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7 January 2014 / leggypeggy

The Sudan remembered in poetry—read aloud with gusto

Sudanese countryside

The Sudan (especially South Sudan) could be Africa’s breadbasket

South Sudan has been in the news lately—sadly because of internal conflict—but the media attention brings back memories of my amazing travels there in the 1970s.

Back then, a friend, Don, and I took about five weeks to traverse the north-to-south extremes of The Sudan. Back then, it was the largest country in Africa, and we covered about 3000 kilometres of it, starting in Wadi Halfa (near the border with Egypt) and finishing in Juba (in the deep south).

The Sudan

Life in The Sudan is still simple

I promise to write more about that trip in general, but for the moment my mind focuses on The Sudan because I encountered another blog by people who lived in The Sudan in the 1980s.

James and Terri have a wonderful travel blog that I’m working my way through. If you enjoy my tales, you’ll enjoy theirs too.

Their talk of The Sudan reminded me that I should share a couple of poems I learnt in Kenya more than 35 years ago—when life wasn’t very politically correct.

Bill Swinson (an old hand from the British days in The Sudan) shared these poems with us when we met him in Nairobi in 1977. He had worked in soil and water conservation in The Sudan for five years. I can’t remember how he came to have the collection, but he said the poems had been penned by English men and women who worked in The Sudan in earlier decades.

Grain storage, Sudan

Grain storage in The Sudan in the 21st century. Note the traditional huts in the foreground

Bill had lots of interesting stories, but this one sticks in my mind. After one harvest, Bill worked hard to convince the Africans in what is now South Sudan to bury their grain and sell it later when times where harder and food was scarcer for the northern Arab Sudanese. His plan worked, which brought some much needed income to the locals and made Bill not very popular with the Arabs.

So here are the poems. The first appears nowhere else on the internet, and the second occurs only once. I posted it in 2009 when I was travelling on an overland trip with African Trails. Please don’t copy and paste this all over the internet. If you want to share it, link back to this post so that the history of it remains intact. Thanks.

For full effect, please read the poems aloud and with gusto.

P.S.  The Sudd is a vast swampy area of the Nile. Malakal and Shendi etc. are towns and villages from which the British departed to go on their annual holidays in the UK.

P.P.S. I know both these poems by heart and can perform them as a party trick.

P.P.P.S. I know it’s outdated, but I still call The Sudan, The Sudan. Does anyone else, or is it just me?

Sudanese National Anthem
It is a bloody country, it is a blood-stained land,
with miles of desolation and tons of red-hot sand.
There are millions of mosquitos and a thousand miles of mud,
but the sanguinary prefix is best applied to Sudd.

When God in all his glory, let loose the following Nile,
he winked a cunning optic and smiled a knowing smile.
He said, ‘I’ve done it this time. I never did create,
such a bloody awful country in to God’s estate.’

From Malakal and Shendi, Meshra, Renk and Bor,
from Korda. Wau and Juba, we’ll board that boat once more.
And leave this bloody country, to those whose aims would be
to love their dusty brothers much more than you and me.

And when we hand our chips in, before the pearly doors,
with many a boon companion, old friends, old flames, old whores,
Saint Peter, he will mutter and  murmur, ‘Oh well, well,
let the bastards in to heaven, they’ve spent their time in hell.’

Farming in the Sudan

A Sudanese community looks after its harvest

Where the Dinka’s Doo-dad Dangles All the Day 
In that grim and gaunt Sudan
Home of prehistoric man
Where slimy crocodiles await their prey
Lying prone upon the mud
In that everlasting Sudd
Where the Dinka’s doo-dad dangles all the day.

Where the Nile is mis-named white
And mosquitos ping and bite
And hippos grunt and gurgle as they play.
In the middle of the mud
That everlasting Sudd
Where the Dinka’s doo-dad dangles all the day.

Where the white man sweats and sings
Til that welcome tsetse brings
A sleeping touch of permanent decay
Where the best of pink gins pall
In that land of sweet damn all
Where the Dinka’s doo-dad dangles all the day.

Sudanese village

A glimpse of a Sudanese village

23 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. lmo58 / Jan 7 2014 8:13 pm

    Excellent poetry Peggy. Thanks for posting. You’re right; poetry should always be read aloud.

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  2. Megan Shain / Jan 7 2014 10:12 pm

    Hi Peggy thank you so much for this. I look forward to reading about your travels in this area previously. My sister is over there at the moment with the ADF and UN and unfortunately has experienced some of the worst side of humanity. These poems are great and appears not much has changed. Looking forward to catching up soon in person!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jan 7 2014 10:32 pm

      Hi Megan
      I had a wonderful time in The Sudan so long ago in 1977, but know that many horrible and horrific things happen there now. In future, I’ll be thinking of you and your sister and hoping all is well for her. I think very few people outside The Sudan can even remotely begin to understand or imagine how hard life can be there. Thanks so much for dropping by my blog. My future posts about The Sudan will be positive rather than negative. But those those who read this, and who want to do something to help, should contribute generously to Doctors Without Borders.
      .

      Like

  3. Kenny2dogs / Jan 8 2014 12:03 am

    Lovely blog you have here. But I see no mention of Scandinavia. 😦

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    • leggypeggy / Jan 8 2014 8:13 am

      Thank you. Scandinavia is on our must-see list. We’ve been to Denmark, but are yet to see Finland, Norway, Sweden and Greenland. We have had a Finnish exchange student! 🙂

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      • Kenny2dogs / Jan 8 2014 9:30 am

        My Daughter and 2 G/children live in Sweden. (Stockholm) A beautiful country, I used to love the archipelago. If you “do” visit Northern scandinavia, please visit during the Summer. The nights posses an erie quality, But then again the Swedes themselves are a little mysterious and somewhat weird. Not that I dislike them you understand. B.T.W. Take a bucket full of Dollars… You will need it 🙂

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      • leggypeggy / Jan 8 2014 10:35 am

        We know about the need for a bucket of dollars, thanks for the reminder. One of our daughters visited Norway in February–March 2012, and found the cold not too bad.

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  4. gallivance.net / Jan 8 2014 12:11 am

    Fabulous post Peggy! And thanks so much for the shout-out. Much appreciated. I do truly love the poems – they really capture a time and place that has changed very little over all these years. James and I always say that it was the best expat experience of our lives. The individual kindness of the Sudanese people was astounding. Most importantly, living in Sudan humbled us and gave us the world view that lead us to our own nomadic pursuits. Thanks again! All the best, Terri & James

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jan 8 2014 8:06 am

      My pleasure indeed. Thank you both for your inspiration. This post was long overdue and I hope it will spur me on to do more about The Sudan.

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  5. Don Lichty / Jan 8 2014 9:27 am

    I also seem to remember Bill saying that when you first come to the Sudan you pick the flies out of your beer. When you’ve been there a while you learn to drink around the flies. You know you’ve been there a long time when you order your beer with flies in it.

    Note: I also say “The Sudan”

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    • leggypeggy / Jan 8 2014 10:38 am

      Ah, another The Sudan sayer! Thanks also for reminding me about the flies in beer. Poor John recalls that The Sudan had the worst beer in the world, and thinks it is a good thing the country is now dry. 🙂

      Like

  6. Mungai and the Goa Constrictor / Jan 9 2014 9:51 am

    Loved both poems, Peggy. The first was brilliant. The second, when read aloud, for some reason made me think of Kipling’s Gunga Din – one of my favourite poems. Another great post – thank you 🙂

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jan 9 2014 11:49 am

      You’re right, it has a similar rhythm to Gunga Din. Thanks!

      Like

  7. Kenny2dogs / Jan 14 2014 1:38 am

    Love the national anthem , that is why I am here. To read it again and ask you if you have ever written about an English national anthem ? 🙂

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    • leggypeggy / Jan 14 2014 8:18 am

      No I haven’t, but you’ve got me thinking. I sort of half remember that Bill Swinson had these and others written down in a small mimeographed collection called Sudanese Verse. If such a volume exists, it’s not mentioned online. Maybe one is tucked away in someone’s bookshelf or in some government office. I wonder?

      Like

      • Kenny2dogs / Jan 14 2014 9:07 am

        Thank you Penny, twas but a thought 🙂 How interesting though to think that the Sudanese Verse dose really exists. Hey this could spark off an adventure of a lifetime. Could form an expedition and call it ” In search of the Sudanese Verse ”

        Hahahaha… please excuse my English humor. 🙂

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      • Kenny2dogs / Jan 14 2014 9:09 am

        Please accept my most humble apology, “Peggy”, sorry 😦

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      • leggypeggy / Jan 14 2014 10:51 am

        No worries, I answer to any name starting with P and ending with Y. 🙂

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  8. Good Food Everyday / Jan 4 2015 5:26 pm

    What a lovely blog, happy new year 🙂

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jan 4 2015 6:05 pm

      Thanks very much. I’m so glad you found this post. It’s one of my favourites.

      Like

  9. dray0308 / May 26 2015 11:28 pm

    It is tragic what the people from Africa have endured. I am amazed at times by the size of the continent and the catastrophic events that still occur there, things that I would only experience in the worst of horror movies. But it is nice to also see the wonderful spirit of the “real” citizens of such a beautiful and exotic continent. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

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