The past couple of days have been interesting indeed. Having watched the rise of the Arab spring through TV sets from the beginning of last year, I had always lamented "not being there" and getting involved. The thought of history being made in "my" part of the world while I was in another country simply watching frustrated me -- I itched to do something.
It is fortunate (or ironic) then that in my last few weeks in Sudan, people have taken to the streets responding to the recent hikes in costs. What started as small scale protests in the University of Khartoum (by mostly women students actually) has now spread throughout the main city...
(Updates can be found on twitter under the #SudanRevolts hashtag or here)
Here is my chance! I thought immediately, when I started to hear the news and the rumblings on the streets...
Here is my opportunity to be a part of something that could actually make a tangible difference.
Yeh. I (to the dismay of family and friends) am the kind of person who walks toward a fight rather than away from it, so I can find out what is going on and see if I can help. Like a moth to the fire, I was drawn towards the drama, the intoxicating call for change that I had so desperately sought during my time here.
I posted on facebook, consulted with family, starting mentally critically analysing what was going on, glued to my phone and laptop with innumerable twitter/facebook/google reader/blog tabs open, trying to figure out what was happening and where things needed to be done...
I had a number of friends and family members give me various pieces of advice over the last few days; some said to "stay sharp, courageous and keep writing/getting involved", some cautioned me to stay safe, and a couple (some of whom had lived in developing countries) suggested that I get the hell out and pick my battles wisely.
...and at about Fajr this morning (around sunrise), after I had spent hours crafting Arabic posts to add to the Girifna (rough translation: "We are disgusted/We have had enough") facebook site, the main opposition to the ruling NCP, something occurred to me. Perhaps this was one of those cases where I should listen to the sage advice of those around me.
Reading the posts and comments and seeing the videos, it is clear that there is a lack of real direction, and that people needed organisation and support from a long term strategy point of view... but am I the best placed person to provide that? I guess the fact that it takes me half an hour to read a long post in Arabic (my proficiency in proper Arabic still requires some practice) when these were protests and discussions being conducted in Arabic was one of the indicators that perhaps not.
Moreover, I am going home rather soon...and I want to be able to actually leave the country. If I get involved in activities that are likely to get me arrested or detained and I don't have the support of a party or group, it is unlikely I would find my way out easily and if I did, coming back into the country safely would be nigh impossible.
The thing that did encourage me though was that there were people talking about the very ideas I was suggesting; organising protests, making sure things weren't destroyed etc. What is still missing is the talk of an alternative and a long term strategy... but who is going to trust a random newcomer talking about long term strategy?
Even to me that sounds suspicious: with everyone looking over their shoulder for the NISS (the national security forces), I can understand why organisers didn't jump at the opportunity to bring me into the fold.
This doesn't mean that I am giving up (ugh, what a negatively loaded phrase), I think this is a case of picking my battles. Perhaps what I can do is write rather than march recklessly, raising awareness for those outside the loop, perhaps an information relay rather than an organiser. It doesn't seem like much, and it is galling for me to be here while all this is happening and not out on the street making my voice heard... but it is a case of recognising that there are more effective ways of making my voice heard and contributing to the conversation.
Like the engineer that I am, I think I will focus on efficiency rather than pure brute force: trying to add to the conversation intelligently rather than just add noise, provide a different perspective and different level of analysis and see if perhaps there are others there that are interesting looking at how sustainable, long term change can be established from the current happenings.
It is the responsibility of the educated to translate the cries of the people into something more than just destruction and the statement of frustration -- otherwise money, livelihood and eventually lives will be lost in vain.
If I go out on the street, I am just one more dispensable Sudanese life to the NISS.
After all, as a few friends said: I'm probably more useful alive than missing, or dead.
Sudan inches closer to an Arab Spring (apparently)
Sudan Revolts Twitter Feed