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Inside The Markets and Restaurants of South Sudan’s Largest Refugee Camp

Life, food, and commerce in Yida


n the central market in Yida, competing stereo systems blast Rihanna and Congolese pop. On the street, women fry fish in vats of oil and chat with men selling fresh bread out of a wheelbarrow. Youth peer into deep freezers proudly displayed at the front of some shops, sheltering the only cold sodas for dozens of miles. The market is a product of a five-year-old conflict in the Nuba Mountains, where the government of Sudan has dropped thousands of bombs on rebel and civilian targets. Yida, a refugee settlement in neighboring South Sudan, has grown to be the largest Nuban city, albeit a city in exile. Today, its future is uncertain: The UN refugee agency claims that the surrounding area is too militarized and has repeatedly tried to shut Yida down, but many residents don't want to leave their homes, or this magnetic, sprawling market.

Photo: Roopa Gogineni

Every month, the World Food Program distributes sorghum, lentils, corn oil, and salt to Yida's populace, although budget constraints forced the organization to cut rations by 30 percent earlier this year. And while the UN stopped issuing ration cards in 2013 to discourage new refugees from settling in the camp, this has not entirely deterred new arrivals; many are given food by family or friends in the camp who have ration cards, or grow their own food in farms bordering the camp.

Photo: Roopa Gogineni

Grinding mills across Yida turn the whole grains distributed as rations into flour.

Photo: Roopa Gogineni

Every morning, young women line up outside of grinding mills with pots of lentils. Batter made from the ground lentils is deep fried to make Tamiya, a dish very similar to falafel; Tamiya is eaten on its own with a spicy vinegar sauce or stuffed into freshly baked white bread.

Photo: Roopa Gogineni

Toma Musa sifts the earth in a homemade sieve to collect fallen sorghum, which she sells in the local market. After her sons were killed in the war, she fled the Nuba Mountains with her daughter; she has been living in Yida for the past five years.

Photo: Trevor Snapp

A women stirs a pot of frying meat in a restaurant in Yida's central market. Supply trucks make multi-week journeys to reach the camp — which is perhaps the most isolated refugee settlement in the world — with goods from Juba, Kampala, Nairobi and even Khartoum. Items from the market, which spans several blocks, supplement dwindling food rations.

Photo: Roopa Gogineni

Inside this tarp-walled bakery, a group of young men work from midnight to 9am, baking thousands of pillowy white rolls in a roaring wood-burning oven as temperatures outside surpass 100 degrees.

Photo: Trevor Snapp

A painting of the Nuba Mountains hangs in a restaurant in the central market. When the war broke out five years ago, most NGOs pulled out of the region and ended food distribution. Widespread knowledge of foraging, a skillset developed to cope with dry seasons, helped Nubans survive after their crops were bombed.

Photo: Trevor Snapp

A woman preps okra, a staple of Nuban cuisine, in one of the larger restaurants in the central market. It is most often dried and powdered and used to thicken stews.

Photo: Trevor Snapp

Chopping meat for the day's stew. Some Yida residents raise their own livestock for slaughter. Despite the presence of 70,000 refugees in the settlement, the UN has never recognized it as an official refugee camp for a variety of reasons, including that it considers the area to be too militarized.

Photo: Trevor Snapp

Chopped organ meat used in stews.

Photo: Trevor Snapp

Inside the kitchen at a popular restaurant. On the menu today: meat and okra stew with Sudanese-style broad beans.

Photo: Roopa Gogieni

A juice bar in the central market serving glasses of baobab, mango, and lime juice — a sweet, if fleeting, respite from the sweltering heat.

Photo: Trevor Snapp

Smoldering coals, frankincense, and perfumed wood is a common sight at restaurants in Yida.

Roopa Gogineni is a photographer and filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian and Al Jazeera.
Trevor Snapp is a photographer based in East Africa, focusing on conflict and its aftermath.
Fact checked by Muna Mire

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