They come at first light with shovels and sacks, hunched shadows praying for glimmers across a stingy land. These men with torn clothes and sandaled feet don’t ask for much, just enough gold to head home feeling blessed beneath the blazing sky of northern Sudan.
Electrical generators roar until dawn and the diggers, their faces masks of sand and dirt, play cards and drink beer, whispering to one another beneath stars flung like a rich girl’s smile against the darkness.
“One of my friends went gold mining and when he returned he got married and bought a fancy car,” said Mahjub Sadig, a college graduate with a science degree who has spent two years looking for a steady job. “I want to get married. I want the same things.
“I’ve applied for more than 90 jobs since my graduation. I went to more than 30 interviews. I didn’t get anything. In Sudan, if you don’t know a powerful person in the government, you will not get a job.”
Nearly half of all Sudanese live in poverty. Twenty-eight percent of college graduates are jobless, a number likely to rise amid the global economic crisis. There’s little in the way of a welfare state, so the educated and the unschooled, the desperate and the adventuresome strike out with hammers, chisels and bowls, slipping beyond hungry children and that distant ceaseless war in Darfur to the south.
When a man disappears from home, neighbors nod: “He went for gold.”