As the sun set on a Saturday in early February, Mubarak Angalo, a farmer in Sudan's Nuba Mountains, was riding in a pickup truck with two friends. They had spent the day at a market, selling vegetables, and were returning to their village when they heard a low droning sound overhead. Instinctively, they knew what it was: the engines of a Soviet-built Antonov bomber. The driver came to a stop, leaned from the window, and looked up. Mubarak listened, hoping to hear the sound diminish.
Nuba is a region of mesa flats, scrubby hills, and escarpments near Sudan's southernmost border. In the rainy season, its sorghum fields and flowering neem and baobab trees are brilliant greens, and the canopy hides the earthen paths that people travel on between villages. February is the middle of the dry season, however, when the landscape is a milk-coffee brown and the paths are exposed. Antonov pilots scan the horizon easily, looking for dust clouds kicked up by tires.
Nuba has been a war zone for most of the past 25 years, as the government of Sudan has tried to drive Nubans from their land. President Omar al-Bashir, whose regime is dominated by Arab descendants and Islamists, has declared a jihad against the people of Nuba, blacks who practice native religions and Christianity but also Islam. In the past four years, the holy war has been waged largely from the air. The Antonovs strike homes, schools, churches, crop fields, clinics. They drop cluster bombs that send out shrapnel in all directions, inflicting maximum damage on people and livestock. The bombing this year has been the worst in memory. Saturdays, when Nubans set up village markets, are especially lethal.
Every Nuban knows what to do when the drone of the Antonov engines comes: Parents teach children; schools perform drills. If there is a foxhole nearby—and foxholes are ubiquitous, thanks to the constant bombardment—you get in it. If not, you lie facedown where you are. And if you are in a vehicle, you stop, stay inside, and crouch as low as you can. Under no circumstances do you try to run.
As Mubarak and his friends waited in tense silence, the engines grew louder. Mubarak, in his late twenties, knew the rules but panicked. As the plane flew overhead and then released a bomb from the hatch doors in its belly, he jumped from the truck and began running.
About eight hours later, shortly after midnight, the pickup approached a large compound, and the driver honked the horn. A guard unlocked a chain and opened the gate. The driver pulled into a cool courtyard of raked sand and saplings. This was Mother of Mercy Hospital.