Monday, July 11, 2005

I've been trying to be positive about the inauguation of the new Sudanese government this weekend: clearly, it's a big deal and everyone is fervently hoping that it will bring some much needed change to the country.

But today's it's back to business and, as expected, Darfur is still Darfur.

In their desperate attempt to show the world just how grand things really are getting around here the Sudanese government continues to press ahead with the relocation issue (particularly in those cases where a relocation of displaced communities suits their needs, like in Kalma camp).

Obviously, a big part of the relocation roadshow is getting some life back into those villages - and hell, who cares if the people living there are actually the original inhabitants?

All over Darfur, tribes allied to the Janjaweed militia are beginning to settle into their new homes, sow their fresh seeds and plough their new fields. Except of course the little huts and the ripe fields aren't actually theirs.

Today a conversation about seasonal fruits (my passion for mangoes has become a favourite topic for lunchtime chit-chat) reveals some of the more bizarre and tragic realities of this conflict: When I ask our staff where the mangoes are grown and whether they themselves grow any, I hear that plenty of them used to plant them, before. "Before?"

"Well, we always used to plant mangoes," I'm told by one of the locals (who has himself been displaced by the fighting and lives with his family in one of the camps). "This season, I even took the risk of walking back to my field from the camp just to plant. But in the past few weeks it's been too dangerous to go outside of the camp with all these shooting and attacks against people like us. So I can't go and harvest anything, and now the new people from other tribes who've moved into my village and taken over my fields are selling me my own mangoes in the market."

We all have to laugh - there is no other way to deal with the absurdity of the situation, even though I'm sure that's the last thing my colleague feels like doing when he is actually paying the man who hands him his mangoes in the market.

He just shakes his head. Then he laughs again. "You know, it is even worse for my cousin. He bought some mangoes from the people who are now farming his fields, and then as he was walking home along the outskirts of the camp, some bandits started pushing and harassing him. They took his money, and the mangoes too. So he has planted them once, paid for them once, and still he has no mangoes."

We can't help but laugh again, but sadly, I have to admit that today's sweet mangoes leave me with a more bitter aftertaste than usual.

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