Sunday, 8 August 2010
To the person who vandalised Dr. Siddiq Umbadda’s excellent paper on Education and Mismanagement of Sudanese Economy and Society (1954-1989)…
You have terrible grammar.
I am reading this great (and quite poetically written) Development Studies and Research Centre paper (no. 83) from October 1990 and I’m starting to yell at the page. It’s not the information. It’s not the arguments, which are clever and making me re-consider how much wasta there was in the early days of Sudanese economic development (More generally, I am starting to re-think some of my arguments in light of all these old papers I have been reading this week). No, it is not Dr. Umbadda’s scholarship at all!
No, it’s all these annoying comments and ‘corrections’ that some young whippersnapper has felt the need to leave in his wake. What is most irritating is that most of his grammatical corrections are wrong! Now, I am NO grammar guru and I frequently roll over syntax rules with aplomb, but if you are going to go through a distinguished professor’s work and ‘correct’ his mistakes, have a little care… and if you are going to do so, don’t write ‘stupid’ in the margins when he is making a good point.
I don’t know you are, but HARAM on you!
As these papers are only available in paper form and only available after careful adventures in the University of Khartoum libraries, people should NOT feel the need to tamper with the texts!
OK, I obviously need to get out of the office and go home. Sunday grumpiness coming out.
One day, I will find you Development Studies and Research Centre vandal! One day!
Friday, 6 August 2010
I was seven in 1989. I knew nothing of
This morning I have been re-reading Mansour Khalid’s book “The Government They Deserve” and the post-script is fascinating. Published in 1990, the author had just finished his book on the political elite of the country and had not expected what was to come: namely the coup of 1989 and the coming of the NIF. In Khalid’s postscript, you can really see the intense frustration with the ‘democratic’ government of Sadiq al Mahdi. People did not know what to expect from the Brigadier Bashir in those early days. Bearing in mind that Mansour Khalid was a bit of a political outsider and so his critique of Sadiq’s government is partly ideological and personal, it is nevertheless a fascinating look at the political climate at that time. Here is a (long) excerpt from the 1990 postscript:
“The future of the new government is as yet uncertain, but it will certainly have to face a number of grave problems. The coup has opened up as many questions as it supposedly answered. Foremost amongst there will be the transition back to civilian rule; an issue that was simply disregarded by the junta in their initial declarations. It is clearly not too soon to be thinking in these terms, if the lessons of the past have been learned at all, then it will have been noted by the new military regime that former Sudanese military and quasi-military governments have equally had their problems, and that engineering a satisfactory transfer of power to civil authorities has been a bugbear of all such governments. Those such as Abboud’s or Nimeiri’s, which hung on to power for too long, were eventually toppled overnight amidst popular jubilation.
What makes the present situation worse is the total administrative bankruptcy and the exhaustion of many of the institutions and organs of civil government. Worn out by corruption and disillusioned with the pathetic posturing of recent years, the people who might take the leading role in the future of civil governments, according to the new leader, had to persuaded to assume such responsibility. The 21-man strong civilian cabinet, announced on 9 Jule by General Bashir, reveals that the General was not persuasive enough. Trade Unionists and many senior civil servants who were approached to join the government refused, though a good number of them may have heaved a sigh of relief when Sadiq was removed. Incongruously while disillusionment with Sadiq’s government was universal, representatives of popular organizations continued to persuade themselves that the Sadiq-led democracy was there to stay as if all lewd and indecorous methods in which sectarian party politics were exercised were of no relevance to the way the governed judged their government.
To no-one’s surprise, therefore, the dissolution of parties and trade unions was the first step taken by the military. What follows, however, is harder to analyse. As like as not, the military may be tempted to cut corners and establish a one-party system notwithstanding the fiascos of similar top-down political organizations in the region including the Sudanese experience of the SSU. They, like some of their ilk, may also consider installing a so-called guided democracy or be wise enough to carefully prepare the ground for a return to genuine democracy in the light General Obasanjo and General Babangida in
Although it has little to do with Education, the current chapter of my thesis (which makes this diversion naughty), I found this postscript so interesting and helpful in understanding the 2010 election. In my discussions with voters, I was repeatedly told that Bashir is not as bad as what came before. I had always dismissed these sentiments, arguing that you cannot compare a three year term with a twenty year term. But maybe I am too hard on these voters. I was not around in the late eighties. Maybe the kind of frustration that Mansour Khalid writes about in this book were very strongly felt, maybe those memories cannot be dismissed offhand.
I believe the weight of history has clouded the way outsiders see this regime. We tend to imagine that the imprisonment of Turabi was a well recognized cover-up perceived by the Sudanese public at large and we perhaps romanticise the democratic period that preceded it, but re-reading literature from that period removes this weight of history. Things are a lot more complicated than we imagine, as we jump without the benefit of memories of our own. We have to take in account the late 80s if we want to understand the present period, and/or the future.
Saturday, 10 April 2010
Khartoum's streets are lined with the flickering faces of smiling men whose smiles have now been ripped and bruised. Before everyone pulled out, this election was being fought at the photocopiers. It was a visual fight, a papery race to the ballot. These are just some of the faces inhabiting the walls and streets of Khartoum this month...
"HEY HEY HEY!"
"Stop the car, there is a khawajia chasing us!"
"Why stop the car if she's after us? She looks mean!"
"Just stop the freaking car!"
The car stops.
Breathless, the words surface in my mouth, salty dry words that have been baked to a crisp by the chase.
"I.... want.... a.... poster."
"You want a poster?"
"An Omar Bashir poster?"
Eyes roll up and down like extremely dubious yo-yos. Clearly I am not your typical NCP customer, but then who isn't these days? Even the mother of my Coptic landlady seems to love the cha cha man. "He good" she says to me, "strong!"
I try to get into character, "Yes, I want an Omar Bashir poster!" I forcibly silence the reason in my brain to spit out the words, "I have chased you down half of Africa Road, haven't I?"
"You like Bashir?" Narrowed faces almost poking at me. The reason's getting rowdy. Pipe down, I command! My eyes twitch. "A big time fan?"
"More or less", I concede, not explaining less is the operative word.
"Very well then."
They hand them over.
I have been collecting campaign posters from speeding vehicles, snapping inconspicuously at the road side and doing my damn well best to acquire political items of clothing- it began with a rather convincing Salva Kir hat, then an Umma waistcoast, now a beautiful SPLM t-shirt. But it's all a little sobering. I have done all of this for a non-election.
Last Sunday I went to the Rashid Diab arts centre to listen to a seminar about the elections. One of the speakers urged the foreign monitors to accept this election, unlike he said, Iran and Palestine. He got lots of cheers. A real crowd pleaser. But it's kind of hard to accept an election that none of the other parties accept (or didn't accept before they were bribed... but that is just a rumour!)
For those unfamiliar with Sudan's current election, it's important to think of it as a gift. A gift of legitimacy from the opposition parties to the ruling regime. He is clearly going to win the thing. He has all the state's resources to use at his disposal. He has twenty years of power under his belt, systematically destroying all opposition, kicking out and silencing intellectuals and monopolizing the media. He is also credited for bringing peace to the South, oil from the ground and stability to the country as a whole. Elections are in his interest. A gift. A democratic crown (probably made by Chinese workers)!
The gift is part of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South, and as such, it comes with strings. Some of these strings are public: when it comes to the election- an abrogation of the emergency laws, an independent election commission, limitations on campaign spending and widening of press freedoms. There are also lots of rumors about backroom dealing: hidden strings. It seems a little puzzling that the opposition parties waited until one week before the elections to announce their boycotts. You have to speculate that they have been negotiating with the ruling party: we will take part in this "show" if you meet our demands. Some say that the SPLM and the other parties had an agreement to cooperate with one another and when the SPLM pulled out (possibly by request from the NCP in return for a smooth referendum next year) the others withdrew angrily. Did the NCP manipulate the Juba Alliance in order to bring about this collapse? Did they underestimate the other parties' tenacity? The latest rumour is that the DUP has been paid millions of pounds to re-enter the election (certainly their posters have shot up dramatically these past couple days). Whether this offer was also extended to the Umma party, we can only speculate. Was the bribe not big enough? Did they resist on the basis of principles or do they have other tricks up their sleeves?
At first I was really angry at the other parties. Regimes aren't removed overnight. They take multiple elections. They take dilution. They take time. Whatever his image in the Western media, Omar Bashir is an extremely popular man- especially in Khartoum. And the other parties can't expect anything else. For me, this election was the first step of many. Of course the NCP was going to win, but the idea was to get people going.
From a Khartoum perspective, Sudan is booming. Roads are being built, parks and public spaces are being transformed, development projects have been jump-started all over the place over the past year (some say as a form of election campaign). And most importantly, people are scared of change. This is not surprising. Omar Bashir is all about stability. The last democratic period in Sudan was a time of great economic crisis, shortages in basic supplies, war and mass exodus of Sudanese professionals and experts abroad. Most of the people I have asked about the elections believe that Sadiq ElMahdi and his democracy failed to pull Sudan out of trouble. Whether it is fair to compare a three year term with a twenty year term is beside the point. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.
What this election has really drummed into me is the idea that democracy does not begin and end with elections. Democracy is about a relationship between a state and its people. This is something Justin Willis spoke about in his lecture on the history of Sudanese elections last year. I wish the opposition parties had listened. For a real democracy to blossom, there has to be expectations. Demands! Promises extended and votes as contracts! Democracy is not supposed to be about loyalty, about charisma per se, but about interests, policies, development. This is not the situation in Sudan and has not been the case in past elections. Probably the most surprising thing about Omar Bashir's success is his popularity among those hardluck souls who don't have any wasta. The other week I met a taxi drivers with a PhD in Engineering who said he will still vote for Bashir. When I ask, "Why? You have a PhD and you're driving a taxi! Clearly not a good economy, not a good system!" He explained that he is better than the others. "They don't want change, they just want power." There are SO many people like this. Maybe they don't all have PhDs, but a vast number of the unemployed and semi-employed are university graduates who are dissatisfied with the labour market. If you can't convince these people to vote for you, then you aren't trying hard enough. It's really that simple.
This sentiment was echoed by a University of Khartoum professor, Atta El Battahani. He mused that perhaps the only party that really wants to change the system is the SPLM. The others just want to take over what the NCP has built. Many Northerners feel that the SPLM is a party of the South. After the referendum, they will be irrelevant and it would be foolish to squander your vote on a party that will soon be gone. When I went to the SPLM offices this week to interview someone about government employment, I was surprised about the number of Northerners in the office. It was kind of lovely: a snapshot of a new Sudan, Southerners and Northerners drinking tea together beneath a line of framed photographers of the late John Garang. Mash'allah! But without the philosopher-king, the SPLM doesn't seem to garner wide scale support in the North.
I have a lot of sympathy for the other parties. They are up against a mountain but at the same time, they could have done better. They could have made this election about issues, about the economy, about education, about jobs! There are so many frustrations simmering. They have really wasted an amazing opportunity to change the language of democracy away from loyalty and towards a discussion of the reality on the ground. There is so much opportunity in this country- oil, agriculture, universities galore and many of its problems (like the mismatch between education and employment) are due to terrible mismanagement, an amazing lack of coordination among government ministries and a complete lack of responsibility on the part of officials. I was completely stunned when the Minister of Labour told me it was not his responsibility to look at the career prospects of Sudanese graduates- that was the job of the Ministry of Higher Education. This government could be doing so much MUCH better- even leaving aside any discussion of Darfur. I have been saying all along that I don't really care which party wins, as long as they raise the expectations of the population, as long as they make government accountable. That is what democracy should bring: accountability. That is the whole bloody point, isn't it?
Instead it seems this election has brought the opposite: legitimacy without justification and we are all to blame. Obviously the NCP is to blame. They have manipulated the election and undermined the unity of the other parties. The other parties failed to change the language of democracy and make the "wasta-less" realize that change is possible. Of course they are scared, but people can be made to be brave! The international community is to blame for pushing and pushing without remembering the true purpose to begin with: to bring accountability. Those who understand Sudanese politics best- and I believe Atta and Justin are among them- have been recommending for this election to be postponed for months. It was clear that the country was not ready.
I hope that we all learn from this experience for next time and I do believe there will be a next time. Voter education should not just be about the mechanics of choosing, but about making demands and searching for solutions. A campaign should be a time of great discussion, a focus on national problems and a cacophony of suggestions. The international community is so obsessed with the mechanics of elections: the ballot papers, the finance, the posters, the journalists, the monitoring, but what about the issues? What about that relationship between people and candidate? How can we re-formulate interventions and programs that seek to promote democracy towards accountability? That is the lesson we should learn from this election, I believe.
I am still happy there will be an election. For one of my best friends here, this will be the first time he has ever participated in an election. It should be a time of celebration. In some ways, he is lucky. He wants to vote for an independent. He can still mark his "x" where he chooses. It is a fine thing to vote and we need to celebrate!
We shall see what the week ahead brings. What kind of celebrations are in order.
Friday, 26 March 2010
Paul Fean gave a beautiful presentation to the seminar series last week in which he again confirmed how ingenious and simple Action Research can be.
Action Research, if you are unaware, is practitioner focused research that encourages practitioners to identify problems, introduce innovations and then track the progress of those innovation over time. The whole process is seen as a cycle, innovations continually change the system and new learning comes out of each new round. Importantly, practitioners must choose a problem that they have the power to change.
In Paul Fean's case, he works with teachers and headmasters. They identify problems in schools and try to develop new innovative ways of dealing with these problems. There is also a collaborative aspect, the teachers come together and share their experiences- maybe an innovation that works well in one school can be replicated in another. He did his doctoral research with teachers in adult education centres in Omdurman and then more recently, he worked with the Sudanese Ministry of Education working with 50 headmasters from across Sudan.
The really great thing about Action Research is that it forces stakeholders to take responsibility over their field. Sudanese will often complain that there is no "system" to things in Sudan. There is no support from above, no recognition by the state and little funding available for change. While this environment is not wholly conducive to change, there are exceptions. I have interviewed some pretty inspiring people who have made change through heart battering personal perseverance.
One of the things I want to address in my PhD is the idea of change comes to pass in Sudan. My examples come from professional associations. When there is no "system" (in the sense of an explicit structure), how do individuals cope and create space for change? How can their personal efforts become models for others to use? And ideally, how can the state learn from these models to implement large scale change?
Action Research has this potential.
In the discussion session after his presentation we got into the discussion of whether Action Research is more about "treating symptoms, than treating the root causes". We heard about how some primary school classes have more than 100 students. Can you imagine teaching 100 seven year olds?! If the methods of teaching and the materials originate in countries where class sizes are in their twenties and thirties, you begin to understand the uphill battle to teach in Sudan. If you
add on to this the fact that 9 out of 10 teachers are not properly trained, then the problem gets even more serious.
Quite a few of my interviewees said they started their careers as teachers- this was back in the 70s- when teachers got good salaries and a certain amount of prestige and respect. These early teachers went on to become captains of industry. Now, teaching salaries are meager and most teachers have to work as private tutors to make ends meet. It is no surprise that teachers struggle and have little time to think about innovations in their classrooms. They believe they do not have the power and control over the problems that they face. 100 students in one class? What do you want me to do?!
And quite right too!
Some of these problems do require action at the top- more funding, better teaching training, smaller class sizes, more appropriate teaching materials and methods. But still, there is room for change. Some of the Action Research teachers involved in Paul's project chose the topic "How to develop better teaching methods for huge class sizes." This is the kind of research we need in this context!
Action research begs the question: in the absence of change from above, what can be changed on the ground? And who knows- maybe one individual can prove through success that things can work. Their hard work can get scaled up. I think there are examples of this in the world of professional associations (but give me time to write this part of my PhD up!).
The other big insight that I got from Paul's presentation is the importance of legitimacy. Participants in these projects were part of a bigger endeavor, especially in the case of the head-teachers, they had the backing of the Ministry of Education. They had a "foreign expert" training them in a new research methodology called "Action Research". It gave them the support and encouragement to believe that change was possible.
When you listen to Paul Fean speak about Action Research, it is difficult to resist imagining other Action Research applications:
How can businesses use Action Research to deal with wasta?
How can students use Action Research to deal with unemployment in their area?
How can universities use Action Research to encourage wider collaboration among academics?
Action Research gets people to take responsibility for change. Yes, there is something I can do about this and this is how I am going to do it! Maybe it is just a fancy name for things that people should already be doing, but this sense of legitimacy and framework is important- here is a "system" of change that we can use.
There is one weakness to Action Research. If the innovations originate from the minds of practitioners working in the school environments in question, then the innovations might not always be the most radical. At the same time, their innovations will be more appropriate and contextually relevant, but not radical. It is preferable in this case, to mix practitioners from around the country and to share insights from abroad. Paul seemed to think that this might have been the case with some of his projects, that the change was not radical enough but he didn't want to interfere too much in the process. He was there to study the process itself. He talked about how he might try to play with this balance in the future: the balance between appropriateness of change and radicalness of innovation.
A friend recently posted a nice article on change management. It spoke of the need to look out for the drivers of change:
"An important insight from complexity science is that any effort to intentionally bring about development and change should be built on and link into supporting, self-reinforcing processes of endogenous change" (De Lange, 2010).
I feel like when it comes to Sudan, Action Research can play a big role in this innovating for change, bringing in these processes of endogenous change into a wider frame of action... so Shukran Paul Fean for your insights!
Thursday, 11 March 2010
A GREAT new library in Khartoum
I thought I had been to the Development studies library. I thought wrong.
The Development Studies and Research Institute has opened a new library. There are now actually two: one downstairs (old school and dusty where I found a mysterious reference: "Proceedings of the Minister of Monosters") and one upstairs, a veritable oasis: new, cool (in terms of temperature!), hooked up to the internet and very well organized. They are still moving books and sorting things out but they have a great collection of UN and World Bank books- very up to date. They also have a lot of books about gender, especially in Sudan (you have to search through the dusty files for this, but there are some treasures!). I think they are slowly moving the books upstairs so their collection will probably increase over the next year.
It is also just a great place to study- very quiet and as I said, very cool! So if you are stranded in the heat of the city and need a place to study, go to the Development Studies library at the University of Khartoum. It is half way between the staff club (on Sharia Jamieat) and the bookstore on the other end. The head librarian is called Hussein and he is very helpful.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
Treasures in the Library: The University of Khartoum Development Studies and Research Centre Monograph Series
The other day, I went along to the University of Khartoum to track down a professor but he was not in his office. Malesh. Instead I went to the Anthropology library where I found treasures hidden on the bottom shelf- U. of K. papers from the 1970s and 1980s. Some of them were really great- one paper on social mobility! With much excitement, I asked the librarian where they came from. She told me they had all the Red Sea Area papers in a special room but the others had been printed by the Economics Department. So I went along to the Economics library (I love how all the departments in the University of Khartoum have their own libraries).
Here another librarian took one look at them, scratched his head and then began to search a storage closet. It was a very exciting (and dusty) afternoon for us both. We found (almost) the complete series after searching and climbing and searching some more. He let me take them away to make photocopies and I promised to type out the names and give him a copy.
After spending about half an hour typing in the endless stream of names, I thought I would post them online just in case they are interesting to anyone else.
If you would like to read a copy and you are in Khartoum, go to the Economics library and ask for Faisal Al Tayb Eissa Youssif. He will help you find them and probably make you a cup of tea in the process. If you are not in Khartoum but are my friend (or potential friend and live somewhere close to Edinburgh), I can try and photocopy them for you. One day, in the far off future, when I return to Sudan with a digital sender, I will digitize such treasures.
If you want to look at the Red Sea Area collection, then go to the Anthropology library and ask for Jowahir Mubarak. I am not sure if she will make you tea, but she is also very friendly.
This whole episode has made me realize how vibrant and wonderful the research community of University of Khartoum was in those days. I really wish it could be returned to its former glory... with a little human will and a little bit of funding!
Nevertheless these papers should not be forgotten... Here they are (some of them are missing):
Development Studies and Research Centre. Faculty of Economic and Social Studies, University of Khartoum. Monograph Series.
1. The Five Year Plan (1970-75): Some Aspects of the Plan and Its Performance. 1977. Sayed Nimeri.
2. Vocational Training and Economic Development in the Sudan. 1977. Ahmed H. El Jack and Abdel Rahman E. Ali Taha.
3. Educational Policy and the Employment Problem in the Sudan. 1977. M. O. Beshir.
4. Development Budgeting in the Sudan. 1977. B. A. Azhar.
5. The Estimation of Human Population by the Capture-Recapture Method. 1977. A.E. El Goul.
6. How to Survive Development: the Story of New Halfa. 1977. Gunnar M. Sorbo.
7. An Evaluation of the Six Year Development Plan of the Sudan (1977/78- 1982/83). 1978. Sayed Nimeri.
8. The Problem of Desterification in the Republic of the Sudan With Special Reference to Northern Darfur Province. 1978. Dr. Fouad N. Ibrahim.
9. Sudanese Labour Mobility: A Statistical Investigation. 1978. Z.A. Beshir and Siddiq M. Ahmed.
10. Local Government and Local Participation in Rural Development in the Sudan. 1978. Salih Abdalla El-Arifi.
11. Urbanization and Exploitation: The Role of Small Centres. 1979. Abdel Ghaffar M. Ahmed and Mustafa Abdel Rahman.
12. Patterns of Family Living: The Case Study of Two Villages on the Rahad River. 1979. Ellen Gruenbaum.
13. A Bibliography of West African Settlement and Development in the Sudan. 1980. Ahmad Abd al-Rahim Nasr and Mark Duffield.
15. A Consumption Function For the Sudan. 1983. Ahmed Al Sheikh.
16. Origins of the Underdevelopment of the Southern Sudan: British Administrative Neglect. 1983. Raphael Koba Badal.
17. Import Policy in Sudan 1966-1976. 1984. Siddiq Umbadda.
18. Monetisation, Financial Intermediation and Self-Financed Growth in the Sudan (1960/1- 1979/80). 1984. Mekki El Shibly.
19. Towards an Appraisal of Tractorisation Experience in Rainlands of Sudan. 1984. Khalid Affan.
20. The Evolution and Transformation of the Sudanese Economy Up to 1950. 1984. Elfatih Shaaeldin.
21. Towards an Understanding of Islamic Banking: The Case of Faisal Islamic Bank 1985. Elfatih Shaaeldin and Richard Brown.
22. The Labour Force in Sudanese Agriculture. 1984. Abdel Sadiq Ahmed El Bashir.
23. A Modelling Approach to Forecasting. A Critique of Some Essential Aspects of the Sudanese Six-Year Plan. 1985. Ahmed Elsheikh M. Ahmed and Beshir Omer M. Fadlalla.
24. Some Aspects of Sudanese Migration to the Oil-Producing Countries During the 1970's. 1985. Mohd. El Awad Galaeldin.
25. The State of Women Studies in the Sudan. 1985. El-Wathiq Kamier, Zeinab El-Bakri, Idris Salim and Samiya El-Nagar.
26. Proposal for a Nile Water Treaty. 1986. Omer Mohamed Ali Mohamed.
27. Structural Analysis For the Production Function of the Sudan Economy. 1986. Ahmed Elsheikh M. Ahmed.
28. البراهين على الطبيعة التصاعدية الجميع انواع الزكاة 1987. أحمد صفي الدين عوض
30. Economic Development Urbanization and Induced Migration. 1987. Mohamed Abdelhameed Ibnoaf.
33. Resource Allocation Under the Joint Account and the Land-Water Charge Systems: Is There a Case for Abandonning the Joint Account? 1989. Samir Taha Saleem.
34. Female Participation in Trade: The Case of Sudan. 1989. Alawiya Osman Mohamed Salih.
35. The Kordofan Region of the Sudan, 1980-1985. A Case Study of the Problems of Regionalism. 1989. Kamal Osman Salih.
36. Tradition and Modernization in Sudanese Irrigated Agriculture: Lessons From Experience. 1989. Sharif El-Dishouni.
37. Economic Expansion Domestic Distribution and North-South Trade. 1991. Hatim A. Mahran.
38. The Institutionalization of Capital Accumulation and Economic Development in the Sudan. 1991. Medani Mohamed Ahmed.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Research is sometimes a matter of endurance and patience, especially when conducted under the Sudanese sun. But at the end of it all, there is reward.
A couple weeks ago I turned up to an interview and found that the manager had double-booked me . In order to placate the look in my eye, his secretary gave me extremely strong tea and told me to come back in a couple days. Instead I asked if I could get some information about the organization to better prepare myself for the interview and accordingly, I was directed to another floor.
Here, I was given some more tea and then told to wait while a man fetched some books. I sighed and resigned myself to the sugary mix. If research is sometimes a matter of endurance, then in Sudan this endurance is represented by tea. How much tea can you consume in a single day? How much tea can you consume when you have already consumed four cups before lunch and feel like your eyes have been hooked up to a ECG and need a medical consent form in order to be blinked?
I look into the cup, wondering how expensive a stomach transplant is in Sudan, but etiquette dictates endurance and so I bring the cup to my lips.
While I am waiting and plotting the logistics of pouring the tea into the potted plant on the desk, an old man comes into the office. He has a smile on his face that would lift a beached whale and a little twinkle in his eye that says "I don't give a damn".
He sits down in a chair, put his hands above his head and tells me he's going to tell me "what's really going on in here". What follows is nothing but the most honest and deep internal description of the workings of an organization that I have ever heard. He has a happy growl of a voice, the kind of voice you would expect a sheepdog to have if you were lucky enough to catch him in a monologue.
Is this fate? One interview postponed so you can have another with a sage-like shepherd?
This morning I had a similar experience. I was supposed to have a meeting at 10 am. I had been told to come to a specific bank on the other side of town. The company's office was right next door... or so they told me on the phone.
On the way over, I called up the secretary to check but she was not there. I asked the man on the phone if he could give directions to the driver but it turns out that this man was both the most confused and the most confusing man on the planet. The taxi driver hung up midway through the conversation declaring "This man is crazy! He probably just wandered in and picked up the phone! He is an idiot!" I decided to call the manager directly. He reassured me that the company was right next door to the bank. "JUST come to the bank" He said. So I did.
I got out of the taxi, paid my fare and then proceeded to wander around like an idiot in the sun looking for the company's sign. I couldn't find a single sign that didn't involve the words "Pepsi" or "Zain". The advertising seemed to loom like the sun. And I became thirsty.
I called up the secretary's line again. I didn't want the manager to think I was a complete idiot. This time, the simultaneously confused/confusing man had been replaced by a stern woman who was, unfortunately, equally confusing. She told me that I was in completely the wrong place and I should get into another taxi. Confused, I handed the phone to a new taxi driver and after a very long winded explanation, the man hung up and said:
Excuse me? Ten pounds? The man said it was right here!
It is far, far, far, far away!
Then the driver added,
I decided I did not trust this man. The manager had said that I should come to this bank and even if all his secretaries seemed to doubt their location in the universe, I was going to trust the boss. It was his company, surely he knew where he was sitting. I started to wander in the direction that the woman had described on the phone, all the while trying the number again- but now no-one was picking up.
Downtown Khartoum is probably the hottest place I have ever been. It is not just the sun and the lack of shade, but the noise and bustle of the traffic and the dust that wafts every time a bus screams past. I looked at my watch. 10:35. I was hot. I was angry. I was so utterly confused. Had I entered some fantastical research universe in which people contradict themselves and send you on wild-goose chases for kicks? Why had three different secretaries told me completely opposite directions? Why had the manager told me to come one place while the taxi driver seemed to want to take me to Kassala or some other far flung spot? I took a deep breath, ducked into an abandoned building site and called the manager one last time.
This time- low and behold, Ilhamdulilah, praise be to the single cloud in the sky- the original secretary picked up the phone.
Laura? Her voice was like a cool breeze, Come to the bank and I will find you.
I have no idea what was going on. When I think about it in my head, I feel like there must be some plausible explanation. Were they just messing with me? Was their phone line split between two companies on opposite sides of town? Or am I just a little bit mad? When I entered the building, I looked into the faces of the other secretaries and wondered which ones had spoken to me. Which ones needed to acquaint themselves with reality.
Or was it me that had lost the plot?
I cooled off. Literally.
The nice (sane) secretary gave me water- ice cold water that swept away the heat from my brow and then a nice man came in with a tray of tea, peanuts and dates. Peanuts? It was as if my stomach had perused the menu and made an order... and at 11:00 when I was sufficiently cooled and well fed, I finally had my interview-- which went really well. Thank you kind souls!
Now I sit in a nearby park. I have my notebook out, my list of possible interviewees on my lap, my phone pressed against my ear. But someone is watching me.
A monkey. She sits up above in a tree, a baby monkey strapped to her back. They are both giving me the eye. I wonder if they can smell the peanuts on my breath.
And it suddenly dawns on me, I am a lucky girl. This is research in Sudan and I am going to miss it when it's over.
Friday, 29 January 2010
How do I know that?
Because my shoulders are still pink and pulsing with the memory of the morning shower.
It's a great pity because I have really been enjoying the mechanical switching on and off of the water heater each morning. First thing out of bed, I rush to the bathroom, flick the pleasant red switch and then stand there, singing to myself: tadaaa, beam of red is iniated. Rockets are ready to launch. Time to proceed to tea, news and email before leaping into the steaming waves of water that shall issue happily from my recently stolen shower head with a great big smile on my face. Ilhamdulilah.
But this morning was not such a picture of happiness. Instead of turning on the hot tap, I might as well have jumped into a vat of chemical solvent and then stuffed myself with gravy.
Anyone can tell you that laws of thermodynamics that usually pertain to bathrooms do not apply in Sudan. The hot tap produces cool water which has been stored in the mini tank in your bathroom, while the cold tap produces water that could be used in hospitals to singe off unsightly boils and cysts from peoples' necks and bottoms. If you foolishly turn on your heater, you basically heat water that has already been boiled: The kind of hot that even the most resilient Japanese and/or the immortal Ancient Greeks would whine and bitch about.
Yes, it is rather depressing. Winter is over. Heat has returned to reign victorious. Good bye novelty of socks! Goodbye open car windows! Goodbye pleasure of waking up at 5, switching off the ceiling fan and then jumping back into bed to savour the last couple hours beneath the warm and cosy sheet.
Still, I suppose I should dust off my stiff upper lip: the encroaching spring heat will no doubt compare favorably with the Scottish sky: Hey ho, what delights have been brought from the moon by golden storks with tails like peacocks? Oh majesty of white! Clouds, so clean and crisp they could be used as table cloths on the tops of Downing street... but they will soon to turn grey... and then to black... and then produce physical masses of cold that shock on arrival. Sun, bake me while you last... For I shall not complain.