Sudanese Dreams, Deferred Until When?

May 9th, 2011 - by admin

Daniel Deng / Out of Exile – 2011-05-09 20:23:27

SAN FRANCISCO (May 5, 2011) — It was mid-March, 2001. I was in a dusty camp north of Abyei where a group of Missiriya nomads were addressing our delegation. The black loam clay was a hard grey under Sudan’s baking sun. The nomads sat motionless in their white gowns and turbans, staring at us — men on one side, women in the back, and children sitting on a plastic sheet, motionless like their parents. A tall, dark-skinned Missiriya man stepped forward to speak when it was his turn:

It was right here, from this camp, that the government armed us and sent us into Dinka land. Our women sang songs to our young men: “Don’t come back unless you have the ear of a Dinka man!”

But now look at us. What did Khartoum’s promises bring us? Nothing! We men here, we are all illiterate. Our children on the ground there do not go to school. And our women still drink water from a filthy hand-dug well! War has brought us nothing. Khartoum’s promises brought us nothing. So we will now bring peace to Dinka Land!

This testimonial by a member of the original janjaweed is evidence of the winds of change that are blowing across Sudan. Granted, these are hot winds, and they have ignited violent fires in all parts of the country. Yet, ironically, these same winds carry a great hope, which is reflected in the stories of the characters presented to us in Out of Exile.

Throughout history, visionaries have been hunted down, enslaved, humiliated, and despised — from Daniel, who was thrown into the lions’ den, to Jesus, crucified with a crown of thorns, to a host of modern visionaries, like Gandhi, King, and Mandela. The power of “seeing” future possibilities and committing oneself to seeing them through puts one in dangerous opposition to the establishment, which inevitably cringes when the writing is on the wall.

The people we meet in Out of Exile have faced indignities so stirring they could fill scriptures. As much as they are individual stories, they are also the story of a nation dying to be born. Most importantly, each narrator still nurtures a love which is the basis of his or her dream. All that modern Sudan has known is war, and so, by necessity, we have become resilient people. The trials and tribulations described in this book are symptomatic of a new Sudan in the making.

Admittedly, this characterization sees the proverbial cup as half full. It is easy to see the stories in this book as pointing to the collapse of a society, yet we will find more profit in the future if we see Sudan’s wars not as a series of regional conflicts taking their destructive toll, but rather as the birth pains of a new Sudan in the making. In this process, aspects of the old Sudan are being left behind in the annals of history, and a new chapter is beginning.

Abuk’s testimony sets the tone for the project, capturing our attention right from the start with a single word: slave. Slavery cast Abuk like a stone sculpture on her Arab master’s floor. In her resolute silence, she dreamed of freedom. Then, suddenly, movement came out of stillness, and rebellion out of submission. In an instant, Abuk began to run, and she kept running, not stopping until she reached America.

There, she paused to enjoy her blackness once again, as she had as a child before she was enslaved. Now Abuk is silent no longer, spending her time advocating against slavery in Sudan. She has found that her personal freedom still lacks luster, and will only truly shine when all her people are free.

For Mutaz, the new Sudan will be a country where a working man can earn a decent day’s pay. More importantly, it will be a place where he will be able to provide for his mother instead of depending on her to take care of him. Since he found this impossible because of the lack of opportunities in Sudan today — which he blames on government policies — he left for Egypt.

In Cairo, he paints a dreadful picture of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The cold building snarls, appearing more like a fortress to keep refugees out than an institution mandated to protect them. Desperate and hungry, they stand in lines for days, only to be given yellow-and-blue protection cards which ultimately mean nothing.

Benjamin chose flight over fight when his Dinka village became a field of corpses. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, high-flying Antonov bombers peppered the once-serene countryside, leaving open-air cemeteries in their wake. While his brothers joined the rebel SPLA that was forming across the south, Benjamin fled north, to the sprawling outskirts of Khartoum, where millions of displaced live in the “Black Belt” zone to escape proliferating conflicts around the country.

Chased from their homelands by their own governments, these refugees wait in a timeless suspension. Meanwhile, in Juba, those of Benjamin’s SPLA brothers and sisters who survived have now seen their rebel movement become a government.

Gazafi is a Masaalit from Darfur, who fled to Cairo to escape National Islamic Front security forces who were trying to kill him in Khartoum. Gazafi’s baby son was murdered, bludgeoned out of his arms by an Egyptian police officer who took part in the savage beatings that left twenty-nine refugees dead in front of UNHCR.

Mubtaga is an accomplished thirty-two-year-old woman from the Beja tribe of eastern Sudan. She has recently been forced to leave her work with USAID because she is being stalked by her brother, who wants to kill her for marrying a southerner. Mubtaga’s dream of a new Sudan where she is free to love whomever she chooses must be deferred as she struggles for her day-to-day survival.

Young Nadia’s memories are dominated by the massacre of her family in Darfur. Her brother was slain before her eyes by murderers in turbans as she crouched behind a tree. She searched for his breath but found it empty. Forced to marry at thirteen so that she could flee to Cairo, Nadia’s husband abandoned her with a sick child once they got there.

Destitute and on the streets, her final disgrace came when an Egyptian security guard in front of the UNHCR fortress kicked her in the face for asking the UN to help her dying baby. Nadia, who has been robbed of everything but her very life, is now returning to Darfur.

In Margaret’s rural village in south Sudan, people were free to produce and drink alcohol. But when the war started, her quiet, happy life evaporated before her eyes. She fled to Khartoum in a military plane loaded with dead and wounded soldiers. The screams of the wounded were her rite of passage as she flew out of the south, into the hinterland slums surrounding Khartoum.

When she got there, she found that Sudanese women were beaten mercilessly and imprisoned — not for drinking alcohol, but for selling it to buy food that the National Islamic Front denies them the ability to grow. In Margaret’s dream, she will one day return to her homeland and be free to farm, grow dates, and make local brew.

Tarig is an Arab, but by American standards, he would be black. For some in Sudan, like Mubtaga’s family, the thought that Tarig is black would be an insult. Yet Tarig’s father, who was ahead of his time, taught Tarig that a new Sudan was on the horizon.

From his father, Tarig learned how to fight for the rights of all people. When he was beaten in Khartoum by an Arab police officer, Tarig’s simple admonishment spoke volumes about his vision for a new Sudan: “Islam is a good thing, and you give it a bad image!” After that, extremists put a religious ordinance out to kill Tarig, and he too had to flee to Egypt.

Tarig’s dream of a peaceful life for all peoples was conferred unto him by his slain father. I was particularly gratified that Tarig cited my own father, Francis Mading Deng, and my grandfather, Chief Deng Majok, as men he associates with a new Sudan. The Ngok Dinka of Abyei have been on the front lines for a long time, and this has taught them to strive for peaceful coexistence — which anyone who has a difficult neighbor can perhaps understand.

Yet in May 2008, the Ngok were once again chased from their land, this time not by the Missiriya who I opened this introduction by quoting, but by the infamous 31st Brigade of the Sudanese government.

I hope you have noted in this introduction the consistent reference to a few key ideas: vision, dreaming, hope, and change. With these concepts framing our understanding of a new Sudan, it is not impossible to see the woods through the trees in these Sudanese stories. The fundamental problem of today’s Sudan is stitched across each of these stories: the denial of equal citizenship to all Sudanese, and the appalling human rights abuses that result from the ensuing conflicts.

The stinging slaps and jarring affronts that you will see in these stories have not broken the will of their heroic narrators and characters, people whom time and struggle have made resilient.

When seen in this way, even these most harsh cruelties are turned into precision tools with which to sculpt the new Sudanese identity, after exposing its flaws under a light of scrutiny, homing in on them and cutting them out, polishing the rough exteriors to bring back the luster, and hopefully reinforcing that which is best about us when all is said and done.

Out of Sudan’s tragedy, something new has appeared on the horizon, brought to fruition over the last two decades by a latticework of old ideas woven into an inclusive concept of a new Sudan. This has been consecrated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was achieved with much suffering and bloodshed. Arising out of this violent history, the hope of the new Sudan rests on liberty, justice, freedom, and equality for all Sudanese.

The tensions at the heart of this book pull to the forefront the aspects of our nation that must be addressed. Through the trials and tribulations of eight displaced, exiled, or abducted Sudanese, we see the vision of a new Sudan. It is a vision of conflict transformed, where dreams conferred by ancestors and martyrs are no longer deferred to an uncertain tomorrow, but are built today. Out of Exile is the story of a nation that is dying to be born.

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