It might seem an odd choice of reading material on a trip to Sudan, but I have just finished Simon Jenkins' A Short History of England. Excellent stuff – a romp through the kings and queens and politicians of England since before England existed. The book cover also calls it 'The complete story of our nation in a single volume'. Er… I think there might be a slight discrepancy between 'a short history' and 'complete story'! Anyway, it is a great quick read and fills a gap.
The reading also offers a little relief from the insistent questions surrounding and arising from almost everything else we are doing and everywhere else we are going here in Khartoum. Yesterday we were taken to visit the Abu Rof Clinic in a poor area of Omdurman. The Administrator showed us round and the ordered goodness of the place was evident at every turn. This clinic, run by the church, reaches people not being reached by anyone else. They do basic health education, lab tests, nutrition advice and resourcing, counselling and other medical and pastoral care. The scope is remarkable.
The main ailments among children here are TB, skin diseases and digestive problems, mainly caused by malnutrition, poor hygiene and poor understanding of health basics. Adults are increasingly showing up with HIV as well as similar illnesses to the children. Women are taught about birth control (not using contraceptives). The most surprising discovery of the visit so far was the moringa tree – the leaves provide amazing amounts of vitamins and minerals and can be dried, crushed and sprinkled on other foods. Brilliant! So, the clinic not only grows its own, but it also enables people to have their own to grow so they have an endless supply of nutritional elements at no cost.
However, the visit was also poignant. Two Swiss nurses have been told to leave the country and the second leaves tonight. After 24 years he in this clinic, this seems an almost absurd move that can only harm the people whom the government (presumably) wants to help in terms of health care. This sort of expulsion is not uncommon and other stories can be told later.
I might be wrong, but it seems that (particularly) the vote to create the new state of Southern Sudan has led the government of Sudan to make southerners accept the consequences of their vote: you wanted your own country; now go and live in it. So southerners are being asked to go south. This is, in one sense, entirely understandable (if not entirely defensible) in terms of making people accept responsibility for the choices they have made. Foreigners with connections to the churches are also being told to leave. The overall drive seems to be to create a single country with a single culture and a single religion – and this process is, of course, enhanced by the drive to have a single language, Arabic. Hence the problem with the marginalization of the Nuba (Africans) and the continuing attrition in the Nuba Mountains.
First impressions should never lead to final conclusions. However, the picture is beginning to build and I am understanding more each day of why things are developing the way they are. I will need to think it through once we have returned and then see where the dust settles.
Today we have a meeting with the British Ambassador before heading into the suuk for yet another new experience. Given that I loathe any form of shopping anywhere, this might have to be seen as a 'cultural experience'.