Three days is not long at all for any place, much less a first visit to a country – a taste test really. I did not have a license to take photos, so except for what you will see in the next post on Tuti Island, I only have words to share with you. I hope this provides a glimpse of what I saw and experienced in Khartoum.
Arriving. On the plane I was surrounded by Arabic for the first time in nearly a decade. When the doors of the plane opened it was like being hit with the air from a hot, dry oven. Then the air-conditioned bus from the plane to terminal took us past a row of white planes with â€œUNâ€ painted on their sides. Every bag is x-rayed upon entry to the country – the search is for alcohol. For the first time in my parentâ€™s life, they have drivers – who drive fully armored Land Cruisers and Suburbans. Whenever they can, they walk places.
Ancient roots. In ancient times, Northern Sudan was Upper Egypt… upper because it is the up the Nile, which flows from South to North. Anyway you think about it, ancient Egypt counts as ancient. We went to the museum and saw pottery, jewelry, fresnos, and temples that were 1,000- 4,500 years old. I fully admit to telling dad, â€œIâ€™ll take one of those.â€ I was referring to several of the beaded 4,000 plus year-old necklaces on display. They were simple, unique, and elegant. There were three â€˜smallâ€™ temples on display (size of a house – very small in comparison to what is found in Egypt). They would have been flooded by the building of the Aswan dam, and so they were just up and moved. I have to say I appreciate that they are accessible in Khartoum and not buried under water. I still have not decided if the the graffiti from people carving their names (mostly dated in the 1800â€˜s – relatively recently travelers) into the stone temples next to hieroglyphs adds to the history or is just sad.
Christianity. My parents are part of a truly international church. In my experience, this is an incredibly rare and awesome thing. Where are you from? Tanzania. Southern Sudan.Â Uganda. Philippines. North Sudan. America. Kenya. I know there were others too… but my memory fails me.Â Beautiful people and beautiful souls worshipping and growing together. In Khartoum, Islam is the dominant religion. But this was not always so – there was an entire section of the museum dedicated to Christian frescos from 1,000 years ago. We could say that that Islam came in and took over. But, the pastor of this church had a profound statement about this – Christianity failed the Christians as it became increasingly â€˜religiousâ€™ and filled with tradition. A thought truly worth pondering from this Sudanese pastor.
Dress. The temperatures this season are typically 110-120F during the day and a cool mid-90â€™s during the night. As I stretched out in bed the first night, I could feel the cement wall was radiating heat into my room. And the women are covered. But, mostly not the full black veils that only show they eyes, simply fully covered. Tight long-sleeved shirts go under blouses and sleeveless shirts to provide modesty and a 4.5 meter piece of fabric is often wrapped around the body and then loosely draped as a scarf over the head and arms to provide modesty. But there is a flare of Africa in these scarves – they are full of rich colors and designs making the women look elegant. But the men look cooler in flowing white dresses and turbans.
Perspective. I consider a sunny day to be great weather – the sun makes me smile and lifts my spirit. But, at this time of year, a sand-filled sky in Khartoum means cooler weather. I watched a haboob, or sand storm, roll in one evening. We were standing on one side of the Nile and there was a white mosque on the other side that stood out perfectly against the brown and red backdrop of the sand. Less than a minute later, it disappeared as the wall of sand swallowed it up. Walking in the haboob later – wind filled with sand – was not fun. But who was I to complain about the rain that came later and the temperatures that lowered by about 15 degrees? â€˜Good weatherâ€™ is definitely determined by oneâ€™s perspective.
To me, Khartoum had a Middle Eastern, or Egyptian flavor, with a bit of East Africa tossed into the mix. It was familiar and new all in one. This was probably facilitated by being with my parents – waffles in the morning, chicken on the grill at night, and conversations on comfy couches. Not a place where I would be excited to live, but not a place where I would refuse to live. I remain intrigued by the culture and curious about recent and ongoing histories that I cannot pretend to understand. Maybe someday I will get another taste of this land and people. But for right now, I remain curled up in my favorite reading chair at home. And it feels good.