(Editor’s note: Over the next two months, Meghan Thom will be posting about her recent trip across North Africa. A student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Ms. Thom resides in London. Previous posts: Part I)
Our next early morning arrival was into Khartoum Airport in Sudan. This time (as opposed to our landing in Cairo), we had visas and breezed through customs. At 5 a.m., buying a Sudanese SIM card for Phil’s phone and illegally exchanging American dollars for Sudanese pounds with an airport official seemed almost normal. Between my boyfriend’s Arabic and my Scottish frugality’ we managed not to get too ripped off for what turned out to be an incredibly short taxi ride to our accommodation.
We were very grateful to be greeted by our hostess at this antisocial hour, a friend of a friend from England who is teaching English at the British Council in Khartoum. Her air-conditioned flat was lovely, and filled with a collection of modern politically and regionally-relevant books—we couldn’t have found a better place to stay if we had tried!
We began our Sudanese adventure that day with a breakfast of sesame seed and peanut biscuits and headed off to explore Khartoum’s museums. A 20-minute walk brought us to the Ethnographic Museum, which has examples of jewelery, dress, household items, canoes, bags, and weapons from around the various cultural groups of Sudan. After looking around we decided to sit in the garden where an old, frail-looking man was painting. We got talking and discovered that he had been in the Navy and travelled all round the United Kingdom! He showed us a sculpture of a boat he had made—a tribute to Prince Philip! Our trip was off to an interesting start.
After that, we visited the presidential palace, which has an array of photos of British colonial officials and gifts given to Sudanese presidents, including a sword from the Red Crescent and six bulletproof cars!
As we wandered around Khartoum, we were suspicious at first of people coming up to talk to us. After a few interactions, however, we discovered that people only wanted to say hello and have a nice stay in Sudan. We were very pleasantly surprised!
That afternoon we napped, a habit which continued throughout our trip. It was just too hot to do much else. In the early evening, we helped our hostess to cook for Iftar dinner (the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan). She had organised an event for her students based on the game show “Just a Minute,” where contestants must speak for a minute about a chosen subject “without hesitation, repetition or deviation.” It turned out to be a great night: there was a wonderful variety of foods to eat, everyone got really into the game, and it was a good opportunity for us to meet some local people. Everyone was incredibly friendly, true to the stereotype of Sudan as the friendliest country in Africa!
Our next day was frustratingly unproductive as taxi drivers took us all over the city in search of the Aliens Registration Office where all tourists are required to register. In the evening, we met a section of Khartoum’s ex-pat community (significantly reduced after the U.N. reportedly abandoned the city en masse). From the small group, we recognised someone who had been on the same plane from Cairo, a Brazilian-German teacher doing research in Sudan, and a French guy we had met on couch surfing. The Bradt guidebook says you would be hard-pushed to call anywhere in Sudan “on the beaten track” for travellers, so its fitting that the small ex-pat community is pretty tight-knit.
The rest of our days were filled with finally managing to find and register at the Aliens Buildings; walking around Tutti Island; taking a cruise with a group of Ethiopian truck drivers to see the confluence of the Nile; meeting more British Council teachers (an English guy who had taught in Libya, and an Irish writer and Londoner who had recently returned from teaching in Darfur); we discovered that our plan to take a boat to Egypt would be impossible (because of Eid), and met a group of excited Yemeni U.N. peacekeepers on their way to Darfur who insisted we come to Yemen one day. We didn’t visit all of the attractions (the whirling dervishes were sadly taking a break during Ramadan) but we had a great time!