Ala Kheir’s return to Darfur
I was born in Neyal, a big city in South Darfur. My mother was from the city and my father grew up in one of the villages not far from Neyala. I lived in Neyala until I was five years old then my family moved to Khartoum. However, we return back to spend the three-month school holiday every year.
Moving to Khartoum as a child, I always felt Khartoum is where I belong. On the other hand, these annual trips to Darfur re-link to the roots, people, and places. And it is the only place where I don’t feel that sense of being a “Second class citizen”. Even as a child, it was easy and quick to feel the identity crises that are very dominant in Sudan. Arabs or Africans. This is a very important question in Sudan. The pro-Arab governance since the independence of Sudan made people who are from the South and West feel inferior. South Sudan war has always been portrayed as it is a war between Christians of the South and Muslims of the north. However, when I listen to speech “The previous leader of the liberation army of Sudan”, he always talks about “Sudanism”. His political/cultural ideology was, “for the people of Sudan to live in cohesion, they must not separate themselves into the many existing ethnic factions present within the nation but, rather, to collectively renounce the belief that Arabness, Black African-ness, Islam or Christianity were to be the ultimate defining characteristics of Sudan. Rather, he willed that citizens should embrace all cultures of Sudan, and to unify under the one commonality they all share, being Sudanese. A proper unity of Sudan.”
After years of civil war, referendum results separated South Sudan. After 1997, and due to difficult economic conditions in Sudan, the annual family trip to Neyala stopped. And in 2003 the war in Darfur started for a similar cause to South Sudan. The government is being accused of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab population. In this period the war quickly escalated, rebel groups were formed, and the national government used the existing “nomads/farmers” conflict and supported the Arab nomads with firepower and that was the birth of who were an Arab militia that terrorized Darfur, and is now in charge of the whole country.
During this time, I kept on visiting Darfur for various reasons. Sometimes family weddings, relatives passed away, work, and so on. Slowly most of my relatives in Darfur moved out as it was difficult to live in Neyala. And my relationship with the city started to fade.
This project sparked my relationship to my roots. I wanted to re-visit Darfur, Neyala, and many other places in Darfur that I am attached to. So I decided to start with the place I am fascinated about the most – Jabel Marra “Marra Mountain”.