Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Honeymoon in Darfur – Our Humble Abode

As I mentioned in a previous post, the major changes I made in my life ten years ago eventually led me to the things I had always dreamed of doing, one of which was to work in humanitarian aid. While we were in Uzbekistan, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I met the country director of an international organization and through her recommendation, we were hired to work in Darfur, Sudan a few months after leaving Uzbekistan. My boyfriend and I managed to get married first, but going to Darfur was the closest thing we could call a honeymoon at the time.

We were hired to go to a remote town in South Darfur called Kass. He was to set up a brand new field office and manage it’s operations while I jump start community programs aimed at assisting the “internally displaced persons” (IDP’s*) affected by the Darfur conflict. We would be the only foreigners in the new office, and aside from our driver, one security guard, a housekeeper and one program staff, a total of at least nine more staff members and a slew of volunteers would have to be hired by us. Did we speak a lick of Arabic? No. Did we know anything about hiring people in a conflict/IDP camp zone? No. Did we know much at all about what we had gotten ourselves into? Definitely not.

This is the first post in a series called “Honeymoon in Darfur”. I’ll begin with how we got there and how we lived in order to give you a context for the place and our day-to-day life.

We flew to the capital of Khartoum and spent several days meeting staff, receiving equipment, obtaining travel permits, sitting through briefings about the situation in Darfur and security issues, and visiting nearby IDP camps to observe programs similar to the ones we were tasked to do in Kass. What little we managed to see of the city aside from the hotel and office included a Turkish restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a mall with a huge supermarket, and a drive along the Nile River. The city proper is vast with three distinct sections joined at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, but we experienced only a subset of one district.

After Khartoum we flew west to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur – a small city that is the hub for all humanitarian operations in the region. There were over 2,000 foreign aid workers there, although we only saw the same handful of faces at the various inter-agency meetings we attended. Given such a large foreign population, a vibrant economy was thriving to support all the aid workers and their office operations. The weather was extremely hot but there was often a nice breeze most evenings and we would sit on the roof and enjoy the fresh air and changing evening light. Mosquitoes and creepy crawlies were not too bad (YET), and we found Sudanese food to be quite good – pita-like bread, lots of rice, tomato-cucumber salads, beans, roast chicken, eggplant dishes, and yoghurt. The only thing we wanted that we couldn’t find was ice cream.

Sudan is a predominantly Muslim country governed by Shar’ia law so the people are extremely conservative. All women cover their heads, and there are lots of mosques with loud-speaker calls-to-prayer throughout the day. Our office/guesthouse compound in Nyala was right next to a mosque, but for some reason when they blast the call-to-prayer at 5am right over our bedrooms, I did not hear them and snored on. Unfortunately, my husband was not so immune nor amused. There was absolutely no alcohol allowed whatsoever, none for sale anywhere. You can be arrested if they find it in your luggage at customs. The only people who have access to alcohol are the large aid organizations who fly it in on their own cargo planes with the relief food and supplies. So for a special treat, we would go to an Indian restaurant to drink a nice frothy lassi (an Indian yogurt drink), or to an Italian restaurant and get what they called a “cocktail” (a delicious mix of fruit juices including guava). Life in Nyala was not very exciting, but comfortable nonetheless.

Routinely, aid workers traveled between Nyala and Kass on a United Nations helicopter, the “official” mode of transport given that the road to Kass was declared a “no-go” road by the UN due to violence. However, after a few missed attempts to take the heli and a fast dwindling time-line for starting our programs, we were give permission for a military escort by the African Union (AU) to drive up to Kass in our two pickup trucks loaded with electric generators, water pump, office furniture/supplies, mosquito nets, and jerrycans for extra fuel (looking back, this was a ridiculously minimal list!).

We arrived safely in Kass after a bumpy two-hour drive, our overloaded trucks flanked in front and back by two AU vehicles literally spilling over with heavily armed soldiers in full combat gear. It seemed a little over the top just for two hawajas (“foreigners” in Arabic) to travel but that’s what it took to get us started in Kass. When we thanked them for escorting us, I naively asked if they needed to transport the 20 soldiers (who road on the back of their pick-ups eating dust the whole way) anyway to the AU base in Kass. The soldier laughed and said, “No, we needed all these men to out-gun (read: intimidate) potential threats along the road.”

Welcome to our new home for the next six months…

This part of our office building served as hour home: a bedroom and dining area (behind me) that was infested with camel spiders (I dare you to google them!).

The best things we brought with us were pillows and a down comforter for cool nights. The bamboo posts doubled as a hanging place for our clothes, which otherwise piled up in a grass basket in the corner of the room.

This was our kitchen, one square block of concrete that stood separate from the main building. My husband saw "the biggest spider in his life" in here, and I spotted a very long-legged one, so it was not my favorite place.

A view of our bathroom from the house. An outdoor sink with separate toilet and shower. The two blue tanks are for water which came by donkey cart. We would fill the bottom one, then pump water to the upper one.

At least it wasn't a squat toilet sitting above raw sewage like we had in Uzbekistan.

The shower. We didn't bring a hot water heater from Nyala but we never really needed it. It was so hot that a cold shower actually felt good.

*IDP’s are often mistakenly referred to as “refugees” even though they are still in their native country but have fled from their original homeland.

See more of  this series at:

Honeymoon in Darfur – Setting Up and Settling In

Honeymoon in Darfur – Latrine Rehabilitation

Honeymoon in Darfur – Women’s Center

Honeymoon in Darfur – New Shelters

Honeymoon in Darfur – Picnic on the Wadi

Honeymoon in Darfur – Livestock and Agriculture

Honeymoon in Darfur – Curious Kids in Gusa Village

When have you been thrown into the deep end of something that you didn’t quite feel prepared to handle?


23 comments on “Honeymoon in Darfur – Our Humble Abode

  1. gallivance.net
    May 30, 2013

    Wow, that’s one memorable honeymoon! Your photos brought back memories! We lived and worked in Khartoum where the housing was so similar. And I totally forgot about the camel spiders – traumatic amnesia, I’m sure. All the best, Terri

  2. travelladywithbaby
    April 2, 2012

    This scene looks very familiar! Love your experiences, and your work. Laos, I am so jealous you are moving there.

    • Wanderlustress
      April 2, 2012

      Wish I had your blog to read when I was pregnant, so useful! And you lived in Darfur? When?!

      • travelladywithbaby
        April 2, 2012

        Didn’t live in Darfur, worked and grew up in the diplomatic service – worked on a few projects on Darfur, Nothing glamorous about it, just a very humbling life.

      • Wanderlustress
        April 2, 2012

        So true. As a diplomatic wife, it’s not all cocktail parties and ballgowns. I’d love to hear more about your experiences moving around so much.

      • travelladywithbaby
        April 2, 2012

        I am writing a book about it, not sure if it will ever see the light of day. The experiences are do difficult and conflicted. Love reading your stories.

      • Wanderlustress
        April 2, 2012

        That’s great you’re writing a book! I’m not a writer so receiving kind comments like yours are very encouraging. Thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoy my posts.

  3. Pingback: Honeymoon in Darfur – Women’s Center « Wanderlustress

  4. Pingback: Honeymoon in Darfur – Latrine Rehabilitation « Wanderlustress

  5. meanwhilein3
    March 19, 2012

    Your giving will be rewarded.

    • Wanderlustress
      March 19, 2012

      Thank you. Strange thing is, I always feel that I get way more out of my work and experiences than I am capable of giving to those I’m there to help.

      • meanwhilein3
        March 20, 2012

        yes, I can relate there too ;), there really is no selfless act.

  6. Pingback: Honeymoon in Kass – Setting Up and Settling In « Wanderlustress

  7. mulrickillion
    March 17, 2012

    This is an interesting post, but marvelously wonderful. The names Darfur and Sudan admittedly caught me by surprise. I know only a little about Sudan. What I know is what I learned after walking upon a Sudan protest in May 2010, which was at the Public Park immediately behind the Whitehouse, in Washington DC. After the watching the protest, I did make a point to learn about the politics, warring factions, etc. Otherwise, today, I do appreciate your blog and your commitment to help others. Well done, my fellow citizen of the world. 🙂

    • Wanderlustress
      March 17, 2012

      The conflict in Darfur is a very complex one requiring even more complex solutions to resolve. I hope to bring our experiences there to readers in a way that does not make light of the situation nor exaggerate the realities on the ground.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. Nate
    March 17, 2012

    You definitely got my attention with this posting. Great reading. Keep us posted on your experiences. When do you expect to be in Laos?


    • Wanderlustress
      March 17, 2012

      Thanks Nate. We’ll be in Laos later this summer. Can’t wait!

      • Nate
        March 17, 2012

        Great. We will head home from China then, but we are here every year. We will have to have a visa renewal playdate sometime in late March 2013.

        I think your travels and adventures are a pretty good match so I did the creepy thing and blog rolled you.


      • Wanderlustress
        March 17, 2012

        You all are welcome to Vientiane any time!

        And I was so surprised that you blog rolled me, so kind! Not creepy at all, something I have been meaning to do for the few sites that I follow. Thanks!

  9. larkycanuck
    March 16, 2012

    interesting to hear about a honeymoon in one of the most war torn regions of the world. they should make a movie out of this.

    • Wanderlustress
      March 16, 2012

      Well our courtship did take place in Uzbekistan during the bombing of the Iranian and US embassies, and the Andijon massacre where I lived before getting kicked out of the country by the ruling dictatorship so anything else would have been out of character for a honeymoon. Reality of it was though, we didn’t have one planned and the opportunity came up so suddenly to go to Darfur that we jumped on it. Almost seven years later, we STILL haven’t gone on a honeymoon!

      Thanks for reading!

      • Wanderlustress
        March 16, 2012

        I almost forgot to add that the first two years of our twins’ lives were in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, which I posted about here: http://wp.me/p2clok-3p. Luckily, our next foreign destination is Laos, one of the most peaceful places on earth. Hopefully, it will stay that way ;D

      • larkycanuck
        March 17, 2012

        Well, look at the bright spot of all this. You could end up in much more dangerous situations for your honeymoon. Like the All Inclusive resort.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on March 16, 2012 by in Honeymoon in Darfur, Sudan and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

Join 3,151 other followers

Blog Stats:

  • 59,085 hits

You can also find me at:

%d bloggers like this: