I just came back from a 24 hours field trip to Maban County yesterday. Maban County is within Upper Nile State, it’s 205 kilometres to the east of Melut County. As usual, we flew with helicopter from Malakal to Melut the day before the Maban trip.
We were five people and driving two vehicles. We departed Melut at 9.30 a.m. and arrived in El-Bounj, the capital of Maban County, at 3.30 p.m. It took us six hours to reach El-Bounj because we stopped over in Jammam, one of the villages of Maban County, to meet the local authority there.
Our aim on this trip was to assess the situation after the Sudan elections which took place a couple of weeks ago.
24 hours mission seemed very short but I was able to see, learn, and experience a lot of things on this trip.
Sleeping under the stars…
Everytime I went to the field I always slept in either a tend, a tukul (Sudanese traditional house), or a communal guest house where people just choose their bed and sleep as if we were in the hospital ward.
But sleeping outside under the open sky was just a new thing for me although this culture is not new in Sudan. Most Sudanese sleep outside their house because the weather is too hot (It reached 43 Celsius degrees in Malakal these days). I always tried to sleep inside because I didn’t want to get malaria. Sudan is one of the countries whose highest percentage of malaria.
Prior to the trip to El-Bounj, we already planned to stay at UNHCR compound because one of my colleagues had been to El-Bounj before and he stayed at this compound. Unfortunately when we arrived in El-Bounj, we found out that UNHCR compound was just burned down.
Half of its tukuls were turned into ashes and the other half were used as temporary warehouses to safe their remaining stuff.
We were of course still warmly welcomed to stay in the compound but we didn’t have any choice but sleeping in the compound yard. Fortunately that night was a full moon and the weather was a little bit warm so there was not many mosquito around, I pour my body with mosquito repellent though, I didn’t want to take a chance in getting malaria after the trip.
I was lucky enough to always bring my sleeping bag anywhere I go on the field trip so I just slept comfortably inside my sleeping bag that night while experiencing the new method of staying-over in Sudan, sleeping under the open sky and counting the stars.
Breakfast at Jammam’s
For Sudanese, having breakfast is very important and they also have specific time to enjoy their breakfast, 10 a.m.!
On this trip my colleagues and I stopped over in Jammam village to have our 10 a.m. breakfast. We had breakfast at a tea place belongs to a lady called Dawula Dawula. Madame Dawula is a mother of six children and a grandmother of five grandchildren.
She opens her tea stall everyday from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Her husband is working as a porter, he owns a donkey cart to help people to carry anything but mostly clean water. To get clean water in Maban County is not easy, you have to go to the water point and pay 10 Sudanese pounds (USD$4) for a drum of clean water.
Madame Dawula and her husband are originally from Maban but they migrated to Renk County every rainy season because her tea business was not good in Jammam village during that season. “I earn 20 to 30 Sudanese pounds (USD$8-12) everyday during dry season but in rainy season, we have no income sometimes,” said Madame Dawula to me while I enjoyed her ginger-tea.
Besides tea, ginger, and coffee, most tea places also served a snack called zalabia. Zalabia is a fried little ball made from wheat and powdered by sugar. Tea and zalabia are just perfect combination as breakfast menu in Sudan!
Riding a camel…
Season of migration is apparently very popular in Sudan. It’s not only for the animals but also its people. In Sudan, to have hundreds or even thousands of goats, lambs, cows, bulls, camels, is more than anything. And if someone owns a lot of livestock he won’t be able to stay put in one place, he would move around looking for areas where his livestock can eat grass. In Sudan, they call this kind of person as a nomad.
Most nomads in Sudan are Arabic tribes and they are coming from the North. They usually migrated to the South for cattle grassing every November and returned to the North again in July.
According to the local authority in Maban County these nomads never disturb locals and locals always welcome them as long as their animals don’t eat somebody else’s garden.
This was the first time in my life to see with my own eyes these nomads moved along with all their thousands of livestock. The group was really huge, how amazing! I wondered whether the owners would notice if one of their bulls got stolen.
We stopped by to say hello to one nomad’s family and my colleague, ED, even dared himself to ride their camel (helped by the nomad’s father of course).
Trip to Maban was definitely fun and adventurous for me! I would never get this opportunity anywhere else but Sudan. Some people may think we were miserable sleeping under the sky but one thing for sure, this kind of experience is one of the things that you would never forget till the rest of your life!