Saturday, 1 September 2012

Omdurman Souq

This morning I got up early and decided to visit Omdurman Souk, which is the largest market in Sudan and is recommended in my guidebook as somewhere every tourist must visit.  Khartoum is divided into three separate cities.  Omdurman is the city to the north-west, several miles away from central Khartoum.  To get there I decided that the time had come to be very daring and take a bus by myself for the first time.  I went to the local, very large and chaotic bus station.  All signs are in Arabic and the buses do not have numbers which made finding the right bus quite difficult.  However people were very helpful and pointed me in the right direction.  The bus was very cheap, the equivalent of 16 pence in UK currency.  The last stop was the souq, so I had no difficulties at the other end.  

The stalls contain everything you could need for daily living: cooking utensils, clothing, tailor shops, butchers, fruit and vegetable stalls, toiletries, jewellery etc.  It is a huge market with many small alleyways shaded with cloth.  It was not possible to see everything.  According to my guidebook there are lots of local handicraft stalls, but I did not see those.  In spite of the fact that Omdurman Souq is supposed to be a top tourist destination, I was the only foreigner.  Perhaps they were all at the handicraft section.  Donkey and horse carts are used to transport goods to the stalls.  As everywhere, lots of people wanted to talk to me.  As I was passing a tea stall, a customer asked if I would like some tea.  We sat on small stools.  The tea lady used a charcoal fire to heat the water.  I asked for no sugar, as I know that Sudanese have a very sweet tooth.  The tea was served in a small glass with a bowl of sugar next to it, as the tea lady clearly couldn't believe that anyone would want a drink without sugar.  Sudanese tea bears no resemblance to English tea.  It is heavily flavoured with spices and quite delicious.  The other customer refused to allow me to pay.  After a couple of hours wandering around the souq and talking to people I sat at a stall and had falafel for lunch. 
After lunch I took a bus back to Khartoum.  I arrived at a different part of the bus station and completely lost my bearings.  It took some time and directions from several people before I found my way back to the flat.  When I arrived I found that there was no running water. 

In the afternoon I met up with a member of another charity, Direct Action, who is a friend of a friend from London at a cafe called Papa Costa’s.  Two teachers from the British Council also came and were very helpful with advice for me, once I start teaching in Ed Damer. 
When I got back to the flat, I found that the water was still not working.  This is the second time this has happened, although the first time didn’t last as long.  Rami and Tanya, another SVP volunteer, had come to visit.  We had a very long and interesting discussion about our religious beliefs.  Rami and Tanya are both Moslem, Raj is interested in religion but doesn’t have a faith base, and I am Catholic.  We all believe in co-existence and religious tolerance.  We also share many beliefs about the nature of God, the role of suffering etc.  If only this applied to the rest of the world.
Fortunately for me, I still had some water in my water bottle from earlier in the day to sip during the night.  Otherwise I would have become seriously dehydrated.  I really missed the shower.

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