The people of Southern Sudan will choose next month whether to break up Africa's biggest state into north and south and create the world's newest nation. Much is at stake, including most of Sudan's oil reserves and -- potentially -- peace in one of the continent's more volatile countries.
The biggest question looming as the Jan. 9 referendum approaches: Will the north and its Arab-led government let the mostly ethnic-African south go without more bloodshed?
These days, an air of melancholy hangs over Khartoum, Sudan's dusty desert capital.
The Hofer family in Bayou La Batre, Ala., is struggling to stay afloat both financially and emotionally. Since the BP oil spill, Aaron, 27, has been largely out of work. Lena, 25, is getting counseling to help her cope and says she has finally convinced her husband, an Iraq war veteran, to get help at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"To be honest with you, I would say that my husband would hurt himself," Lena says, "because he's never not been able to provide for us. To see my husband cry over not being able to take care of us, it worries me."
These are hard times in the hard-working town of Bayou La Batre, Ala. It's known as the state's seafood capital -- and it struggled to get back in business after Hurricane Karina.
But once again, the processing plants and shrimp boats lining the bayou are mostly idle after the BP oil spill.
So when Feed the Children trucks recently arrived at the community center, the turnout was huge. About a dozen volunteers worked quickly handing out big cartons packed with food and household goods. Residents had to sign up in advance, so some were reluctantly turned away.