Getting into Darfur isn’t easy. The Sudanese government rarely gives visas to journalists, so on my two visits between 2006 and 2007, I entered through the back door, crossing the border from the refugee camps in Chad into the rebel-controlled territories in Darfur. I traveled on the backs of trucks, drove for days through the desert, rode in Toyota Land Cruisers with anti-aircraft guns bolted in the back, and spent a week traveling by horse and cart, sneaking through the territory of a government-allied rebel group to make my way back to Chad.
In the four months I’ve spent in Darfuri villages, rebel bases, and refugee camps in Chad, I saw a side of Darfur that was very different from the typical story that we hear, where people fall into one of two camps: ruthless warlords or helpless victims. By now, most of us have heard the stories of the Janjaweed militias, galloping through the Sahel, torching villages and slaughtering their inhabitants. Many of us have heard about bodies dropped in wells to spoil the water, fields of sorghum and millet set ablaze to guarantee that no one returns, and mass rapes to strike fear into anyone that dares to venture back into the hinterlands. In Darfur, these stories are ever-present and inescapable.
But Darfur is still very much alive. Throughout the time I’ve spent between Sudan and Chad, I’ve wanted to show another side of Darfur—where people are fighting back and refusing to leave the homes that form the basis of their livelihoods. By torching those villages and bombing thatch-roofed huts, the Sudanese government has unsuccessfully tried to squash an uprising made up of blacks and Arabs who are fighting for roads, schools, clinics, electricity, clean water, and participation in a government that has marginalized their region and others in Sudan for decades.