Thanksgiving – and A Military Coup – in Sudan

El-Obeid is located ‘here’. Source: skyscanner.net

Reposted for Thanksgiving 2012:

In 1988 I became COP (Chief of Party) of the field component of a large natural resource management project in Western Sudan that was funded by USAID (US Agency for International Development).  Situated south of el-Obeid, the project was to address issues of deforestation and environmental degradation, together with training of Sudanese staff both in community-based approaches to these issues as well as training in GIS and GPS applied methodologies.

Meetings in the villages were generally organized in this way.  Source: africawater.org.

The traditional – and still most important crop in the area is obtained from the gum arabic tree that is indigenous to Sudan, Acacia senegal, or hashab, as it is called locally. Our project was working in the hashab belt (see below map). Source: (C) Cossalter-CIRAD

I headed training and research in the rural areas, while for the remote sensing training and research, we had excellent staff from USGS (United States Geological Service) and several other institutions who came out for training missions of several weeks at a time.   As far as we knew, this was the first project to attempt integration of socio-economic data within a GIS (geo-spacial; biological) framework.  More information on the project, and on a later slice of work in Sudan (this time with dry land bamboo) can be found here:

Sorghum ‘Stew’ and Dry Land Bamboo – Adventures with GPS in the Sudan

The Hawazma branch of the Baggara arabs are a major pastoral group that annually passes into this area with their herds of cattle and small stock. I have been told that clashes over both pastoral and water rights have increased since our work there. Source: SOS Sahel. Wikipedia

Moving camps for pastoral groups across the Sahel involves packing cattle (or, further north, camels) as well as donkeys with household goods. Source: www2.univ-paris8.fr

             

A brief discussion of the project and community-based research that we used can be found  in this link:

Sudan Reforestation and Antidesertification Project.

Then came the military coup in 1989, and our work was briefly placed on hold, as everyone awaited the results of the coup: would the new government agree to foreigners ‘wandering’ about in the hinterlands of N. Kordofan Provence, with sophisticated GIS tracking equipment, and working systematically with local villagers to assess environmentally based problems and opportunities? For reasons that are still not quite clear to me, the answer was – Yes – we could continue our work.

However, since the U.S. Government does not support projects in countries in which there are no free elections following a coup, the answer from USAID was ‘No‘ – but we were given about a six-month grace period during which it was hoped that elections would take place and we could continue our 5-year project.

Some of the Sahelian areas in which we worked looked like this, where ground cover is almost completely removed for both use and for grazing. Terrible degradation in the el Fasher area, Source: UNEP

We had many adventures during those months of waiting, which I will write about another time.  Now, merely to say that as time passed – due to structural changes in the government and the economy – daily consumer goods gradually disappeared from the markets and soon tea, sugar, oil and other basic items were not available.

We all became somewhat despondent – though the team continued in good cheer with regard to our project work.  So when November came, I went into Khartoum with my driver – about a 12 hour trip following sand-tracks – with the aim of purchasing items from the U.S. Embassy store for a Thanksgiving feast for the Sudanese staff, which numbered about 20 persons (I had become by then the only non-Sudanese on the project).

During the rainy season the tracks are often like this – just as difficult in a smaller, 4 wheel-drive. Source-Unknown

Camel market at El-Obeid, early 20th Century. Camels continue to be used in this Sahelian region of the Sudan. Source: Wikipedia.

In the embassy store, I selected the largest frozen turkey I could find, together with items such as tea, sugar, coffee, flour, Crisco (lard), tomato paste, stuffing cubes, some premixed cakes, and so forth –  all of the things that had disappeared from the markets – as well as some that were typically American.

Then, with the help of the hotel in Khartoum in which I was staying, we surrounded the turkey in great amounts of ice and wrapped it in gunny sacks.  So the driver and I returned to el-Obeid, where I put the turkey in the freezer of the nearby agricultural research station.

A residential area of El-Obeid. Source: members.virtualtuorist.com

However, before Thanksgiving I noticed that staff were hovering in corners talking, and ceasing their conversation on my passing them.  On Thanksgiving morning  all of the women came to my house, which had a very big oven and stove, and we set about a massive cooking and baking routine.

But before, my Sudanese counterpart told me that the team wanted to have a meeting.  There it came out, that relatives of our agricultural economist who lived at the research station (who was a member of our team) came to visit him, and not finding him at home – and being hungry – had found the huge turkey in the freezer.  Never having seen a bird so big, they were fascinated and so took a hatchet and cut off one of the frozen legs to cook, putting the rest of the turkey back in the freezer.

When this was discovered, the agricultural economist discussed with team members what they could do – to repair the damage (hence the whispering meetings here and there).  The best ideas that I recall included the following:

  • Find the largest chicken possible and suture on one of its legs
  • Cut a wooden leg the same size and attach it

Well, of course none of these would really work and so the whole story came out – and then we all had a wonderful laugh at the thought of a turkey with a wooden leg, etc; the story was so funny, that it became a tale all around the town of el-Obeid (the American turkey with a wooden leg, etc, etc).

So, cooking went on all day – and in the evening we had a huge feast and I had been sure to buy enough tea and sugar that each person could take some home.  As I remember, we had also a huge fish, baked and stuffed, and we also had a variety of local dishes – sorghum-based ‘asida porridge and accompanying vegetable sauces.  I made the cake-mix cakes, which were a great hit.

It was a most successful highlight during those grim, post-coup months – and is the kind of event that, I think, Thanksgiving should be all about.

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About diana buja

A recent group photo at a training course for veterinarians and vet technicians here in Burundi. I discuss in French with some Kirundi and have also a Kirundi translator to help with technical aspects ... Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Environment, Food, Food & Politics, Humanitarian Assistance, Research & Development, Social Life, Sudan and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Thanksgiving – and A Military Coup – in Sudan

  1. Pingback: Agriculture; Livestock; Indigenous Plants; Agroforestry – Links | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, the Middle East, Agriculture, History & Culture

  2. maria says:

    my kind of story diana – loved it !!!

    Like

    • dianabuja says:

      Thanks, Maria – it was pretty hectic at the time, but the Sudanese team were all wonderful people and it was a pleasure to organize this feast!

      Like

  3. Pingback: World Spinner

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