The journey here was almost ridiculously without incident. Highlights included watching a selection of depressing films on the flight to Cairo (think cancer and the violent mistreatment of an elephant), and then sitting next to a friendly overweight Egyptian man in glittery trousers on the flight to Khartoum. Upon arrival, my first thoughts were essentially ‘my god, I am tired’ and also ‘I like very much how people keep moving to different luggage carousels because no-one seems to know which one is the right one’. So that was fun.
Happily for me, I was immediately met by a team of smiling SVP people who took me straight to where I’ve been staying and began easing me into the way of things around here. The accommodation I’m in now (all could change, at any moment) is really nice. Officially it’s the University of Khartoum’s Guest Unit, but I think of it more as…THE SECRET GARDEN. It literally is a secret garden. Outside is dust and traffic and people, then you come through the gate here and there are trees, bushes and flowers and birds. I am a big fan. At the moment I am sharing a room with one other SVP girl and there is an SVP boy’s room too, so there are a few of us around.
Once into the centre of town, I had my first Sudanese sandwich (‘stuff and chips in a bun, but in a good way’ is about the only way I can describe it) and bought useful things like the sim card I can’t get to work in my phone yet. We then went for tea, which involves people-watching from plastic chairs at the side of the street while a lady makes up whichever variety of tea you’ve chosen. Often people will come over for a chat, which is nice and friendly. On that first time, I was so surprised when someone came over to tell us that the British still owned America because of Queen Victoria (…what?), I spilled half my tea down my arm. The other half was very good though. The rest of my first day involved a long walk down to the Nile, which is one of the more picturesque areas of Khartoum, and up to ‘Gaddafi’s Egg’ which is a big blob of a fancy building built by Libya. The evening saw us consuming pizza at the amazing Riyad flat of a lovely lady who works for DFID. Pretty excellent first day.
My favourite part was when he missed out the ‘Long’ in ‘All Night Long’ (everyone’s favourite Lionel Richie classic) so he was just singing, “ALL NIGHT…….ALL NIGHT……”. During dinner we’d been joined by other friends and volunteers, so went for tea by the Nile, which although lovely, was surprisingly cold. Apparently Sudan DOES do cold. Crazy. Other fun things from Day 2 include the discovery of my grotesque ankle-blister. I know how much you’ve all been enjoying that picture on Facebook.
Day 3 saw me actually venturing outside the Secret Garden – I had to, I needed water and snacks. In the afternoon, a few of us got the bus into town to meet another volunteer at SVP’s Souk al-Arabi flat, the many horrors of which I have been frequently warned about here from the others. Luckily for me, I saw it post-clean so it actually looked quite alright.
As the circle got progressively bigger, one or two Sufis went into the middle and began ‘whirling’, literally just spinning around on the spot for like half an hour at a time. Quite a spectacle. We spent the night having dinner and playing games at one of the volunteer’s apartments who lives in Omdurman, which was all rather lovely. Except the cake I had bought which was literally as dry as the desert. Delish. On the way home, the amjad broke down, a situation which was quickly resolved when the driver hopped out, got a petrol can out the back, and then sucked it up through a hose into the car. That was Broken Down Car Episode 1 this week.
Then Broken Down Car Episode 2 happened, which was helped a lot by the fact that our friend who managed to get it to work again, then almost drove it into one of Khartoum’s very many random road holes. Another good dinner was at Gaddafi’s Egg, which is unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Khartoum, mostly because it’s incredibly shiny rather than immensely dusty. Afterwards, we crossed a nearby bridge, and had tea by the Nile overlooking the Egg, which looks pretty excellent by night. One of by my biggest challenges here is going to be learning the Arabic words for all the different types of tea you can have. One tiny Sudanese step at a time.
In the evening, one of my Sudanese friends invited me to a wedding, or at least, the massive party thing before the actual ceremony a few days later, which was very exciting. We got an amjad to a petrol station, walked down a very unassuming street, and then suddenly there was crazy loud music, colourful tables and chairs everywhere, and hundreds of women in the most amazing sparkly outfits I’ve ever seen.
At one end of all of this was a huge lighting system with people dancing under it, and the whole place was full of TV screens and people going around filming everyone. It was insane. After being served a selection of excellent food (breads, chicken, salad, cheese, sweet pastries etc.), I was made….to dance. I am Not A Dancer. And I remained Not A Dancer when my friend asked some very lovely Sudanese girls to take me under their wing and teach me how. Essentially, there is a lot of clicking, clapping, shoulder rotating and looking at the sky involved. Terrifying. Things remained terrifying when I got back to the Secret Garden to find the gate shut. Scaling a wall in a full length skirt is not an easy option, but alas, it was my only option. Interesting night all in all.
Additional fun information for you all – I have an Orion’s belt of mosquito bites on my wrist and something about Sudan makes my hair constantly static. As you might imagine, this is not a good look. Also, no sunburn yet… just give me time. And so far, I have not yet been on my own crying, which is annoying, because it’s what I've named my travel journal.
See you all next week for more sand-related drivel,