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For the better part of last week I left Khartoum for Kadougli; a city in South Kordofan State. En route we passed by Kosti (on the banks of the White Nile) and made a pit stop in El Obied (North Kordofan State). Kadougli is roughly 750km southwest of Khartoum. Without stops this trip can most likely take 12 hours by car, but of course pit stops are essential. To give you an appreciation of the distance covered in relation to the size of Sudan, look at the map below.

Thus far my exposure to Sudan geographically has been limited to the North and as far down as the Central region (Gezira State). All for the most part located in the world’s largest desert (Sahara). So I’ve seen my fair share of sand dunes. Close friends often joked that Sudan needs a minister to manage its sand resources. No matter how hard I tried to explain to them that the Sahara covers only a third of Sudan, they were not convinced. During this trip, I waved goodbye to the familiar sand and dust and took a trip down to the savannah. The change in was gradual. Much of Kosti and even El Obied were dry, but I was told in the rainy season these regions bloom.

El Obied is a bustling city, arriving midday we made a pit stop and strolled through the central market, where pretty much anything you can think of you can find; from traditional spices to imported clothes and electronics. Took a quick tour of the city before going to meet our counterparts in El Obied office. One landmark that made a deep impression during my short visit to this city was the city’s church. Its one of the city’s oldest buildings but remarkably it stands as if it was built just a few years ago. It’s sandstone blocks glistened in the sun.

After the short stay in El Obied, we hit the road again towards Kadougli. After leaving El Obied, clear evidence that we have left the desert behind were apparent, expansive grasslands with brief breaks of wooded areas. The further south we progressed, the more amazed that I was still in the same country. Traversing up and down gentle hills that were covered with warm green blanket; a blanket that vibrates with vivid shades of green in the rainy season, it was hard not to be astounded at this country’s natural beauty. Occasionally the prominent Tabeldi tree (Baobab tree) captured my attention, standing proudly. Its gargantuan trunk truly commanded respect. In rural regions across this state where this tree is prevalent and water is scarce several month throughout the year, residents carve out the inside of this tree and use it as a gigantic rainwater storage tank.

Along the way, we crossed the town of El Dalanj, the majority of this town is covered by a canopy of trees. Some of these woods expand well outside the limits of the town. In addition to the natural woods available, there is planned wooded region that was established by the British during their colonial rule. The once juvenile forest during their rule is now a lush thick forest that provides income for foresters in the region and is an excellent source of local building materials. Again, I was truly in awe that I was still in the same Sudan that I associated with dry, harsh and unforgiving sand dunes.

Paved roads extended up until El Dalanj, which made the drive thus far easy. The roads in this region are currently being rehabilitated. El Dalanj marked our entrance into Nuba mountain territory, regions that were ravaged by Africa’s longest civil war. Up until very recently (2003) entry to these regions was fairly difficult and you entered at your own risk. It is clear SLPA/M territory. Past El Dalanj, in addition to entry authorization, one could not progress without escort via armed convoys. Moreover, travel had to be conducted during the daytime. It was vital that one arrived into Kadougli before 5pm. Today, no authorizations or armed checkpoints restrict access as they once did. Unfortunately roughly 130km strip of the road is in dire need of rehabilitation and remainder of the drive into Kadougli is backbreaking.

Kadougli itself is a city cuddled into a valley surrounded mountains. As you entered the city large trees hugged the roads on either side, saying welcome in their own way. Arriving fairly late, the city was vibrating with people sitting around at corner coffee/tea shops or kiosks and moving about.

Our work took good portion of the following 2 days, where there wasn’t much time to explore. Much of what we set out to achieve in the workshop was achieved with surprisingly high turn out and participation from government officials at all levels as well as various stakeholders in the water and sanitation sector.

Unfortunately we did not spend enough time to make it out to Miri Reservoir a favorite local trip outside the city or see Kelbi waterfall. In the rainy season this region comes to life, and an additional number of seasonal waterfalls can be seen from within the city making their way from the mountains that surround the city. Our kadougli counterparts were very hospitable, they refused we leave without at least getting to taste a bit of their heaven. After the completion of the workshop we had an outing in an orchard on the outskirts of the city. Chilled out for the majority of the afternoon under mango groves. Our gathering turned into pre-new years festivities with music blasting and people getting up to dance. The festivities grew in size as more people joined in. Our hosts initiated the party and got people to get up and take part; any small reason was a reason for festivities as if they were making up for lost times when such a gathering could not take place.

It was reassuring to see glimpse of hope in the region and as the rapidly approaching road reaches Kadougli, I am sure residents of the region who have been cut off for so long will once again be connected. There is definitely a feeling of peace and calm in the region and it’s comforting to see that residents of the region have begun to gain some relief. It’s one thing to reflect in such a positive tone but sadly not all regions in this country or this state share in Kadougli’s fortunes. Stability and unrest still plague nearby regions such as Abyie. Regardless of my political views and my skepticism towards all parties/factions within Sudan’s political scene, I do hope that these regions begin to gain stability as residents here have suffered silently for decades.