From the Mound of the People: Part III

“Tomorrow the president wants to meet up with you  to give his appreciation.  His wife will also be present with some of her friends.  They are going to be presenting the official fashion of Northern Sudan.  While we are here, we will be dividing the semester into two segments: the north and the south.  Both of these areas are very different from the other, and were affected differently by the war. Your dissertation should reflect the difference.”  Mr. Knightly said serving his kids dinner.  They sat at the table, quietly.  Harlow was usually a very talkative person, but she was quiet also.  He assumed it was the depression of the house.

“Harlow, how was the dig site?” He asked with only mild curiosity.  She gave a grimace and sighed, “We were late so we had to catalogue.” Her tone belied her feelings for the task.

“Will we be allowed interaction time tomorrow?” She asked.  He noticed that Mateo and Chenoa had turned towards Harlow with identical expressions of questioning.

“Yes, but it comes with limitations.  You are not allowed to pass Northern borders until we visit the president. If you decide to leave this facility you do it only if I have prior knowledge and a fellow student is accompanying you. If it is not yours, do not touch it.  You may ask questions and inquire, but do not provoke the locals. It is paramount that you hold yourself to the highest degree of maturity, have I made myself clear?”

He received a few nods and looks of understanding. Exasperated with the silence, he begins to eat.

“Mr. Knightly, tell us about the war again.”  Mateo suggested, like him, also uncomfortable with the silence. “Of course, are there any opposed to hearing it?” There was silence. “Okay, then lets take our food to the main room.”

After the kids had shuffled to the main room and settled down on the floor, he began his tale of the Sudanese Civil War.

“As you know there were two civil wars, the first being the cause for the second.  The first Civil war was mainly due to the Sudanese government periphery. Most believe the two main problems were racial or religious: the first being the Arabs versus the Africans and the latter being Muslims versus Christians. However, truthfully, the problem runs a lot deeper than that.  When the British colonized Sudan, they administered rule to the North and South separately. However, then they pressured the northerners to integrate, which cause conflict. The northerners took over the southerners, and the southern élite was considered insignificant under the northern élite who took all control of governmental administration.  When the British sought Sudanese Independence they failed to recognize the needs of the south.  The First Civil War really started when Christian missionaries were expelled from the country and Christian schools were closed.  The government attacked Southern protesters, which resulted in sporadic fighting and mutiny and the beginning of the Civil War. This war ended with the Addis Ababa Agreement, which, unfortunately, gave the South religious and cultural sovereignty.

“The violation of this agreement was a direct cause to the most recent, Second Civil War.  An indirect cause was that the north wanted to take control of the oil fields that reside in the south.  The south, naturally wanted to maintain control of this oil because they understood its significance.  Oil revenues made up more than half of Sudan’s export earnings. When Nimeiry, the Sudanese President at the time, tried to take control of the oil fields surrounding the north-south border he violated the Addis Ababa Agreement. This combined with the north’s previous hate for the agreement in itself led to the northerner’s pride mounting.  Another contributor was the president naming Sudan an Islamic state.  This led to protest against the central government.  Protesters argued that the central government was creating policies that caused disintegration.”

“Well they were, I mean to think to separate a group based on where they lived or their religion.  It always ceases to amaze the true stupidity of human beings.  Though God made us in his image, he sure didn’t give us his great mind.” Tiffany, a popularly devout Christian, exclaimed in a huff.  He smiled over her small tantrum and watched as the rest of the students laughed.

“When a new government came to power, the Sadiq al-Mahdi government, they worked to appease the Sudan’s People Liberation Army who was one of the main protesters against the central government. This is about the time I arrived in Sudan.  If you had been here the anxiety could have killed you.  I remember when John Gerang and the Sudanese political parties met to pass the Koka Dam.  Does anyone remember what this is?”

A blond-bobbed girl raised her hand. “It’s the declaration that abolished Islāmic law.” Mr. Knightly nodded and continued.

“To sum up the fact, basically the government was a disaster.  People tried and succeeded on forming a new government, which led to confusion and chaos. When I had first come I was surprised by the primitive conditions the Sudanese government was in.  Of course my situation wasn’t much better.  I ate Fuul everyday and every meal. I had decided before coming that I wanted to experience Sudan fully so I came without anything but a few pairs of clothes and some hygienic products.”

“No food?” Mateo asked.  Mr. Knightly shook his head and gazed straight ahead.  “If I had brought food I wouldn’t have experienced Sudanese food.  I made myself dependent upon the food, so that my taste buds wouldn’t be so quick to reject…I promise you, when you are hungry, you are willing to eat anything.  Why in the climax of the war when some would run out of food they would find other things to eat.  During most wars dirt, animal feces, and  cannibalism are the major supplements, though in this case cannibalism was very rare, I am sure it occurred.”

“Naw…ain’t gonna happen. I’d give killing myself a few good tries.” Mateo drawled.

“That’s just ignorant. Killing yourself because you have to eat feces?” Thomas argued.

Mateo snorted. “Better than death by feces.”

The students who had listened laughed, others had started side conversations.

“You told us before that they didn’t accept you.” Harlow prodded so he’d continue.

“Ah, Yes!” Silence fell over the room.

From the Mound of the People: Part I

Below is a short story I wrote about a year ago. I would love it if other scribblers would give insight on how the story may be improved.

Harlow: From the Mound of the People. 

Her bags by her side, Harlow Alderman looked at the mix of nature and peace around her.   She tugged at her Brown University tank top and pulled her iPod’s earplugs from her ears.  Her fellow anthropology students were around her, clutching their luggage, and looking around with the same mixture of buzzing excitement and anticipation. The Sudanese sun was scorching and the rough dirt crunched under her knee-length gladiators.  Harlow smiled and mentally joked that the sun was darkening her rich caramel skin.

Traveling abroad had been her stepfather’s idea after he’d recognized her combined joy for anthropology and archeology.  She was a double major and had taken multiple ancient studies classes to prepare for this semester in Sudan.  Her time would be divided between her anthropological and archeological work, which sounded like Heaven on earth to her.   Her eyes took everything in, the sun, the flat, featureless plains, and the lack of people.  They had driven to South Sudan, which Harlow knew was the poorer half of Sudan.  Through research she had discovered that after the war, the south had become a decrepit and pitiable place.

“Alright people, settle down.  We are going to settle into our living arrangements today; tomorrow, we are interacting with the northern officials.”  Professor Cole Knightly, an African-American anthropological genius,  surveyed his array of students: African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian; males and females; rich and poor, all eager for the same thing: knowledge.  The kids before him bounced like silly schoolgirls, not aware of the true reason they were there.  Knightly had discovered the hard way that anthropology was sometimes hard to study; you analyzed everything even anguish and sorrow.  Of course they understood that they were entering an area where post-war bitterness infested Sudanese minds but they didn’t know that it was their job to analyze this, to poke and prod the hibernating bear.  He often said that anthropologist were the worst types of reporters.   And were usually liked less.

The students followed Knightly, the twenty-something crowd surrounding him as he talked about the history of Sudan and the war.

They arrived at the house and stared, amazed.  The house was run-down and old with rust.   Harlow just knew that the front steps weren’t sturdy and she dared not glance at the roof.  The windows had lost optical transparence, the door was off its hinges. She turned to Mr. Knightly who wore a smirk around the corner of his lips.  Harlow forgot her vanity and walked forward ignoring the chatter behind her. She hopped on the small porch without preamble. Her fellow classmates followed suit.  The inside was dark and musty.  Dust motes swam around the air and the faint aroma of gunfire was clogging her air tubes.  She went to a window and opened it, coughing at the tornado of dust that hit her in the face.

“Be careful, we don’t want any radioactive dust killing us off.   I fear that if you are a smoker, you wont be allowed to do it on site because I smell gunpowder everywhere and that could be a disaster.” A couple of students grumbled at the command, but Harlow and a few others were far more interested in surveying their surroundings.  Everything was interesting to her—she was a new-born, knowing nothing but curious about everything.

“Curiosity killed the cat Ms. Alderman.  Tell me, what do you see?” Mr. Knightly challenged.  Harlow took no exception to her stepfather’s comment and immediately began to look around.  She wondered at her stepfather’s formal behavior, everyone knew he was her stepfather even if she did prefer to keep her mothers maiden name.

“I see anger sir.  Harsh living arrangements made the people here agitated.  You can tell from the antsy cuts across the wall.  There meticulous straightness suggests a long wait for something.” Harlow ran her fingers across the marks as she spoke and then looked at her father figure and teacher.  She was overcome with the sadness in these marks.  They were eerily straight and confessed a certain amount of anticipation that usually comes when one fears death.

“Speak you thoughts Harlow.” Mr. Knightly ordered.

“This woman was insane.” She said; her voice was thick with sadness.  She’d estimated “woman” by strands of hair too well-tended to be a males.  Dust covered the floor everywhere but at a specific spot, a place that was perfect to hold a ladies bottom had she been sitting to keep something between her legs safe.  A small child. Her eyes looked around again and she saw telltale signs of agitation in many places.  Her eyes shot up the ceiling where a rope lay. Without thinking, she grabbed a nearby chair and poised it under the rope to grab it.  As she did, something white flashed down before Harlow let her hand catch it on instinct.  When she saw it she almost dropped it.  It was a bone, the one that sat at the base of the head. It had likely been embedded in the rope that someone so inconsiderately left for her to find. Her senses were overwhelmed with each her discoveries and she felt rather choked by realizations.

“This was some sort of holding area, or prison area, where people waited to die.” Her eyes marbled to hide the gathering mist. “Or killed themselves first.”

“Find a relation, Ms. Alderman.” He ordered.

Harlow didn’t think, she didn’t need too, “The French Revolution, the Dauphin Louis XVII. The tortured boy.” She had studied this kind of dementia before. She had never seen it though, or felt it as she did now. Death stank around her, heating her face and irritating her skin.

“Very good, Ms. Alderman.” He studied his class now.  They had somber expressions and looked around with a good dosage of dread and curiosity. “I am happy to report that this semester you will learn first hand the true job of an anthropologist. You don’t just study human reactions but also the emotions and reasoning’s behind them.  Sudan is in its post-war state, and it is your job to strip the Sudanese of their covers and read between their lines.  Find the true feelings about the war, analyze post-war actions, and examine the people. They will hate your intrusion, but your dissertation is due by the end of this quarter semester.” He reminded them.

“Mr. Knightly, what if they get mad and start attacking us or something?” A student asked.  He shook his head.  “I am not liable for you, but I’ll not have you in danger.  Do not intentionally provoke the natives, and when provoked, retreat. In some cases a push is necessary, I expect you all to know when you no longer need to push.”

Harlow’s fellow students nodded their agreement.  She just fingered the bone in her hand.