Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Arrival in Khartoum 24 August

Today I arrived in Khartoum and was met by the SVP Coordinator Becca and Omer, who drove me and my huge amount of luggage to the SVP flat.  The flat is in the centre of town on the third floor of a block of flats.  There is no lift, and there were no lights on the stairway, so we had to carry my luggage up, in the dark.  All credit to Becca and Omer for stoically doing this at 5 o’clock in the morning.  Omer invited me to a relative’s wedding the next day.  After a tussle with my mosquito net, I crashed into bed at once.  I can’t pretend that I slept well.  The heat was extreme and I was beyond tired.  I slept fitfully, getting up in the morning to iron my wedding kaftan, before crashing out for a much more refreshing sleep.  I finally surfaced properly in the late morning and met my flat mate Rajeev properly (we had met briefly when I arrived).

We had some water melon for breakfast.  Then, after my third shower of the day, changed into my smart clothes and left in search of someone to unlock my phone and sell me a SIM card.  Rajeev is seriously learning Arabic and was very helpful.  My phone turned out to be too technologically advanced for the local shop, but they suggested a shop which will be open tomorrow.  I will keep trying.
The streets are definitely third world.  They are unmade mud roads, littered with rubbish, even though this is the centre of town.  As well as the rubbish, there are many potholes, so it is necessary to watch your footing carefully.  We stopped for a very refreshing fresh mango and banana juice before walking to an ultra-modern shopping mall which would not be out of place in London.  The contrast with the surrounding area is extreme.  There we were picked up by Mahmoud and a friend and driven to the wedding.  Both men are architects.  Both are very keen to go to the UK to further their studies but are unable to afford to.
The house where the wedding party was held was some distance away, across the Nile.  The Nile has had a disastrous flood recently and a lot of land has been inundated.  There are no embankments.  I saw what I thought were bushes sticking up through the water, and was told that these were actually the tops of trees.  Crocodiles and hippos, which are not normally in this part of the Nile have been swept up from Ethiopia.
The wedding party was held at the groom’s family home.  Men and women had separate parties, so Rajeev went one way and I went the other.  A young girl was asked to sit with me to help me settle in.  Her family emigrated to the US and have returned for the wedding.  We sat in one of many rooms full of women of different ages.  I was given a large plate of food, mainly meat, to eat.  I was very careful to eat it with my right hand.  Lots of women came and went, all of whom needed to shake hands.  I said ‘Salaam al lekum’ to many, many women while becoming increasingly worried by the stickiness of my hand. 
Later another SVP volunteer called Mary arrived.  She has been in Sudan for 10 months as part of her Arabic degree course.  Mary was able to explain a lot of things to me.  It turned out that the groom comes from a very distinguished Sudanese family, descended from the man who started women’s education in Sudan, Sheikh Babikr Badri.  From a beginning as a girl’s primary school, the movement grew to a stage where there is a women’s university in Khartoum.  Women’s suffrage has now reached a stage where there are many women politicians in the Sudanese government.
Mary had agreed to help another volunteer called Suzanne to find the wedding.  We went out together to meet her on a local main road, as with all roads, unmade.  This one was lined with stalls and tables and chairs where you could have a drink.  When Suzanne arrived, the three of us went to a tea stall.  The sun was setting and there was a refreshing breeze.  We had a good conversation, before Suzanne was fetched to go to the wedding.  Mary took me back to the flat by bus.  The bus was crowded and had a strange seating arrangement so that there are put-down seats which take up the passageway.   It must be very difficult if people at the back want to get off, which fortunately did not happen.  We got off at the last stop and walked through crowded streets, buying some mangos for my breakfast on our way.
I had one of the mangos, showered and went straight to bed.  I slept better than the previous night., but still not well.

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