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Surviving in Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan

When one thinks of Sudan it is almost inevitable they will conjure negative images of a country that they believe should be avoided at all costs. And, given the negative nature of what little media coverage we receive concerning the country you can’t blame people for these thoughts, or can you? Because I believe you should never judge a country until you have experienced it for yourself.

Yes it holds the unwanted record for the longest civil war in history, twenty-five years, and yes there are still problems in certain areas of the country, but as with anywhere in the world there is two sides to the story. And let me tell you, having seen the other side, Sudan is a country far from the image the media portray, which goes to show you shouldn’t form opinions without knowing the full story.

So allow me, if you will, to tell the other side to the tale, the one you wont find in the newspapers or on television. I will be honest, upon arriving at the border all I knew of Sudan was what I had heard in the news, which wasn’t exactly positive. Still I had an open mind and was ready for all eventualities, that is except no bank accepting Visa, which could have potentially spelt disaster.

Any potential disaster was thankfully avoided, owing largely to the incredible hospitality shown by the people I met - after a week in Sudan I can safely say the Sudanese are the single most welcoming and hospitable race I have encountered on my travels. I have been blessed in many countries with the manner in which I have been welcomed, from invites to people’s homes to no end of people happy to share what little they have with me, but nothing can compare to what I experienced in Sudan.

From the moment I crossed the border I was taken aback by the warmth with which I was welcomed - a large part of this can be attributed to the locals wanting those who are brave enough to venture here to leave with a different view to that which most begin their foray with, the rest is simply down to the good nature of the Sudanese people.

I had banked, excuse the pun, on being able to withdraw money in Khartoum and thus arrived in the capital only with the money I had exchanged on the black market at the border - which didn’t amount to much. A quick calculation of essential costs - transport to Egypt and alien registration fees - later and it suddenly hit me that I would scarcely have enough money for accommodation, let alone food.

What to do. I could either eat and sleep rough, or get a basic room (by basic I mean a sand-floored concrete room with a bed) and go hungry. In a mild state of worry, that was in danger of escalating into all out panic, I thought it best to go and get a cup of chai and a sheesha before making a decision on how best to spend my money. Little was I to know that this decision would, to a certain extent, ease my financial worries and introduce me to the retired General Mohammed - a man of was the very epitome of the Sudanese and their incredible hospitality.

Over chai and sheesha he told me how he had flown for the RAF in the 1960‘s, having trained in Shropshire, before returning to Sudan to pursue his business interests. On telling him my story he insisted that I stay free of charge at his hotel, and further to that he owned the chai and sheesha shop we were sat in and I was not to pay for anything there during my time in Khartoum. It sounds odd but at first I questioned the genuineness of the General‘s offers, as in the past I have met a host of people who have been full of empty words.

However, the Sudanese mean what they say, at least those I encountered did. And as for my predicament the General simply said I was in trouble and therefore it was his duty to help where he could. That left me with enough money to eat, although even that wasn’t entirely necessary as Yousef, the larger than life owner of a local eatery, often gave me my daily bowl of faul (a rather palatable blend of beans) and bread on the house. Again this gesture was not one of pity towards a poor traveller but a token of his goodwill.

Given the people I had met I left Khartoum with a certain degree of reluctance to sally forth to the desert town of Wadi Halfa - the location of the ferry that would take me to Egypt. It was here that I had the good fortune of falling in with three fellow gentleman explorers - I use the term gentleman explorers as, like myself, Giles, Oli and Davey would have been better suited to travelling in a style akin to Phillies Fogg. It was with the company of this fine trio that the voyage to Egypt, and ultimately Cairo began. To read more of their quest visit: http://africa-attraction.blogspot.com/

In conclusion I can say this; Sudan is a far cry from the troublesome country that many believe it to be, so much so that I would encourage anyone with the time or opportunity to visit and experience for themselves what I had the pleasure to encounter on my time here. Don't let the media dictate your opinions, rather go and form them yourselves.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 24, 2009 from Khartoum, Sudan
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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