I was escorting the bearded stranger around my town. He didn’t always welcome my presence, but I was only eight and I wanted to practice my English. We did have a conversation, mostly in Arabic I confess, when the convoy of lorries noisily raced past the border post, full of soldiers waving banners and rifles. He ducked down fast, looked alarmed and asked me whether Sudan was being invaded.
There isn’t much to see in Geneina. Its lucky he was willing to walk because we don’t have any cars here yet, and people had kept mistaking him for the only other white man we have seen here recently, who rides a camel. Together we had laughed at the youth on their smart mopeds brought overland from Nigeria but unable to move through the sandy streets of Geneina. We had walked around the hill on which the old Marsalit Sultan’s Palace sits; we had visited the western suq, silent and abandoned since trade with Chad dried up because of the banditry and rebellion there.
I dissuaded him from going to the actual border between Sudan and Chad. To the west its four hours walk. But there is a police post in the hedge just north of Geneina, which acts as the border checkpoint, so I escorted him there. He took a photo, and then talked to the camel caravan which emerged from behind the hedge: it was on its way from Chad to Congo. It was a few minutes later when the lorries arrived from the direction of Chad, followed by crowds of cheering running children. It wasn’t an invasion, thanks be to God, but a celebration. The Geneina army unit had won the regional sports tournament and would be going to Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, to represent the whole of West Darfur in the national finals.