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Bittersweet Homecomings in War-Weary Sudan

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 5, 2004; Page A01

KAUDA, Sudan -- His journey took him from Nairobi's throbbing urban streets to Sudan's shrubby plains. He carried only what he needed: his faded memory of his mother's face, a few pairs of jeans and two hip-hop cassette tapes.

His voyage was strenuous, he said, with little water and less food. He jostled for rides, squeezed onto the backs of lopsided, vibrating trucks and rattled through the countryside. When there were no cars and no roads, he tromped through tall stalks of weeds where land mines lay hidden like deadly insects waiting to strike.


Anthor Omar, a tailor, crafts a shirt and a new life at his old home in Sudan's Nuba Mountains after 14 years away. (Evelyn Hockstein For The Washington Post)

_____News From Sudan_____
Sudanese Decry U.N. Threat of Sanctions (The Washington Post, Sep 20, 2004)
U.N. Puts Sudan Sanctions Into Play (The Washington Post, Sep 19, 2004)
Death Rates in Darfur Rising, WHO Says (The Washington Post, Sep 15, 2004)
More News from Sudan
_____News from Kenya_____
Pact Signed Toward Ending Sudan War (The Washington Post, May 27, 2004)
Far From Home, a Mother Shares Triumph (The Washington Post, May 19, 2004)
An Idea Still Looking for Traction in Kenya (The Washington Post, May 18, 2004)
FBI Ponders Identity of 'Third Man' in N.Y. Incident (The Washington Post, May 16, 2004)
Kenya Leads Pack In Boston Marathon (The Washington Post, Apr 20, 2004)

At the end of a four-day journey and a 14-year absence, James Badradin, 24, returned home last month to the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan. At first, he was startled at the beauty before him, the golden grasslands of Nuba's many hills.

But the novelty soon wore off. He couldn't find his mother. There were no jobs. He did not know how to farm the steep, rocky land. He was tired of the mosquitoes, the flies, the pounding sun and the lack of electricity. He was of marrying age, but he couldn't flirt with women. Not without asking the girl's father to set up a supervised tea on market day, he lamented, his eyes rolling, his head shaking.

As many as 4 million Sudanese have been displaced in 20 years of fighting. Now, with a peace accord apparently within reach, hundreds of thousands are returning to homes across southern and central Sudan that they fled beginning in the late 1980s. In the Nuba Mountains alone, an estimated 150,000 people have made the journey back from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda since a cease-fire was declared in the region last year.

The future of Sudan can be seen in the triumphs and challenges of those who have come home. Like Badradin, some are finding the return as disorienting as the exodus. The battles of the war -- for control of commerce, religion and culture -- are reflected in the stories of those who are trying to return to a life they don't seem to recognize.

"It's nothing like Nairobi," Badradin said recently as he watched the market scene: barefoot women collecting water from a muddy stream, a camel strutting past a goat, a goat lounging in the lap of a drunk village elder. Badradin adjusted his baggy jeans and took out a cigarette.


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A few days after he returned, he said, he sat down in the soft grass, placed his head in his hands and began to weep. He was home. But it was unrecognizable.

Two Cultures

Behind Sudan's war is the story of two cultures trying to share one country, of people as different as chalk and cheese, as the Sudanese like to say. They reflect Sudan's unique place between black sub-Saharan Africa and Arab North Africa. Even the landscapes seem to clash, almost as different in appearance as the inhabitants.

Southern Sudan's flat, bushy terrain is populated with some of the darkest-skinned tribes on the continent: the tall, willowy Dinkas and Nuers.

In the northern desert, where the capital, Khartoum, is located, the government has been dominated by Arab elites, most of them light-skinned, who have backed a policy that treats southerners like second-class citizens, limiting their access to jobs, education and development.

Although fighting has gone on for all but a decade since Sudan's independence in 1956, the current civil war began in 1983, when a group of southerners formed the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to fight the northern government and its imposition of Islamic law.

About 2 million people are estimated to have died, many of starvation and disease, during the past 20 years. The government bombed civilian areas in the central and southern regions and backed the killing of local officials believed to be supporting the rebels, according to human rights groups. Soldiers on both sides were accused of raping and looting.

The SPLA is still the main rebel force in the war and controls large areas of the south. The government holds some of the major southern towns and cities.


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