Zenga Longmore

Intruder in the dust

The Emma of the title was an intrepid young woman who journeyed to the Sudan in search of exotic adventure. Owing to an ill-chosen marriage she found herself at the centre of a bloody civil war. A few years later she met with an early death. One’s loins need to be well girded before embarking on this book. Emma’s Sudan, portrayed by Deborah Scroggins, is a nightmarish, Goyaesque picture.

During the 1980s, Emma McCune left her dreary Yorkshire village to work as an aid worker in the Sudan in search of thrills, romance and Sudanese men. She found an abundance of all three, although her job with the British Voluntary Service Organisation was ostensibly to teach children English and art. Aid workers are described by Scroggins as naive but well intentioned at best, wicked at worst. From the balconies of their posh hotels they watch impotently as the Islamic north battles with the pagan and Christian south. The curse of oil ensures that there will never be peace in the Sudan. Brutal guerrilla campaigns are propped up by aid money, whilst the starving population look on. Slaves from the southern tribes are bought and sold, nubile young women being especially prized commodities. Thousands are killed for their religious beliefs. Female circumcision is rampant and ceaseless civil wars have created grinding poverty, disease, starvation and death.

Deborah Scroggins focuses so intensely on the ugly aspect of Africa that I found myself wondering if anywhere on earth could be so hell-like. Central Africans are experts at merrymaking in the face of adversity. However, joy and music are nowhere in evidence in this grim, humourless book.

Into hell’s final circle sashayed foolhardy Emma. She scorned the expatriate life that would so warmly have embraced her.

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