Fieldwork – 1st Session

The first training session was held in March 2021.

It brought together the teaching team and the Sudanese and French participants, around a busy programme. Here is a summary of these few days in the field.

On Monday 15 March 2021, the team met for the first time at the University of Khartoum campus. For some, it was an opportunity to meet up with former colleagues and students, and for others, it was a first meeting.

In the first part of this inaugural day, students and teachers were invited to a convivial meal at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, our main partner. Since February, the latter has offered the CliMigraForm project an office within the department to facilitate meetings and joint work, and to make visible this new project which feeds an old partnership between the UoK and the Université Paris 8.

The meal was followed by a first official presentation of the ADESFA CliMigraForm project in the lecture hall of the Faculty of Economic and Social Studies. Its dean, Dr Yasir Awad, introduced the event and expressed his delight that a new Franco-Sudanese project was born, focusing on two crucial issues in contemporary Sudan, the environment and migration. After an introduction by the two project coordinators, Mohamed A. Bakhit and Barbara Casciarri, all the teachers, students and associations participating in the session were able to introduce themselves.

The team then met for a briefing session to prepare for the first field trip the following day. The coordinators provided the background information gathered during the two weeks of pre-investigation in Burri, and all the trainers made a pedagogical presentation on the session, giving details of the methodological tools to be used.

On Tuesday 16 March 2021 we visited the premises of one of Burri’s neighbourhood committees, Kuria (where the accommodation of the student and community group is located), which are situated in a former nursery school with a garden.

Members of the lajna mugawama (resistance committee) and the lajna al-taghir wa al-khidamat (committee for change and services) welcomed us and we were able to conduct a first collective interview with them. This interview focused on the socio-economic and political history of Burri, in general, and of the Kuria neighbourhood, in particular. The presence of farmers among our interlocutors allowed us to approach two fundamental themes of our investigation: urban agriculture and the impact of the 2020 floods.

This first interview was fundamental for the start of the survey because it allowed us to deepen our knowledge of these new institutions, the resistance committees, which since the 2019 revolution, following the dissolution of the people’s committees (an emanation of the regime), have become basic bodies for managing daily life in the neighbourhoods.

While at the moment the committees are mainly concerned with ensuring the distribution of certain goods affected by the shortage (gas, flour, oil), their political role in ‘safeguarding’ the values of the 2018-2019 revolution remains central, as does that of organising solidarity in the face of ‘environmental disasters’ (such as the floods of autumn 2020).

On Wednesday 17 March 2021 we went for a second collective interview to Burri Laamab and Burri Sherif (north-eastern part near the Nile), which are historically the first of the Barari (Burri pl.) to have been populated. Formerly a rural village, after colonisation this site was gradually integrated into the urban agglomeration of Khartoum.

We were welcomed into the home of the Ashraf: descendants of Sherif Yusif Al-Hindi, who established a branch of the Hindiyya Sufi brotherhood here in the early 20th century. This group remains a crucial component of Burri’s socio-economic life as well as a historical religious and cultural reference point beyond the local level. In the garden of their house, we listened to the historian Hassan talk about the historical traditions of Burri’s foundation and agricultural practices, and one of the Sherif’s children tell us about the history of the brotherhood.

We were then accompanied on a visit to the historical sites of the brotherhood: located within an enclosure, they include a sanctuary, a mosque, a reception hall, reception areas for the faithful and the khaloua, a Koranic school, as well as an old well that is still functioning and a mill where cereals coming from the brotherhood’s lands in the Jezira are processed to feed disciples and guests.

It is this link between the Sufi brotherhood and local agricultural production that we approached in the last part of our fieldwork, where we were able to visit a jeref, a field cultivated by submersion during the annual flooding of the Blue Nile.

In the past, these plots and urban agriculture in general were very important for the city’s food supply and for local employment. This jeref is one of the few that is still cultivated in Burri, surrounded by construction projects.

From Thursday 18th to Monday 22nd March, we focused on analysing the data from these first two intensive days in the field. We alternated collective debriefing sessions on the interviews and observations, with work carried out in small groups to decipher and format the data. The semi-elaborated materials produced by each sub-group (interview or observation summary sheets) were then shared and discussed. Other tools were tested: a synoptic table for analysing the discourses on alluvium, a glossary on agricultural techniques and the environment, genealogical diagrams, transcriptions and translations. In addition to this essential work of systematisation and initial reading of the data, aimed at further clarifying the research questions and categories, part of our discussions focused on reflexivity (conditions of “data production”, biases, “field politics”).

We also opted to devote the outings on these days to observation practices, which are often neglected in the ethnographic situation compared to interviews. A morning observation was carried out in the main market of Burri, Suk Al-Arba and the surrounding areas.

The analysis of the first interviews and the reading of evolutionary maps from Google Earth, led us to look closely at one of the sites identified by the interlocutors as a possible “cause” of the catastrophic nature of the last floods: the Manchiya bridge, an expression of the accelerated urbanisation that has affected Burri in recent years. Divided into groups, we carried out a night-time and a day-time observation in the early morning.

After this first week rich in experiences and data, the evolution of the health situation led us to shorten the duration of the session and to postpone some of the planned activities (notably the participatory mapping workshop) to a later session.

The Sudanese students and the two French PhD students who remained on site, under the supervision of the project coordinator, extended this work with a data elaboration meeting and two field trips with interviews during April. These new data, together with those collected during the first session, will be the subject of a joint elaboration (partly at a distance) in the following weeks: a first synthesis of the results and some raw materials will then be put on the site, and will serve to prospect the preparation of the second training session in autumn.

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