Black Orchid: Seeds and Stars

By Jheri St. James

Military regimes favoring Islamic-oriented governments have dominated Sudan’s national politics since independence from the UK in 1956. Located in Northern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Egypt and Eritrea, Sudan was embroiled in two prolonged civil wars during most of the remainder of the 20th century. These conflicts were rooted in northern economic, political and social domination of largely non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese. The first civil war ended in 1972 but broke out again in 1983. The second war and famine-related effects resulted in more than four million people displaced and, according to rebel estimates, more than two million deaths over a period of two decades. Peace talks gained momentum in 2002-04 with the signing of several accords; a final Naivasha peace treaty of January 2005 granted the southern rebels autonomy for six years, after which a referendum for independence is scheduled. A separate conflict that broke out in the western region of Darfur in 2003 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and nearly two million displaced; as of late 2005, peacekeeping troops were struggling to stabilize the situation. Sudan also has faced large refugee influxes from neighboring countries, primarily Ethiopia and Chad, and armed conflict, poor transport infrastructure, and lack of government support have chronically obstructed the provision of humanitarian assistance to affected populations.

Building With its Face Blown Off
How suddenly the private
is revealed in a bombed-out city.
How the blue and white striped wallpaper
of a second story bedroom is now
exposed to the lightly falling snow
as if the room had answered the explosion
wearing only its striped pajamas.

Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry

Aerial Photo of Khartoum, Capital of Sudan

Sudan is the largest country in the continent of Africa; dominated by the River Nile and its tributaries. The terrain is generally flat plain, though there are mountains in the east and west. The climate is tropical in the south; arid desert conditions in the north, with a rainy season from April to October. Soil erosion and desertification are environmental hazards. Sudan has turned around a struggling economy with sound economic policies and infrastructure investments, but it still faces formidable economic problems, starting from its low level of per capita output. From 1997 to date, Sudan has been implementing IMF macroeconomic reforms. In 1999, Sudan began exporting crude oil and in the last quarter of 1999 recorded its first trade surplus, which along with monetary policy, has stabilized the exchange rate. Increased oil production, revived light industry, and expanded export processing zones helped sustain DGP growth at 6.1% in 2003. Agriculture production remains Sudan’s most important sector, employing 80% of the work force and contributing 39% of GDP, but most farms remain rain-fed and susceptible to drought. Chronic instability—including the long-standing civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian/animist south, adverse weather, and weak world agricultural prices—ensure that much of the population will remain at or below the poverty line for years.

I can’t conceive the nucleus of all
begins inside a tiny seed
and what we think as insignificant
provides the purest air we breathe . . .

A species smaller than the eye can see
or larger than most living things
and yet we take from it without consent
our shelter, food, habilment.

But far too many give them in return
a stomp, cut, drown, or burn
as if they’re nothing.
But if you ask yourself where would you be
without them you will find you would not.

And some believe antennas are their leaves
that span beyond our galaxy
they’ve been, they are and probably will be
who are the mediocrity.

But who am I to doubt or question the inevitable being
for these are but a few discoveries
we find inside the secret life of plants.**

* * *

Mr. Rasha Salama was the soil collector for the Sudan addition to the Common Ground 191 archives of soil. He was born, raised and lived for 18 years in Khartoum, leaving then to attend college in Cairo. After completing his bachelors in Political Science, he returned to Khartoum for a year and then went to Sacramento, California for a masters degree in community development. “I work in the field of community development/community organizing…its my way of reaching out to humanity and I guess for them to save me as much as I am saving them . . . Thanks for updating me. It is a wonderful opportunity to work with you and Gary and to be part of such an amazing call for unity. I found out about Common Ground 191 through Doreen Virtue’s angel newsletter. I read it and clicked on the web link and the rest is history! This has been an amazing journey for me because I have not been home in five and a half years and I am seeing that even though I live in a different world across the Atlantic, human being is human being and there is more that connects us than the eye is able to see. So again, thanks for the opportunity . . . May we all live in peace, love and harmony. Thank you for being a stand for peace on earth. Love and blessings, Rasha.” Each email from Mr. Salama ends with these quotations: “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.” (George Bernard Shaw) “The willingness to be true to who you are is the willingness to see yourself everywhere.” (Gangaji).” We are so grateful to this citizen of Sudan for taking the time to participate in our project, and for his enthusiasm. His soil came from Al Mogran Park in Khartoum, “the point where the White Nile and Blue Nile meet, the capital of Sudan. The Nile is the longest river in the world. It runs south to north and many civilizations rose in Sudan and Egypt on the Nile.” Is it coincidence that the word for peace in Sudan is Salam, which appears to be another spelling of Mr. Salama’s last name—Mr. Peace brings us soil? “Yes, my name is the noun form of the word salam.”

The Confluence of the White and Blue Nile
(Brian McMorrow Photo)

The ancient name of the Nile was Iteru. The annual flooding of the longest river in the world was personified by the god Hapy, who was associated with fertility and regeneration. The Nile can be divided into three zones: (1) The tributaries, the many rivers that make up the stream of the Nile. The White and Blue Niles join near Khartoum in Sudan, and other tributaries join the White Nile further south. (2) The second zone is the stretch between Cairo and Khartoum. (3) The third and last zone is the delta, where the Nile divides into several branches, of which Rosetta (Rashid) and Damietta (Dumyat) are the main ones. The Nile Delta is the widest habitable area of the Nile, and it includes several lakes—Manzala, Buruillus and Edku.

There is some disagreement as to where the Nile really starts. About 83 percent of the total water of the Nile comes from Lake Tana, 1800 meters above sea level in the Ethiopian mountains. The lake flows over every summer, providing for the flood that today is tamed by the barrages of Sudan and southern Egypt. This water flows through the Blue Nile until it joins the White Nile at Khartoum, Sudan, to form the Nile. The other main source if the White Nile, originating in Uganda and Burundi. It contributes 16 percent, but this is a more steady flow and without it, the river would run dry in May. The longest stretch of the Nile comes with the start of Kyaka River in Burundi, close to the large Lake Tanganyika. This passage goes through Lake Victoria, then Victoria Nile, Lake Albert, Albert Nile, which in Sudan is called Mountain Nile. Mountain Nile joins other rivers of Sudan to form the White Nile.

The Nile carries water all through the year, but the amount varies depending on the season. With the construction of Aswan High Dam, the flow is now controlled for Egypt. In ancient times, when agriculture depended upon the water and the silt from the annual flood, the ideal flooding height was 7-8 meters. Less than that, and the produce was in danger. More than that, and the flood could cause major damage.

Around 105 million people live along the Nile, most of these in Egypt. The Nile has been the source of civilization for more than 5,000 years. The greatest of these civilizations belonged to Ancient Egypt. More recent was Nubia, belonging to the region of modern Sudan. Then, important cultures rose in Egypt—Romans, Coptics, Muslims. Since the 16th century, the cultures around the Nile have been weak and poor. Modern Egypt and Sudan are the poorest countries in North Africa and the Middle East, with enormous problems, such as uncontrolled population growth.

Beginning in the 1960s, when astronauts first explored outer space, and communication and the advent of the computer became accessible, the Earth seemed to have gotten smaller. Artists, throughout the world, began to think globally as Earth Art moved out of the boundaries of traditional art. Michael Heizer, in 1969, carved the Double Negative out of the Nevada Desert. Robert Smithson, in 1970 created the Spiral Jetty in Utah; and Christo and Jeanne-Claude, in 1976, conceived one of their many large scale works, the Running Fence, a temporary fence that spanned twenty-four and half miles going over private property of 59 ranchers. These unorthodox works of art proved that artist had broken out of a traditional framework incorporating vast areas of land and, most importantly to the healing of the earth, the creation of the art could not have come about without the cooperation of many people. Thus, as in Gary Simpson’s Common Ground 191 art project, people involved in the process of creation are an essential component of the finished art, people like Mr. Peace and all the other 80-some collectors around the world. (See Soil Collection Chart)

While Simpson’s global public art has not, as yet, received the recognition as other forms of global art, his work has equally far-reaching implications. Simpson goes directly to the earth and creates a new form of art, not by moving the earth, or creating massive installations on it. Rather, he gathers and combines soil in the process of creating both Conceptual and Humanistic art. Simpson’s art goes directly to the heart of the matter that humans, are spiritual beings, one with the earth and every other being it holds.

Simpson says, “I take my medium and my inspiration from the Earth. I view my abstract art as expressions of my relation to the Earth.” (Roberta Carasso) Recently, he has been considering the addition of stardust to his work.

Born a poor young country boy—
Mother Nature’s son.
All day long I’m sitting
singing songs for everyone.
Sit beside a mountain stream—
see her waters rise.
Listen to the pretty sound
of music as she flies.
Find me in my field of grass—
Mother Nature’s son.
Swaying daisies sing a lazy song
Beneath the sun.
Mother Nature’s son.
.................................Ringo Starr

The earth as art medium is an organic, obvious concept when one considers that the earth, as the first and inherent “growth artist”, produces everything needed by people and animals to survive—the ground for plantings, the plants themselves—food, herbs, trees—the waters of the seas, rivers, lakes and streams. The growing process itself is nothing if not an artistic process. And we humans become artists only by discovering, manipulating and applying products of nature both in our everyday lives and in artistic creations. Here are some photos of everyday Sudanese “survival artists” at work.

… and here is an example of a Sudanese painting by a painter named Omar Khairy, who seems to celebrate Mother Nature’s art in his work.

Perhaps the “survival-artists”-at-work photos look like people living in poverty. But does poverty mean unending unhappiness? Children still play; people still smile, laugh, dance and sing. The First World’s judgments of poverty may actually be the worst thing about any attempt to define the word. Many people in the Third World may embody a happier spirit than those in wealthier nations, consuming most of the world’s resources, anxiety-ridden about plastic things and numbers.

Often trying to alleviate the suffering of the world is selfish! It’s a noble thought—clearly much better than an intention to contribute to the suffering of the world. But often people are trying to fix the world so that they can feel better. Fix the world so that it will stop bothering them so that it will give them some peace so they can read the paper without being disturbed. That’s still personal . . . Then everybody can see how special you are. I don’t believe you can fix the world. I believe that the only thing that is possible is to recognize who you are and that is, in fact, the world. What you see in the world that you dislike is in fact your own mind in operation. What is at the root of that is a strategy to avoid nothingness, emptiness. Discover who you are by facing this nothingness, this existential emptiness, by facing it directly and discovering the resplendence of that emptiness, that nothingness. Then, if you like to play in the realms of politics, or social action, or therapy, you are free to play, but you are then playing with a different attitude. You are not fixated on changing them. You definitely may have positions and opinions and judgments, but they are not fixed as reality, so there’s an openness to really see. We’ve had multiple ideas of fixing the world throughout time, and see what that’s led to! That’s what we’re now trying to fix! The arrogance that we know how it should be is the same old arrogance. We like having us and them so the us could feel good, could feel self-righteous.

The Shagiiya Dance is performed by the Shaygiiya tribe, who occupy a large area in the northern part of central Sudan. In this dance, men and women perform together, the women imitating pigeons, since pigeons are abundant in their regions, and because of their strong ties to the pigeons, while men execute a series of highly vibrating movements accompanied by strong claps as an indication of the state of the Nile's powerful current when it reaches the Shaygiiyas' area. The dance relies musically on the Tambour, a chordophone instrument.

* * *

Happiness is a choice, more easily seen when looked back upon than in the present. We salute the people of Sudan for their smiles, their courage, their music, dance and art, and we gratefully add their soil to the Common Ground 191 International Wall of Soils. May Hapy bless Sudan with fertility and regeneration.

Black Orchid

A flake of snow within a storm
A new way waiting to be born
In a world with need of change
A touch of love in fear of hate
A rushing wind that’s asked to wait
For the promises of rain
A pearl of wisdom entrapped by poverty.

She gives love with purity
Filling minds with hopeful schemes
To build worlds enhanced by peace
Draped in sparkling morning dew
She expresses life anew
Form the earth beneath her feet
She is a flower that grows
In love ability
She’s femininity

Black Orchid, Black Orchid
Why did they make you begin
When they know in time you’ll find your truth
Before your cycle ends
Black Orchid, Black Orchid
Why are you crying their fears
When the true reflection of you that they see
Is love besieged by years

She has touched the farthest star
Her beauty speaks of what we are
And her freedom makes us free
Her now is in eternity
Infinite to all that see
And her dreams have been achieved
Now there is a sound of laughter
Nature signs out her name
For the world to know her fame.

Black Orchid, Black Orchid
Why did they criticize
When they knew your love could cast its spell and
Consecrate their eyes
Black Orchid, Black Orchid
Why do you linger in space
When you know in every heart that beats
You hold a special place
When you know in every heart that beats
You hold a special place.

**Stevie Wonder and Yvonne Wright (from Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants: Book by Petti Tompkins and Christopher Bird, Film by Infine Enterprises), Recorded by Sony, 1979






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