Well, I'm pretty sick of Iraq -- which means I finally have something in common with Bush's Texans -- so it seemed like a good time to go back to Africa. There's always a new war ready to serve up in Africa, and you can just enjoy it, enjoy the beauty of the game like they say on NBA broadcasts, without getting too emotionally mixed up in the score.
This time it's Darfur, in Western Sudan -- yup, that's right, a whole new front in the multi-war hell-on-Earth that goes by the name of "Sudan." Whenever there's a competition for worst place in the world, Sudan always makes the top five. It's got pretty much everything going for it, hellhole-wise. It's in Africa, and worse yet, the Sahel, where things are bad and getting worse even by African standards. It's an ex-British colony. It's connected at the top to the Middle East, and at the bottom to the Rift Valley, where there's always a massacre or two going. It's got the classic North/South, Muslim/Christian divide, and a mixed-up kind of racial divide, Arab/Black, to top that off.
Now comes a war in Western Sudan, just to make it all nice and complicated. A typical Sudan war: dirty, mean, no mercy and nobody on the outside gives a damn. This one is happening on a huge chunk of godforsaken scrubland on the Chad/Sudan border called Darfur.
"Darfur" means "Fur-Land." The Fur are a black tribe who manage to scrape out a living in the dry scrub at the edge of the Sahara in Western Sudan. If you live in a place like Fresno, where there's always a drought, or there's just been a drought, you can get some idea of what that means, but I always wonder if you people in the East, or in Europe, have a feel for drought. You get so much rain you're spoiled. You even complain about it.
Well, in Sudan there's never enough rain. The only water is the Nile, and the Arabs grabbed all the river frontage. Which means the Fur have to farm a desert. I drive to work along dry scrubland, and try to imagine what it'd be like to grow millet or corn on it. The adobe in Bakersfield, where I grew up, gets hard as concrete in the summer. We always tried to dig forts and trenches, and we never could because you had to soak the ground with a hose for an hour before you could take a shovel to it at all.
No hoses in Darfur -- you lug in every bucket of water by hand, with an AK on your back in case anybody else gets possessive about the well, or spring, or whatever miserable hole you get your stinking, muddy water from. You have to sleep in the fields to keep people from stealing your birdseed (cause that's what millet is), praying to Allah that the locusts don't drop in for a little fast food. Drag yourself home when it's dark, beat your wife for a little stress relief, fall asleep listening to your favorite kid coughing up its lungs, then get up at dawn and do it all again.
Damn, it sounds so awful it almost makes my life seem OK.
Of course, that was the routine back in the good old days. Darfur's way worse now, now that the Sudan government is sponsoring a war to basically wipe out the Fur.
The government didn't exactly start the war. There's always been war in Darfur. Most of the time it was between the Fur and one or another of the nomadic tribes that skulk around the edge of the desert at the Chad/Sudan border, herding their camels and goats around looking for a few blades of grass.
To the nomads, the Fur were a bunch of spoiled brats, sitting on their wonderful land that might get, say, five inches of water a year. The Fur farmed the Jebel Marra, a highland that wasn't as totally worthless as the rest of the province. More scorpions per square acre. A fine cover of tumbleweed. Real prime land.
In a way, the war started like any good Western: a fight over water and grazing rights between the ranchers vs. the homesteaders. The Fur were the homesteaders, and the nomads were the cattlemen, knocking down fences and grabbing the waterholes from the farmers.