Monday, August 29, 2005

If it's not one thing.....

It’s the sanctions! To many, it would seem to be a rather easy thing to do: open a new bank account. From here in Khartoum it becomes a major headache with major obstacles.

It’s because of this little “snag” called “sanctions against Sudan.” I’ll have to do a little investigation to find out exactly why there are sanctions but I’m pretty sure it reaches way back to “pre-9/11” days when Sudan got put on the “terrorist” nations. (Was it part of W’s infamous “Axis of Evil,” too? I’m not sure.) At any rate this wonderful nation that was once home to Osama bin Laden, Carlos (“The Jackel”) and other unsavory characters is still on the USA’s “sanction list.” We’re not quite as bad off as Cuba where we Americans are still not officially welcome to travel but it’s still bad enough.

Because of this snag, a rather routine change-over to a new bank in the USA means that we have to appeal to the US Treasury Department for an exemption to the sanctions. Under this sanction state, no US business is permitted to do business with Sudan or any businesses here. There are ways to get around it, I guess. Witness the Khartoum Hilton where you can’t use major credit cards because any charge that shows up as being from “Sudan” will not go through. Try to make a reservation on the Hilton.com website for Khartoum and you won’t be able to do so. Settle all bills at the Hilton in cash and Hilton Corp will figure out how to adjust things so the US government doesn’t both them. A mere bump in the corporate road for a large international company like Hilton.

But for our humble school, we have to go the “exemption” route and petition the US government at the highest levels to allow us an exemption to this sanction. It’s not easy to buy textbooks from the US or to order supplies from US vendors if we don’t have a clean relationship with a US bank. So now I get to write letters and build a case for why it’s in the best interests of the United States of America to allow our little school to continue to do business with folks back home. Then, we’ll be able to go on being the beacon of educational liberty that we’ve been in these parts for almost 50 years.

If any of you have any influence in the US government or with any who walk those hallowed halls of the US capitol, please tell them that it might be a good idea for all concerned if they’d lift the sanctions so little folks like us can go ahead and keep the light of educational freedom burning bright.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rain!

It rained hard in the early hours of the morning. Around 3:00 a.m. I heard the thunder over the constant white noise of my bedroom air conditioner. Then the rain came. The tiled patio outside my kitchen door glistened in the light from the lamp out there. I made my way to the car thinking how silly it was of me not to have packed an umbrella when I came this summer. At that point, the rain seemed benign enough……until I got outside the garage.

What a mess! The roads have huge puddles of water. HUGE! And the dirt roads have turned to mud. It’s not a pretty picture, believe me. At the school, the maintenance crew is sweeping the water off of the raised, tiled walkways. The playground areas are shielded by large tent/awnings but the play areas still look like huge lakes of reddish brown water. The children all looked like they would LOVE to ply in those puddles but I put the word out that that was verboten.

The phone lines are crazy today – reminds me of when it used to snow in North Carolina. The first snow flake would cause power outages and the phones would go dead. Here, it’s the water.

There was a lot of wind in the night, too….it blew over a set of student lockers outside the high school area. And, of course, we suddenly discover all the leaks in the roof with a rain like this.

It’s nothing out of the ordinary for these parts, I guess. We are coming towards the end of the rainy season. For people like me who live in sturdy houses, it’s no problem, just an inconvenience really. For people living in the refugee settlements, however, it’s a lot worse. There the lanes and roads are virtual mud pools and houses made of simply mud bricks are prone to collapse in this kind of downpour.

One other observation: the Nile is surging! On Friday, I was driving downtown along the Nile Road. Khartoum is where the Blue Nile and the White Nile merge to form The Nile River which flows north to Aswan, Luxor, Cairo and, eventually, the Mediterranean. What I saw the other day was the Blue Nile which comes originally from the mountains in the east. During this rainy season, it surges along laden with brownish, reddish silt, flooding the banks not far outside the city limits. They tell me that if I go to the bridge which spans the actual place where the Blue and the White rivers come together, I will be able to see the two distinct colors…..one side relatively clear (the White Nile) and the other this dark, brown/red (the Blue Nile).

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Daily bread

The week has flown by here in Khartoum. Is this how time will pass for me here in this arid city?

The school is up and running and, for that, I’m grateful. Lots of hard work on many people’s part have contributed to the success of the first couple of weeks of the new school year. We’re still having problems with getting the school’s website up and running this year. What in other countries (USA, Japan, etc) would be such routine work as posting a new or revised page on one’s web site is, from here, a major undertaking: our budget won’t allow us to “host” the website here on campus so it’s hosted somewhere in the USA; power to the school’s computers is inconsistent some days – partly due to the nature of Sudan’s fragile infrastructure and partly due to the nature of keeping things like electrical connections (not to mention computers themselves) functional in this place where heat, sand, and poor materials all seem to work together to thwart our efforts; time is precious (how can I justify taking a computer teacher out of class to adjust the pictures on a web page??); etc…. You get the picture or, rather, you DON’T get the pictures on the website which we’d love to get up and running! Stay tuned….I’ll point you all to the website when it’s more functional than it is today.

Yesterday (Friday) I witnessed a quiet exchange that, for me, epitomized both the sadness of life for some people here as well as the strength of humans and the bonds that exist in the midst of want. It was about 2:30 pm when I went for lunch at this wonderful little Turkish restaurant in the center of this part of town. I’d been there before and each time I come away full and satisfied, having had an excellent meal! The portions are enormous and it's sometimes hard to finish the food that comes with one portion. As I came out of the restaurant, I happened to notice an attractive, dark African woman dressed in a very colorful African (southern) dress. She was standing quietly away from the entrance to the restaurant. I thought nothing of it but as I got in my car to drive away, I saw one of the restaurant employees – a young, dark African fellow (probably also a southerner by the looks of him) step out of the doorway to hand the young girl a plastic bag of what were clearly table scraps – half-eaten rounds of bread, chicken bones, etc. No words were exchanged, no eye contact was even made. The girl quietly walked away and crossed the street.

I sat in my car and watched her make her way over to an abandoned construction site (of which there are many here in Khartoum) where a small group of people were huddled near a little camp stove that heated a tea pot. As they quietly unpacked what I’m sure was their mid-day meal, I wasn’t sure what I felt……on the one hand I was embarrassed that I had taken my own meal so casually, so much for granted. On the other hand, I was struck by the resourcefulness of these folks for whom my table scraps were their “daily bread.” It was just another reminder of how close to the margin many, many people live in this part of the world.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

So Tired!

We finished the week this afternoon. The first week of school: 3 days of faculty meetings and work; 2 days of students. I'm beat! So tired! I'm sitting here in my office and pretty much everyone else has gone home. There was a slight commotion at dismissal when one of our little First Graders was missing. Wouldn't that have been the worst way to end my first week in a new job? Losing a student! Of course, we found him riding home with one of his classmates. He was "absolutely certain" that his mom had given him permission. Typical first grade boy!

My office looks right out on the front gate. Every now and then, I see someone ride by on a donkey, trotting down the road.

Right now, I see three huge hawks circling in the distance. I wonder what they see way down here on the desert we call "Khartoum."

There are a surprising number of birds around here. My car is parked in the shade of a tree nearby where I can see it. Earlier this morning, there was a bird that perched on the door of the car and enjoyed looking at "the birdie in the (sideview) mirror." Oh, he chattered up a storm with that reflection. It even looked like he was arguing. He came back a few times to check on his alter ego. Really hilarious!

I negotiated the sale of our old chain link fence (which was outdated after we put up this huge wall around the campus. The fellow who bought it drove a hard bargain but I think we got a fair price.

I wrote my first Superintendent's Letter to the parents......it will be up on the school's website after the weekend.

Speaking of the weekend, I need to get out of here........I'm soooooo tired, it's not funny. If ever I needed a day off, I need it now. I'm going to crash in Khartoum!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Opening Day!

Today was opening day at school. What a relief to have it behind me! I’ve had the entire faculty at school since Sunday and we’ve been working like crazy for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to be ready for opening day today, Wednesday.

When we finally got the faculty together, I realized that things were not right with the schedule, especially the High School schedule. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to look right. It was far too individualized and nothing like a standard high school schedule. Without going into detail, just understand that it just wasn’t right and there was no way that simply tinkering with the schedule would make it right. So, I declared that we would simply “re-construct” the schedule! And that’s just what we did. Fortunately for us all, one of the new teachers took on the job of overseeing this task and did a masterful job, soothing bruised egos and maneuvering around delicate issues. We declared that the first two days (today and tomorrow) of school would not be normal days and that the new, re-constructed schedule would debut on Sunday. It looks great, too!

By 6:50 am, the kids started arriving – school starts at 7:15 am here and dismisses at 2 pm to avoid the heat of the afternoon. Soon, the gates were wide open and cars of every description began driving up to let kids off. By 7:15 when we started our opening assembly, there were close to 150 students and 30 staff assembled. It was great! We were off and running.

It occurred to me that this is the 26th school opening I have been a part of in my career. That was a sobering thought. After the assembly was over and the kids had headed off to their classes, I had this feeling that the school year would, indeed, play itself out even if we didn’t do much more.

My day was full of people: I met with the Indian Ambassador and his wife; the Malaysian Second Secretary; I stood and chatted in Spanish with some of our new students from South America; I comforted a teary-eyed teacher who is in the throes of settling into a new job and a new marriage; I counted the baby turtles that had hatched this summer (we found 17 of them and they are now safely enclosed in a beautiful, grassy pen, munching and frolicking safely away from the big lawn mowers that are their biggest predators); I met with the entire grounds crew to let them know how proud I was of their efforts to make the campus a beautiful as it had become in the past week; and – the most bizarre encounter of all – I met with an outlandishly aggressive uniformed man who got through the guards at the gate and insisted on meeting with me to tell me that the school owed $75,000 in “land taxes.” It seems that this man is the “administrator” in charge of this part of the city and he thinks that we owe this outrageous sum for annual taxes. The strangest part of this encounter was that he insisted on shouting everything at me in a mixture of Arabic (which I understood pretty well) and English. The louder he got, the more crazy I realized he was. Finally, I told him that if we were to talk about this any further, we would have to do it with the US Ambassador at the US Embassy. “You see,” I bluffed, “this school is the official US Embassy School. Your demands would have to be negotiated with the Ambassador himself .” That sort of took the wind out of his sails. I moved quickly in the silence to get the guy out of the office. It was definitely a strange encounter!

It was a wonderful day all around. It felt good to be leading such a brave little school. Our enrollment (150 on opening day) was clearly better than it was last year at this time (only 98 on opening day last year). Our high school program has 50 students (there were only a handful three years ago). We have a tremendously energetic and enthusiastic, not to mention bright and creative, staff. It’s a magical combination and I’m most grateful to have been given the chance to lead this school.

More later……for now, I’m one tired, but happy, school director.

Friday, August 12, 2005

It's (Almost) a Wrap!

Officially, the work week has ended but, as I'm beginning to see, the job of a school director doesn't necessarily conform to the normal pattern.

Well, the visa got approved! (see previous posting) I pulled out all the stops on Wednesday morning. The fellow at school who does the visa work could tell by then that I was a man obsessed with this. I had been on his case since the day I got here about this and, frankly, was not terribly impressed by his performance. Over here, a job like his is all about connections.....and you either have them or you don't. I was beginning to wonder if he, indeed, had them. On Tuesday night, I made a few more phone calls, both to the Sudanese Embassy in DC and to someone locally whom I know has some strong connections with people at the upper levels of government. Our expediter at school also seemed to go into high gear. All of a sudden, he had a "brother" who was at the ambassadorial rank. (Where's the brother been all this time???) Working two or three angles at once, we finally got the approval. And none too soon! Our teacher got the visa in her hands on Thursday, a mere 24 hours before her plane was scheduled to take off. We'll meet her here at the airport in Khartoum tomorrow evening.

Last night (Thursday), I picked up one more of our teachers. There are just two more to come.....the one I mentioned above and a final teacher who will, I think, arrive in the middle of the week, next week. The fellow who came in last night came on the Lufthansa flight which arrives around 11 pm. Of course, I had to get him settled into his new apartment and, before I knew it, it was after midnight. That particular fact didn't mean much to me until I saw the police and army units at the first major intersection on my way home. The curfew! Fortunately, I had my passport with me and there were a number of other cars on the road. The check point was handled courteously enough. A young soldier asked for my documents; he examined my passport; I told him (in my best Arabic) where I lived and I (politely) asked his permission to continue on my way home. He smiled and waved me through. A way of life in these parts, I guess.

Opening school is no easy chore! My predecessor left things in relatively good order but there were a few decisions that were made that I have had a hard time with and have decided to over-ride. For a variety of reasons, there was a huge turn-over in staff this year and that means that of the 25 staff people, I have 15 new hires. So, the old chorus of "we have always done it this way...." is a tough one to sing with so few in the choir. It was a case of overturning a couple of decisions now -- and risking a couple of discontented faculty -- or sticking by ill-considered decisions and have more people upset for a longer time. I figured that I would trade on the relative good will that exists at this point in time and make the decision now.

Sitting here alone, thinking over the dynamics of the past week, I'm sure people have come to the conclusion that it's not "business as usual" this year here at the school.

One of the parents came by yesterday with a beautiful bottle of Australian white wine! !!!!! She also hinted that because of her husband's embassy connections, i might be able to get an order in through his embassy for more (and varied) "beverages." So, that part of life in Khartoum will, I hope, take care of itself.

The political situation has calmed down considerably. The new First Vice President was sworn in yesterday but things were very, very quiet. Let's hope they continue that way!

So, the week ends.......all in all, it's been pretty interesting. Stay tuned for more!

Monday, August 08, 2005

A Day in the Life....

I was up at 5 a.m. and on my way to the airport to pick up one of our new teachers. This is the fellow who was coming in from Cairo. I had gone to the airport one other day but he hadn't arrived. Today, he had a confirmed seat and the baggage issue (lots of money needed to ship excess weight) was resolved. But, of course, his flight didn't come in as planned! Delayed until 9 a.m.!!! With not much computerization at the Khartoum International Airport, checking on these things in advance is futile! So much for trying to get a good night's sleep! The good news is that the guy finally got here and hit the ground running.

There was a parade of parents in and out of the offices today. Some to see me (to ask for special payment plans or to alert me to concerns with their children), others to pay their bills. I am always awe-struck to see $12,000 in crisp $100-bills! Such is the way of life in a cash society like this one.

The ever-growing group of new teachers showed up at school around 10 a.m. and we gave them a tour of the place before letting them get into their rooms to look through cupboards and closets. Around 1:00 we brought in lots of pizza for their lunch. It was fun to sit around get to know them a bit better.

But, there is one sticky problem left to solve......one of our teachers (a late hire) has yet to receive her visa from the Sudanese Embassy in DC. They are waiting for authorization to issue the visa from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Khartoum. But, of course, the Ministry here says "we sent the authorization" (by email on Thursday, the 4th). The folks in DC say, "We're waiting for the authorization to arrive." Well, anyone who's reading this blog knows full well that emails fly faster than the speed of light and someone still waiting 4 days later for an email probably won't ever get the email. Our school expediter has visited the Ministry every day now and gets the same response: "We sent the authorization." I finally got through by phone to the embassy in DC and actually talked my way all the way to the Consul who, of course said, "We're waiting for the authorization to arrive." !@#$%@! This is going nowhere, fast! Now, I've just got to get two parts of the same, slow bureaucracy to speak to each other! Any suggestions out there????

What a day!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Garang's Funeral

John Garang, Sudan’s First Vice President who was killed tragically a week ago, was buried in Juba yesterday. I was really surprised to read that the Sudanese President, el-Bashir, was in attendance since Juba is the center of the Southern Sudanese independence movement and not a city that is friendly to Arabs. News reports of the funeral listed some of the important African heads of state who were in attendance.

We can only hope and pray that Garang’s influence will live on as the peace accord goes forward.

This morning, my cleaning lady, Jacinta, arrived to work for the first time in a week. She is a Southerner who lives out in Mayo (where Ephrem’s parents live) and, since the crack-down following Garang’s death, she has not been able to come into Khartoum. Transportation had stopped and people were in terrible fear, she said. They stayed in their homes. There was little water available and there were rumors that “the Arabs” were entering homes and killing people. Probably that last was unfounded but the sheer terror of that made life for Jacinta and many others unbearable. After the funeral, however, things were lifted and there is now transportation!

It’s raining today…….rain in the desert is never fun! Sort of like those slushy gray days in Moscow when it would “snow” but everything turned black and grundgy in the process. Here, it’s brown and soggy as the rain mixes with the brown desert dust and sand. I shudder to think what it will be like to go shopping later with our new hires. A messy endeavor, I’m sure.

Tutti Frutti

Today, we finally got a number of our new faculty into Khartoum. We have 11 in all that we’re housing and, as of tonight, 5 have arrived. There have been all sorts of glitches, though……Two of the 11 were hired in late June/early July. Their visas have taken a while to get through the bureaucracy and have just – just – arrived at the embassies in DC and in London (one teacher each from UK and USA). Then, yesterday, when one of the teachers – coming from a stop over in Cairo – was supposed to arrive, we got an email saying that Egypt Air wouldn’t let him on the flight until he paid $400 (which he didn’t have) in excess baggage charges! Then, today, yet another teachers emailed saying that she wouldn’t be on the flight today because the airline (Northwest) wouldn’t let her board in the USA because her passport was damaged! Their reasoning was that they weren’t sure that the folks in Khartoum would allow her to enter and, if they didn’t, the (Northwest) would be stuck with getting this woman out of Khartoum. So, we wait for all these things to get settled and hope for the best. Oh, and I forgot to mention that two of the guys who came in today arrived without their luggage! None of it came through! So, they’ve got the clothes they’re wearing and not much else…..until Thursday when the next KLM flight gets here!

But, this evening, I picked up four very happy and very eager teachers at the airport. One of them has been overseas (and in Africa) for a few years now. The other three are neophytes in all of this; young teachers at the beginning of their careers. As we drove back over dusty highways, and into the area of town where they’ll all be living, you could hear them laughing and pointing at all the strange things: donkeys on the road, all the folks in native garb, strange shops and all the garbage that litters the landscape.

When we got them to their apartments (they’re occupying apartments in the same building), they were overwhelmed by the size of the apartments. Large! All of the apartments in this particular building have a view of the Nile which is not far away. They were snooping around their apartments, figuring out how things work, and laughing about how good this all was. Their enthusiasm was contagious. I needed that about now!

I left them in good spirits and will be back to pick them up in the morning in order to go shopping and to show them around town a little bit.

On my way home, I found my way to the “Tutti Frutti Ice Cream Shop” which I had passed a few times this week. It was dark and there was a refreshing breeze. I had made myself a good lunch so I wasn’t too hungry but I thought an ice cream cone would be refreshing. Well, what a nice place that was! It’s this great little shop…..very Western, very clean……with about 20 different kinds of Italian ‘gelatti.” The shop is air-conditioned and has a little espresso bar in one corner. These two Europeans – husband and wife – were running things. Business was brisk but, in a lull, I asked the fellow about the shop. He’s been running it since 2001. He’s Greek but was born in Khartoum and has lived here all his life. According to him, there once was a fairly large Greek population here but most have emigrated. Much like in Alexandria, Egypt. Finally, as I was leaving, I told him my name. His face lit up….”You’re the new Superintendent at the school!” It turns out his daughter is one of our students!

So, things are coming together…..I’ve got some teachers; we have some students; and there’s even a nice ice cream parlor just down the road from my house. Life will be OK!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Khartoum calming

The political situation seems to have lapsed rather quickly into quietness here. Really interesting. The government curfew is being rolled back. At first it began at 6 pm. Wednesday night, they moved it to 7 pm. Tonight, it's 9 pm. Soon, it will go back to 11 pm. Thursday afternoon, we were taking this new teacher around to do some shopping (mostly grocery stuff) and everything seems to be up and running again. The streets are normal, traffic is normal, etc, etc. It seems that BBC and CNN are a bit behind in their reporting.

Garang will be buried in Juba on Saturday. I'll be interested to see what, if anything, happens here in Khartoum. I had an email from the director of the African Int'l School Association (AISA) today. That organization is the one to which schools like ours belong in this part of the world. She was saying that two of John Garang's sons had been students of hers at the Int'l School of Kenya a few years back. The man was controversial but he was incredibly charismatic and a powerful leader. Unfortunately, he seems to have also been the glue that held all those southern factions together. We'll see if they continue to "stick" now that he's gone.

One thing is for sure.....the expatriates here in Khartoum seem to be sticking around. No mass exodus and no signs that there will be any.

Shopping with our new teacher made me realize again how this particular activity of finding the food and “stuff” to sustain oneself is a huge effort in an under-developed country like Sudan. In places like the USA, Japan or Europe we have quickly gotten used to the convenience – and the excesses – of huge supermarkets. Everything amassed under one roof, ready for purchase. Here, as in many, many places around the world, one has to go from store to store to find the things one needs or wants. In one small store, there is fresh milk but not in others. In another, they have a few cases of long-life milk. All have some variety of powdered milk. In some stores, there are a few fresh things – vegetables, for example. But anyone serious about fruits and vegetables needs to go outside to one of the many vendors along the roadside. At one point, I realized that if I were going to actually eat the tuna fish in the can that I bought (one store actually had Heinz tuna fish!), I needed a can opener. I began asking to buy one. At store after store, “Fee muf-teah?” (Do you have a can opener I could buy?) was greeted with “Ma-feesh” (Nope. Sorry) Finally, I was directed to a place way where, indeed, they had a few of the old-fashioned variety. Man, was I ever glad to see a can opener!

But, one spends inordinate amounts of time searching for foods and services. The time and energy, especially in the heat of this country, really wears a person down. A Japanese friend of mine, Shima-san, wrote to me yesterday about her trip to the States. After visiting Grand Rapids and Atlanta, she wrote, “People were even bigger [she meant, “fatter”] there than in Michigan. I don't know how far US will go as far as obesity is concerned.” Well, given that Americans live with such abundance, with everything at their fingertips, I think they’ll go even farther, Shima-san, in their growth! What we forget is that most people in this world find the act of simple self-sustenance to be a struggle. Wealthy foreigner that I am in this country, I still had the “luxury” of being able to ferry myself around the city, navigating the market places and, most importantly, being able to afford to buy the things that I eventually found. Most people in this city would think that I was lucky, indeed, that I was able to spend the time, energy, and money for what I brought home. This whole experience has a powerful way of driving home a different set of priorities.

Today, Friday, is the “weekend”, the Muslim holy day. I’ll spend most of it with new faculty. Another new teacher arrives today and we’ll do another shopping trip, I think. Tomorrow, we have 6 more coming into town. I’m already thinking that we need to streamline this arrival and orientation process. But, of course, that has to wait until next year to be done. Still, I’m taking lots of notes for the file.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More heat.....

OK, OK…..so the situation doesn’t seem to have gotten any cooler over here in Khartoum. Last night, I went with our school’s expediter to the airport to pick up one of our new faculty members. With the dusk-to-dawn curfew, Ali (the expediter) had gotten us a police pass to allow us through the many checkpoints. At 1:00 am, all was quiet. Unfortunately, we found out that our teacher’s flight had been delayed and that she would be coming in today, around mid-day.

So, I went off to work this morning as usual. I dodged the many huge puddles of water, the result of a rather strong rain storm last night. At work, I met some new families, did a bit more paperwork and finally was able to greet our first new teacher who did, indeed arrive at the airport.

Then, around 2 pm, the Business Manager (Anna) and I decided to take the teacher out for lunch and to do a bit of shopping before taking her to her new apartment. That’s when the fun began. On the road to the shopping area, I noticed a lot of traffic and, more importantly, a lot of people on the sides of the road, many of them young men with big sticks. Not a good sign. The closer we got to the shopping and, coincidently, to the airport, the thicker the crowds became. Anna, who was driving her car in front of mine, pulled over and said, “It doesn’t look good….” And, with that, we headed to her home, not far away.

I could hear sirens and, down at the end of the street, I saw convoys of military, with guns poised. Not a good sign. We made the quick decision to off-load our new teacher into Anna’s house and care. I decided to make for my own house, in the opposite direction of where we thought would be the “action.” I took off like a bat out of hell. Soon, I was making my way away from city center but towards “Afra,” the big, new shopping mall that has been the center of a lot of attention (and which has not opened since Garang was killed the other day). It’s something of a symbol of money and foreigners so it’s one of those “targets” for anyone who wants to make a statement. The problem was that I needed to drive right by Afra in order to get home.

I began to see pickup trucks loaded with young guys with weapons. Not military, mind you; just guys on the rampage. Quick prayer and on towards home. The traffic was intensely crazy. Everyone was of the same mind: to get as far away from the madness as possible. There were some military at the intersections, directing people away from the city. They didn’t inspire much confidence, I’m afraid, both from the fact that they were relatively few and that there was no way they knew anything more than what we knew. In the distance, I saw some black smoke, the tell-tale signs of fires that had been set…..similar to that which we saw on the first day. There were a few – ok, a lot – of tense moments as I wound my way through and around traffic, finding my way home. Those guns make me very, very nervous.

Oddly, I remember a similar feeling and the memory of that actually came to mind as I was inching my way along on these crowded roads today. It was a time way back 20 years ago in Fort Wayne when the rivers were all flooding, big time. I wanted to get home from work and I drove right into what I soon found out was a flooding creek. The car began to look like it would be taken away in the torrent. The wheels wouldn’t grab the road. The car was out of control. I’ve never prayed as hard or as fast as I did that day. (“Just get me through this flood, O Lord!”) Until today.

The word on the street is that it’s the old South-vs-North tensions all over again. “If that’s what you’re going to do to me, then this is what I’ll do to you.” People never learn, do they? “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” “Violence begats violence.” Etc, etc. I just don’t want to be on the end of the sword, or in the middle of the violence.

I don’t appear to be in any danger. Believe me, I haven’t found anything here worth dying for so I’ll keep a low profile. I am, however, learning from what I see. But, the lessons are sad ones: of humans’ ability to wage war, nourish hatred, become comfortable with violence. I’m not posting this so that you’ll worry although, no doubt some who read this will. I simply want to record the moment and to let those who might read this know that they should cherish the quietness of a life without the struggle, without the desperation, without the fear that these people feel – and have felt for decades – here in Sudan.

Tomorrow will be, I’m sure, another day. I hope it’s more peaceful than today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Khartoum Gets Hotter

It has certainly been an interesting beginning here in Khartoum! On Sunday afternoon, I got a call from a friend of a friend who works with the EU Commission here. He introduced himself and said “You might want to know that we’ve received a report from the French that John Garang is missing……it hasn’t been confirmed yet but, if it is, there will be some major problems. For now, this is to be kept quiet but I thought since you were new here you might want to know.” That was at about 4 pm on Sunday. An ominous call, to be sure, since John Garang is one of the lynchpins for the recently brokered peace accords which has ended the 20+ year civil war in Sudan.

Garang was a charismatic leader and one of the only people who seemed to be able to hold the various tribal factions of the south together. He had just become First Vice President of Sudan under the new Peace Accord and the southerners, long the victims in this struggle with the Arab/Islamist north, knew that with Garang in the power structure here in Khartoum, they at least had a fighting chance for survival and self-government after all these years. His death triggered an outpouring of anger and grief in the city.

The southerners here are the dark skinned people……very different in appearance from the northern Sudanese. They were out on the roadways and the streets of Khartoum yesterday as news filtered out that Garang was, indeed, dead. There was some looting. Some cars were burned by angry crowds. And, the government slapped a 6 pm – 6 am curfew on the city. Things are definitely quiet today (Tuesday).

I’ve been on the phone with a couple of our new faculty who have yet to come into Khartoum. I’m trying to reassure folks that things are safe…..I wouldn’t ask someone to put themselves into harm’s way. On the other hand, I do know how the media likes to present things in the most dramatic way, possible.

I have a thousand things to do……the first of our new-hires arrives tonight at 1 am. Our school expediter is trying to get me permission to be out during the curfew so that I can accompany him to the airport (in the middle of the night) to meet and greet the new faculty.

The school still looks a bit ragged……some new construction plus the normal maintenance after a summer of heat and sand takes a lot of work to get cleaned up. The heat is intense, however, and it’s hard to get workers to speed things up in this heat. Now, with the curfew in effect, it’s going to be hard to get folks to work overtime, too. I’ve got to work with our grounds supervisor to prioritize things so at least the classrooms look OK.