The Other Sudan

Published On:

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Author:

Micah Albert

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Micah is an independent photojournalist and writer represented by Redux Pictures, who has documented and brought attention to major world issues throughout Africa, the Middle East and the US. He has spent the last five years focusing on human rights, the global food crisis, refugee’s, the internally displaced and issues of migration, gender-based violence, public health and insecurity.

Introduction

KOLMEREK, Sudan -- Every morning, 18-year-old Paul Maluk wakes up under a cow-skin he uses as a blanket. He is surrounded by thousands of towering horns, mounds of burning cow dung and the overwhelming sound of cattle. At 7 a.m. the temperature is already 97 degrees; the air is filled with hot, suffocating ash. Maluk and 80 other boys at a cattle camp in southern Sudan near the Ethiopian border begin the day's routine by collecting, spreading and burning cow dung. 

Before the cows are taken out to graze, the boys rub the powdery ash on themselves and the cows for protection from the unrelenting sun, 125-degree heat and the incessant tsetse flies. By 8:30 a.m. the sea of cattle begins flowing out of camp. 

Maluk and five others in the Dinka tribe shoulder their AK-47s as they head out in search of grass for the cattle to graze on. As the temperature continues to climb, they stay on alert for anyone who might steal the cows. Three weeks ago three other boys were killed trying to protect the cattle from thieves. 

After walking for miles and guarding the cattle, Maluk and the others head back to the camp. There was no trouble this day. The cows pour into the dirt camp by sunset and systematically make their way back to the same spot, a wooden peg in the ground where they are tethered for the night. 

Maluk and the others are greeted by the boys at the camp who spent their day caring for calves or taking milk to families in neighboring villages. Maluk finally lets his guard down and hangs up his AK-47. As he heads to a water hole to cool off, Maluk and the others are followed by half a dozen younger boys who admire them for their courage. After a dinner of milk, rice and beans, the best part of the day begins for those in the camp. Under the stars, the sound of laughter, drums and music is everywhere. 

The cattle camp, like dozens of others in southern Sudan, is the most important aspect in the culture of the Dinka, the largest tribe in the country, numbering several million. They are a pastoral people with cattle representing their monetary system. The camps are the hubs of Dinka society, a place to reinforce cultural traits and pass down traditions from one generation to the next. For the Dinka, the cattle camps are a very positive place. 

But laughter and music have not always been an aspect of the camps. When the last civil war broke out in 1984, the camps became a safe haven for children fleeing the war. The children disappeared among the thousands of cattle, surviving for months, even years. The camps of boys and cattle became targets of the northern government of Sudan. Many camps were destroyed and thousands of children were killed in the 21 years of civil war that ended in 2005. More than 2 million people were killed and 4 million displaced in what the United Nations described as "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." 

Even though war continues to rage in the Darfur province in the north, the southern Sudanese refugees are beginning to make their way back to their homeland after a peace agreement in January 2005, albeit a tentative agreement. But two years after the peace agreement, recovery from the war in southern Sudan is slow. There is a lack of infrastructure, medical facilities and clean water, and gas is $8 a gallon. 

Recently, Empowering Lives International, an NGO based in California, is helping youth like Maluk and the others. The organization is providing education to more than 120 children and supporting more than 24 orphans. 

The war has left an educational void two generations deep in the Dinka tribe. Relief aid has focused on supplying basic needs for survival, but there has been no opportunity for children to get an education. And the children are hungry for knowledge. They practice math by smoothing out the dirt and performing math equations with their fingers on the ground. Maluk says he "hopes to one day go to school." 

But for now, Maluk will rise each morning and begin his daily routine at the camp, as he has for years. He and other Dinka exhibit a resiliency forged from hard life, a resiliency that spans generations and a resiliency that inspires others. The Dinka are excited about living without war, and this gives them hope. There is a confidence that despite the enormous challenges the Dinka face, Maluk and other Sudanese like him will move forward with certainty in a new era of Sudan. 

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