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Everyone is affected by the need for men to find work elsewhere. Travelling with animals used to be a way of life for many men. But now they are moving to the cities to work in construction and, in the case of young men, are staying away for long periods.

The latter are motivated by helping their families and earning enough to get married. But today, even married men have to spend three to five months a year away from home, sometimes more, as El Emam and Osman explain.

Despite the anxiety and loneliness suffered by migrant workers, and the increased workload and responsibilities for the women left behind, there are some benefits beyond the economic. Several narrators speak of migrants coming back with new ideas and wider experience.

The scale of migration is huge: Sayda says 75 per cent of her village’s young men are migrants. El Emam describes the work people do, and the different patterns of migration that men adopt: seasonal, extended or semi-permanent. He says many of the men come back for harvesting during Kharif (autumn) but directly after this “no man remains in the village”.

Ismail talks about the reality of migration from a very personal perspective. He explains how tough life is for travelling herdsmen, who often have no relatives in the towns they stay in and nowhere to sleep. “There are difficulties and hardships in migration, in addition to humiliation.”

El Nour, like the other men, talks of the pain of being separated from his family for extended periods. Several narrators mention the anxiety of not knowing how things are at home, and only getting news periodically.

Mekki speaks in detail about different kinds of work and migration – and some of its benefits. Madinah also mentions positive aspects of migration, but she is in no doubt that women’s workloads and responsibilities are increased as a result.


Migration is a key theme of the Desert voices: Sudan oral testimony project.


El Emam: no man remains

El Nour: inside my heart

Fatima: women are exhausted

Ismail: broader horizons

Madinah: progress is possible

Mekki: migration for survival

Naema: nothing the same

Osman: make land productive

Sayda: women’s lives

Widad: restoring the village

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Social change




Natural resources



Food security

Mutual support

Looking ahead