rest of the group was assembled, which contained some of the most important men in the ministry, he cautiously came over and said hello and then sat behind us with the other driver. They had ordered coffee but the tea man had brought 2 wrong orders for our group of tea, so the undersecretary passed it over to the drivers, and they meekly took the glasses without a complaint. Then, when it was time to go, the other driver came over and told us not to pay because he already had, to which one of the men simply said ‘yes, ok’, and nothing else. Not even a thank you, or don’t worry about it, or anything.
Anyway. The trip back home was terrifying, because once the other driver had been confident enough to let us out of his sight, our driver put the pedal to the metal and catapulted us into the future. It was pitch dark, even when we passed the few villages near the road where all you could see where the alien spaceship-like minarets of the mosques, with their slanted long lights hanging high up in the gloom. I couldn’t see any further than about 2 meters ahead of us, and waited patiently to crash into something or someone or get flipped over, but thankfully we didn’t. At one point we screeched to an almost complete halt, narrowly avoiding a couple of white donkeys that were just standing in the middle of the road and biting each others’ ears. I tried to count their legs to make sure there were just 8 of them, but couldn’t be sure. I doubted they were just donkeys, showing up in the middle of the road like that; I’m still pretty sure they must’ve been ba3a3eet. Anyway, after that I put my head down on the backseat and stayed down until we had reached home. I think I slept for a few minutes on the way, but couldn’t be sure. It was past midnight when we reached home. At the door, I was informed that I had received a gift (along with everyone else on the team) from the state, in the form of a small carton of lemons and a big carton of mangoes, freshly picked.
Actually I had been expecting money but this wasn’t too bad.