Working from home means that the boy and I get to spend quite a bit of time together. Today, while I was doing some research on local kindergartens he might attend, he jumped on my lap and started playing with the tablet, which had the maps application open. He understands that "things happen" when you run your finger over the glass, so that's just what he did for several minutes until he stumbled across a city in souther South Sudan that has almost zero information on Wikipedia: Babanusa.
The town appears to be located in the middle of a desert. Its roads are covered in sand. The fences surrounding all of the homes have accumulations of sand on the eastern sides. There doesn't appear to be any source of fresh water within walking distance, but we did manage to find 12 large tanks that are likely used to store the life-giving liquid. According to Google Maps, there are two mosques servicing the community and three small grocers. A handful of small cafes can be found just south of the massive railway junction that dominates the area.
While looking around the town, I started asking questions. Where are the signs of agriculture? Can food be grown here, or is it all imported from communities closer to the river 9km to the east? Are the haphazard-fenced homes outside the main community where the poorer people live? Aside from the railway junction, what are the main industries that keep people busy? There appear to be at least 1,000 homes in the area, so are there more than two mosques? There does not seem to be any signs of high-voltage electrical lines bringing power to the community, so where does everyone's electricity come from?
Following the main road west, there's a whole lot of nothing stretching on for kilometre after kilometre. And then … what looked like a scorched piece of earth where people clearly live — or used to live. There are all the signs of homes, a market, a place of worship, and even a school next door. Yet this place has no name on any map.
In my quest to find a name for this place, I zoomed out a bit to get some context for where it's located. When I saw the region, things started to make sense.
This is in Darfur, an area that's roughly the size of Spain and almost completely arid plateau. Whatever this land had once offered to the people living here has been stripped away by the ravages of war. This is why there does not appear to be any developed infrastructure, or agriculture, or even large farms of roaming livestock. It's a part of the world that is so foreign and alien to me that I wouldn't last a week. If one of the various militias didn't kidnap me in an attempt to collect a ransom, the lack of fresh water and food would do me in. The people who live here pay much more attention and are much more resourceful than I will ever need to be.
A lot of this information was kept from the boy, of course. He was just happy to play with the tablet. But while he gleefully tapped and scrolled around the map of a faraway land, I couldn't help but think about the blackened soil around the unnamed communities and wondered whether this was evidence of industry or the consequences of war.