Simply put, one needs to leave in order to arrive anywhere. And leave where? Where one is comfortable: the shock of the new is always the other thing that is invariably compared to home (when I think of something, I always think of something else), which is why tourism is so apparently seductive, because what one experiences is home, again and again. Leaving simply brings into relief the contours of home: the expensive holiday that reveals the rich businessman at his house (one is never more at work than when one is spending); the photographs, already taken in order to recycle the world just above the fireplace, used to stand testimony to a world outside of home...
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In Abyei

In Abyei
March 3 2011.

Bodies. Blood-stick figures in piles. Roads clogged with thousands fleeing. Water the colour of mud. The texture of grit on the tongue. There is a steady smile on a weathered face; this old woman is not leaving. The plastics chairs are not in the restaurant. Save the chairs. The cook is still making beans. This old woman is not leaving.

Soon the beans will be gone. Then. Then there is water and flour. We can live like this for months. Older rhythms. Scarcity has its own sense of time. We crouch, close to the earth, the mortar's steady thud is lunchtime music. This old lady is not leaving. She did not leave in 2008, when the town was burned to the ground. She did not leave in '65, during the Babanusa massacre. She is not leaving.

I am in the compound of the administration, and there is an endless conference at which no on speaks.

I am in the tea-shop; canvas roof on uncertain wooden poles, plastic chairs, potions lined up on a thin table. The land is totally flat. Two weeks ago the fields were burning --- the preparation of the farms for the first rains; smoke among the stars. Now the stars are totally clear. Life is suspended. Building stops. Work stops. We gather in tea-shops: against the sky, the unrelenting heat, the live fire. They are 15km away. The village of Todach is burned, the town swells with refugees passing further south. We drink tea. They are 10 km away. Tajalei is burned down. We drink tea. They are 6 km away. They are attacking Makheer. We drink tea. The tea is 60% sugar, and I want all the calories I can get. The merchants say they will run out of supplies next week.

War does not mean everything changes. It means nothing can begin again.

They are hiding in the United Nations compound. All of UNMIS is hiding. They are not in their offices (I eat their jelly beans; I hate jelly beans). They are scared of that big outside world they are here to help. There is a protest, outside the compound.

A long wall. Sandbag watchtowers with Indians and heavy machine-guns.  We have set fire to the grasses outside, and smoke billows into the sky. The sun throws long auburn tresses onto the market stalls behind us, and the smoke obscures the worst of the sun's parting burn. We are throwing rocks at the helicopters. Above us, there is a hedge of herons flying south. The helicopters, they too move their wings. I think for a moment they are working as smoke machines in a nightclub, flinging grey whisps into the atmosphere, but no: the helicopters, like the UNMIS soldiers, are scared -- the helicopters move away from the stones, and the crowd, insatiable, angry, needing another object, turns away, towards the gates of the UNMIS compound.

There, the delegates of a high-level security conference are making uncertain exits. The crowd falls upon them, beating them. I am ahead of the crowd now, as they move away from UNMIS. And I think, as the police man-handle the delegates away from the protesters, that no one knows I am not from UNMIS. No one knows my scorn for the UN, and the crowd -- angry that UNMIS is not protecting them, not stopping their villages from being burned -- moves faster, towards me.

Behind them, I hear the police cock their weapons, as the remaining delegates are set upon by the crowd, and I encounter, in very cold rational terms, the limit of my willingness to be exposed to risk. Part of me is criticizing myself even as I turn to run, and I take every step with my mind urging me to take the counterstep, and when I hear the first shots fired, that part of my brain is even more insistently telling me to return, just as my legs are taking me further and further away from life, into life.

The next day the streets are quiet. It is a quiet village of pastoralists, in a quiet place, and we drink tea, and fall into hysterics; I tell the soldiers gathered around me (because really: what are you doing here) that the incense that they are burning smells like a woman. This, seemingly, is very funny.

We sit. We drink tea. And we wait.

War does not mean everything changes. It means nothing can begin again.


You cannot see them. Small figures entwined in the metal that stretches to the sun come morning. They are concealed in a minature which is itself a concealment: the dreams of giants concealed in the reverie of infants.

To minaturise. To make useless. To remove from any claim or cause until the object stands in grotesque rememberance of its power. To minaturise is to liberate. Liberated from meaning into the fragility of existence. As breakable and fleeting as steel and stone.

Its to make whole what was once myriad – it is to make fragments out of meanings and render them mobile.


A traveller’s portable God.