At the school I share the single teacher’s accommodation with Esan and Waheeda. Ever since I arrived Esan has been talking about taking me to visit her village, Timerab. I have been told that Timerab is on the banks of the Nile and is most famous as the birthplace of a scholar called Abdullah Tayib, who is extremely famous throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Abdullah Tayib’s widow is an English woman called Griselda. They married in the 1940s. She now lives in Khartoum, and frequently visits the village and Ed Damer still. Griselda is coincidentally a supporter of the Sudan Volunteer Programme.
I have been told that until three years ago there was no electricity here or in most other villages in the area. Following the building of a major hydro-electric dam on the Nile, the Government has now provided electricity across the whole state. People have taken advantage of this to have TV and lights, but on the whole haven’t gone as far as fridges or freezers, so things are still very basic. The Nile provides the water, but it is much cleaner than in Ed Damer. It is as clear as tap water in London. As far as I can see, the only local transport is by donkey or donkey cart.
We left for Timerab on Tuesday afternoon by pick-up truck, which is also the local taxi, bus service and home-school transport between the country and Ed Damer (see photo of the school run). Once we had crossed the Nile, the road quickly became something which in England would be classed as a rural footpath. We stopped to let people on and off all the way. Esan and I were dropped right at her front door.
The village looks as though it is a very elaborate set of sandcastles, which is pretty much what it is. When she isn’t at the school, Esan lives at home with her
widowed mother, younger sister and three brothers. As is standard practice in Sudan, there are
separate sides of the compound for men and women, so I saw very little of her
brothers, who even eat separately. I
noticed that they also wash their own clothes, so apart from the actual cooking
the men-folk are largely self-sufficient.
The toilet facilities are by far the best I have seen in the area: very clean even though it is still the basic 'hole in the ground' type.
The whole family and all their neighbours made me very welcome, although we had no language in common beyond my very basic Arabic greetings. A succession of neighbours came to say hello to me throughout my stay (see photo on right).
That evening I experienced my first rain in Sudan. It started with distant thunder which became nearer and almost continuous. Then the first raindrops, which were beautifully cool on the skin. After a while the rain intensified to a major downpour, at which point we took shelter. The sand underfoot becomes very slippery and boggy in places in the rain.
After the rain stopped we put the beds outside for the night. It wasn’t until the morning that I realised that my face had been eaten alive by mosquitoes. I have never been bitten on such a scale before, although fortunately they are not particularly itchy. Esan and her family were very concerned and unearthed a mosquito net for me for the next night. Although I have a mosquito net and used it in Khartoum, I hadn’t thought of bringing it with me. I haven’t used it in Ed Damer as there are no mosquitoes at the school. I do take anti-malarial tablets every day.
On Wednesday, Esan took me on a tour of the village to visit her neighbours, who are all one extended family. Due to the lack of a common language, I have no idea of the exact relationships. For some reason, although I make full use of mime to try to make myself understood, there seems to be a general aversion to doing this in the Ed Damer area, so I remain deeply puzzled about a lot of things!
On the third day, I awoke to find that (in spite of the net and liberally applied repellent) the mosquitoes had decided to feast on my hands. A neighbour came and re-hennaed my hands and feet, which provided a morning’s activity (see photo of the end result).
After some discussion with
Esan, I decided that I would like to return to Ed Damer. Although it has been interesting to see
village life and I have been made very welcome, it has been very difficult due
to the language barrier. Once you have
seen the village, it is not possible to go further afield due to the heat, so
there is only a limited amount to see and nothing to do. I was also becoming increasingly conscious of
the need for online/computer preparation for my lessons in the next week when I
have been told I will have a full timetable.
This was impossible to do at Esan’s house due to the constant social
calls. The real clincher though was the
thought of yet more mosquitoes overnight.
I recall a quote from The Lord of the Rings, when journeying through the
Midgewater Swamp: ‘What do they eat when they can’t get Hobbit?’
|My re-hennaed hand|
So, after we had had lunch, Esan called the pick-up truck. As before the pick-up truck picked up a full load of passengers on the way back to Ed Damer. Then, much to my alarm, the driver ended the route in the middle of town, far from the school. I phoned Osman, who explained that the driver had called him and told him where to pick me up. This is the thoughtful way things work here. Where in London would you find a bus driver who didn’t just casually abandon foreign passengers in the middle of nowhere?