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February 19, 2008

Meroe pyramids: My favourite place in Sudan #1

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It has taken a while. But I am finally starting to collect a small collection of “Favourite places in Sudan” to add to MeskelSquare's running list of “Favourite places in Ethiopia”. (See Ethiopia #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6.)

Here's the first. Meroe pyramids, about three hours drive out of Khartoum. You can stay in a beautiful but pricey Italian camp with breakfast and dinner thrown in. In the mornings and evenings, you can walk out across the desert, hike up sand dunes, kick at the strange metallic desert stones, explore the pyramids and try and read the 18th century graffiti mixed in with the ancient, ancient hieroglyphics.

As good as Lalibela in the way that, at any time of year, you can have a major historical site pretty much all to yourself (Sudan doesn't really do tourists).

Not as good as Lalibela in the way that the site is not still in active use. Also not as good as Lalibela in the way that nowhere can really be as good as Lalibela.

Posted by aheavens at 3:53 PM

February 18, 2008

The blog as filing cabinet

I was trying to get my head round the US and UN sanctions against Sudan the other day and ended up with a confusing mess of articles, links and references.

One free, bare-bones Wordpress template later, they were all in some kind of order - filed away by date and category. Here it is - Sudan sanctions.

A practical use for blogging - surely this is a first.

Posted by aheavens at 1:41 PM

"If you haven't heard or seen any gays in Sudan ..."

Here are some excerpts from a feature I just did for Reuters.

Gay Africans and Arabs come out online

KHARTOUM, Feb 18 (Reuters) - By Andrew Heavens

..."If you haven't heard or seen any gays in Sudan then allow me to tell you 'You Don't live In The Real World then,"' Ali wrote in a message to other Sudanese bloggers. "I'm Sudanese and Proud Gay Also."

His feelings were echoed in a mini-manifesto at the start of the blog Rants and raves of a Kenyan gay man that stated: "The Kenyan gay man is a myth and you may never meet one in your lifetime. However, I and many others like me do exist; just not openly. This blog was created to allow access to the psyche of me, who represents the thousands of us who are unrepresented"...

..."That is what I did at first, I mean, I looked around for others until I found others," said Gug, the writer behind the blog GayUganda.

"Oh yes, I do love the Internet, and I guess it is a tool that has made us gay Ugandans and Africans get out of our villages and realize that the parish priest's homophobia is not universal opinion. Surprise, surprise!"

Here is the directory of blogs and postings I built up doing my research. Get in touch if you know of any more.

Posted by aheavens at 8:05 AM

The joys of applying for a Darfur travel permit

Sometimes you apply for one, and it gets processed in a couple of days, but no one tells you about it, so you check back in a week because things never get processed that fast in Sudan, and you find that it has been lying around on somebody's desk for seven days, the only trouble is that the permit started from the day that they issued it, so half of your timeslot has already gone, and by that time something else has come up, so you can't go anyway.

Or...

You apply for one, but something has actually has happened in Darfur, like an attack on three western towns, so somebody somewhere decides that this is not the best time to let foreign journalists visit the region, so you call day after day after day, and the Council of External Information keeps on telling you that it hasn't come through but you should phone back again to check that afternoon, very politely mind, and gradually you come to accept that there is some kind of freeze in operation, then something else comes up, so when the pass actually finally comes through you are half way through doing that something else, so you can't go anyway.

So...

You sit back, enjoy the three weeks that you are spending not travelling to Darfur, and read the reports coming through from your colleague who got her travel permit processed just before the shut down.

Posted by aheavens at 7:44 AM

February 7, 2008

Mud-caked feet in, cigarettes out

South of West has a great post about how western news organisations sometimes try to impose their own views of Africa on to the reports that come in from the field.

Kenya is awash with refugees at the moment following the election violence. The only thing is that these refugees don't fit the traditional picture of dust-covered, desperate refugees. Desperate they may be, but some of them were actually quite well off and well dressed before they were forced to leave their homes.

According to South of West, one journalist covering the refugee crisis noticed his news desk had decided there wasn't enough emotional detail in his report. So they made up and inserted a line about a refugee girl having bare feet caked in mud - despite the fact that an accompanying photo clearly showed the girl wearing a new pair of shoes.

Of course, this kind of "editing" doesn't just happen in newspapers.

I once wrote an article for an aid agency about a street girl who made her living by shining shoes in Addis Ababa. She was saving up to get on in the world, I reported. Her ambition was one day to be able to move on to the much more profitable trade of selling sweets and cigarettes.

My copy came back with the cigarettes line edited out. Cigarette selling, I was told by the person who edited my story, was not an "appropriate" trade for a street child to be engaged in.

Posted by aheavens at 12:57 PM

February 3, 2008

An anchor snags two telecoms cables off the coast of Egypt

And the internet connection of everyone from India to Sudan practically grinds to a halt.

Sudan's internet service only started returning to normal yesterday, three days after the accident. Bloomberg reports the cable operators Flag Telecom Group are only going to be able to start making full repairs to the damaged lines tomorrow.

It has all been a brutal demonstration of just how poorly some parts of the world are served when it comes to basic communications - despite all the talk of the world wide web.

I am presuming that if there had been a similar accident off the coast of France, it would have taken just a few seconds for the internet traffic to be re-routed via the scores of other cables crossing the Atlantic.

GlobalVoices has a round-up of reactions across the Middle East.

"The real question is, how is much of the fastest growing economies in the world dependent on a single undersea cable? Didn't anyone think of a redundancy plan which covers just such an eventuality?"

asks Mahmood's Den of Bahrain.

Meanwhile,the dream of a submarine cable serving countries along the east coast of Africa seems to be slipping again.

UPDATE:

The plot thickens - Five cables cut? Just what is going on?

Posted by aheavens at 6:00 AM