Sudan - deeper down the rabbit hole

I've got a plan. But it's taking time

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When I entered Sudan I had a visa valid for 2 months. That is quite handy now. Eritrea is a relatively small mountainous country at the Red Sea. It's very beautiful and the people are friendly. Eritrea is to become the 126th country of the Saga, but it is putting up quite a fight. I figured it would as Eritrea is well known amongst travelers as a country which guards its borders closely. In fact you may find several well traveled people who had to give up on Eritrea. "Why" is not for me to answer...but there could be many reasons.
 
There is much which is unplanned within the Saga. Because if there wasn't then it wouldn't be an adventure. However I came well prepared in regards to Eritrea and I contacted several sources within Eritrea more than a year ago! It's no secret that the initial plan seems to have failed. A new plan to obtain a visa has been put in motion and the results will not be visible until after at least 7-10 more days. Mainly because plan B encompasses beginning the immigration process in Eritrea from the bottom again and that's a 2 week process. Bummer :(
 
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I'm pretty tired in every way. Mentally and physically tired. GSS is taking care of me so that I have an apartment to stay in. My own room and my own bathroom as well. I have access to warm showers and I have noticed that my showers are getting longer and longer. Simply letting the warm water run across my Scandinavian body. I sleep longer as well. It's a result of going to bed later and later. First around 2am. Then 3am...4am...last night I turned the lights off at 6am! These can be signs of mild depression. I've been away from family, friends and country for a very long time. But I'm nowhere near giving up. Procrastination has lately become a larger part of my day. I wouldn't be this far if it wasn't for the kindness of strangers. I owe so much to so many. This Saga became a "people project" long ago. You might think that the Saga is a country project...but it really isn't. 
 
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In fact I have for years looked back at the Saga and concluded that it isn't even a "travel project". It just so happens to be a project which involves an enormous amount of traveling. I aim to inspire, educate and entertain you all. I aim to build up more awareness of the hard and very important work of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement. I aim to become the first person in history to visit every single country completely without flying. I guess the last one makes it a travel project anyway? But it's the least important part for me these days. I figure the most important part of this project is to show as many as possible that perception is reality and that there commonly is a gap between what most people perceive to be reality and what reality in fact is. And it is my personal belief that most people rate their perception below actual reality. It turns out to be quite a job, but I regularly hear from many of you that this Saga has altered your world view to something better. Thank you :)
 
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I tried to take control by eating popcorn and watching Titanic. Then we had a power cut + the last 45 minutes of the movie were scrambled so I couldn't see it. Control is an illusion.
 
Let's not kid ourselves; there is plenty of horror in the world and we need to come together to change that! But most of us are comfortable not making any change at all. That is counterproductive. For the following I might get a few harsh words from the Trekkies. I'm no Star Trek fan, but I think I have seen most of the movies and at least a number of episodes from some of the series. As far as I understand the concept then it takes place in the future at a time where planet earth has found peace. There is no more racism on earth. No more pollution and no more decease. Basically earth has found its utopian state. The starship called "Enterprise" is roaming space and discovering new worlds throughout the universe. The worlds that they encounter all represent current state problems of earth. As such a planet is terrorized by war, decease, greed, racism, anger, pollution, devastating storms and so on. So in fact the viewers of the show are discovering earth like problems all across the universe. Quite an interesting concept, but not enough to make me watch it all. The point I'm trying to make here is that if we all more or less agree that utopia would be a world where we live in peace, have no decease, are not threatened by climate change, are technologically advanced, have no racism and so on. Definitely sounds like a pretty sweet planet to me?
 
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So please explain to me; what are we doing building walls between countries, increasing fear of immigrants, neglecting science, shutting down trade embargoes, denying visas, pointing rockets at each other, upgrading national military, working against common interests and that list really goes on and on and on? If we agree on utopia then why are we not striving towards it? Yes, there is much evil and destruction on our planet. But try to think of it as a lake. And then think of humanity as an ocean. I have moved my Scandinavian body across more than 160,000 km (100,000 mi) and I have seen into the eyes of people from 125 countries on 4 continents. I have seen nothing that convinces me that there is more evil than good. By all means there is far more good than anything else. Most people are simply people who are trying to get by in life and make the best of it. People are just people. It's the few that control the big movements around our globe and as such make it either better or worse. Which side are you on?
 
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William Hayes is an US American NFL player who doesn't believe in dinosaurs, but does believe in mermaids. How about that? There are probably not many people left who believe that our planet is flat? But there are bound to be some. Football is a global language and I cannot even begin to imagine how many times I have been asked if I like football? I don't dislike football - I just don't get wrapped up in it. But all around the world people have their favorite teams in the U.K.: Manchester, Liverpool, Arsenal etc. By large people all around the world are watching the same matches and cheering for their favorite teams and players. It's a language I don't speak, but when asked I just answer my favorite team is Arsenal and that they used to have a Danish player named Nicklas Bendtner. That usual gets me enough recognition. Some of my favorite interests are rooted within topics of nature, science and space. A cool reference is that if every book on earth was burned then the only books which would eventually return over time exactly as they were are science books. Novels, religion and fantasy wouldn't come back as they were. Isn't that an interesting though? 
 
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While procrastinating I have been watching a lot of videos listening to people such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Brian Green, Sam Harris, Noam Chomsky, Yuval Noam Harari and others. Chomsky and Harari are the odd ones out on that list, but they certainly delivers food for thought. As humans I have long believed that we might be the only species on earth that can accelerate our knowledge as fast as we do. We can literally be better tomorrow than we are today...perpetually! And yet videos of confused kittens and clumsy pandas continue to dominate the internet...
 
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A "secret" Eritrean hangout in Khartoum. A nice place for coffee and relaxing.
 
Deeper down the rabbit hole is a direct reference to Lewis Carrolls famous book: Alice in Wonderland. There's a flaw within the Saga which is that the longer I stay in one country the more attached I become to it. As such I have spent an entire month in Sudan now although I originally hoped to be in Tunisia by now. Eritrea is holding me in place and it's not like we haven't "been here before" for various reasons. 2 months in Greenland, several weeks in the USA, a long stay in Poland, several visits to Cameroon and Gabon, a month in Congo...the list goes on. If you were to spend a day in 200 countries then it would cost you 200 days of your life. A week in each would amount to about 4 years and a month in each would jump to 16 years! I'm only doing the Saga once and I'm determined to do it right the first time! The Red Cross Red Crescent coats me roughly 2 days in each country so that's about 400 days. Visas and finding vessels which will take me are another massive amount of days, weeks and months. We sleep roughly a third of our lives so I might have been asleep for about a year of the Saga by now. You could drop in on every country in the world in a very short amount of time compared to what I'm doing. But you simply couldn't with my schedule. Social media within the Saga is now counting tens of thousands and it has become a lot more demanding. I will definitely need to manage it differently in the future. As a reference to numbers I grew up in a village with about 1,200 people. I find that thought amusing.
 
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Dancing with Abdallah (the groom) at his wedding. I stand out a bit ;)
 
Sudan is such an incredible hospitable country. I once had the opportunity to ride through Iran on a motorcycle with a dear friend from Australia. I have since then always claimed that Iran is the most hospitable and friendly country I knew of. That is strongly contested by Sudan! Often it's offensive to try to pay for something when you're out with the Sudanese. I would advise you not to try too hard as you can seriously offend whoever you are with. In Denmark where I'm from we commonly share the costs divided by the amount of people present. In Sudan 1 person usually takes the entire costs and it is exceedingly rarely the foreign guest. I'm truly meeting people left and right and I have been invited to yet another wedding, but had to decline due to other engagements. That's crazy compared to some cultures. But here in Sudan you might as well just get used to it. I have been receiving a lot of positive attention due to the henna on my left hand. It remains a joyful reminder of a very happy event. Abdallah and his wife Elaaf are currently in Egypt for their honeymoon. The henna has tainted my skin which means that even after washing my hands extensively it remains very visual. It will probably be gone within a few weeks, but my nails will remain colored for yet another 6 months until they grow out. I will keep you posted :)
 
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My henna is slowly coming off. But it doesn't look nice anymore.
 
As I meet more and more people names become harder and harder to remember. But I am definitely becoming a far more familiar face in many places. It's a little awkward when someone knows your name and you can't return the favor. But I have a few tricks to get around it or I simply admit to the situation. So many people randomly pop into my mind during a day. I'm momentarily with former work colleagues, Red Cross volunteers, passengers from past transportation, people from Facebook, new friends, old friends, people who have helped me... Don't be surprised if I sometimes think about you. But be surprised if we have never met or been in contact! Because that would just be weird ;)
 
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Corinthias General Manager Nicholas Borg invited me to come and speak before the staff. Here are a few members of the more than 600 strong staff.
 
Sudan is doing quite nicely in spite of the sanctions imposed by the USA. There is much trade to be found from elsewhere and as such you see South African pizza chains, Lebanese and Syrian restaurants, Indian influence, Chinese influence and a variety of people from various countries. Obama lifted the sanctions towards the end of his presidency, but on a 6 month probation period. Sudan is about halfway through it and if they are completely lifted in 3 months then Sudan could see some major change coming this way. Trump added Sudan to his list of 7 nations which need to undergo "extreme vetting". It's also known as the "travel ban". But as a business man I figure that Trump won't reinstate the sanctions. However who knows with that administration? What's going on his country right now is rather confusing and the more I investigate the more I wonder? I met with a Sudanese business man who found a Trump to be good for the time being. He stated that Trump is bringing much needed attention to many issues and is really "stirring things up". So he was happy to see Trump as the 45th president but not for long and certainly not for 4 years. It used to be Hillary and Trump that everyone was debating throughout the Sagas journey throughout Africa. Every country was debating it. Now it's hard to strike a conversation without bringing up Trump sooner or later. He surely doesn't have a lot of fans throughout this continent. I guess it's not just confused kittens and clumsy pandas that are on people's minds?
 
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A "secluded" hangout for smoking shisha. Members only!
 
125 countries behind us! I have yet to come across a country where people have 3 arms, 4 eyes or 11 fingers. We are all pretty much the same all across the planet so why do people focus on the very few things that make us ever so slightly different? I find my self wondering if we would have racism if we couldn't see? We are born with 5 senses, but imagine if we only had 4 and no one could see. Would we still develop racism based on smell, sound, touch or taste? Probably yes? Since last week when I took part in the wedding I have been wondering if I offended anyone by wearing jellabiya and headdress? It is traditional Sudanese and Egyptian clothing native to people around the Nile. Most people my age or younger at the wedding wore suits or a tuxedo. Mostly the elders were wearing jellabiya's so I was very much the odd one out. Especially on the dance floor I was pretty much the only one looking like that. And then you can add to the equation that my skin was a fair bit lighter than everyone else's. Most people didn't seem to mind while a great many found it fantastic and couldn't congratulate me enough. I was a hit on the dance floor which isn't a sentence I'm likely to ever bring up again. However a seasoned woman sitting behind me at dinner had her eyes fixed on me for most of the meal: and she wasn't smiling. I was sure that I had offended her, but my new friend Daud explained that it couldn't be the case. He said: "first of all she was probably wondering if you would be suitable for her daughter. And her thoughts would probably also be in who you were? Were you close to the groom? Close to the family? Why was a pale Scandinavian present at the wedding and wearing a jellabiya?" Daud furthermore explained that the Sudanese take great pleasure in seeing foreigners take interest in Sudanese culture. He went on to tell me something else which caught my interest. Daud said that women in Sudan will typically show affection by putting henna on a mans hand. They might even fight for the right to do it. My first layer was put on by the grooms very attractive young sister. The second layer was added by his well seasoned aunt!! Oh?!? ;)
 
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I did pretty much go "all in". I'm happy it was received well :)
 
I'm in great company here in Sudan. I had a meeting with Maersk's (www.maerskline.com) country manager Nadeem, where we discussed the best strategy forward for the Saga. He's a well traveled man himself and I put a lot of stock in his opinion. Besides he is very likable and we get along well. The staff of GSS (www.gss-contracting.com/is very accommodating towards me. I see them nearly everyday and although Hatem has left for Egypt I still have great company from others. My friend Mayada has recently introduced me to someone Eritrean who opened up that circle for me. So lots of laughs and networking there too. But here's a really interesting one: Sara and Mike from Ireland are here! If you don't remember then I met those two Irish travelers in the north of Ethiopia not that long ago. They then flew up to Egypt and came by road down south to Khartoum here in Sudan. It was great to see them again. My English accent moves around depending on who I'm hanging out with. When my fiancée was here I got a horrible Danish/English accent compared to the far more charming Australian/English accent I had hanging out with Luke in Somalia and Djibouti. I get a slightly more Irish/English accent when I'm together with Sara and Mike. I just can't help it? I seem to assimilate whoever I'm around and it's in autopilot. I did a video for you guys while my fiancée was here which I'll soon be done editing and you can judge for yourself ;) Sara and Mike went off to Port Sudan and I'll catch them when they return. It's always good to have friends across borders.
 
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While writing this someone just donated to the Red Cross here on the webpage! Cheers!! It's been a few weeks since the last one so it is much appreciated. You can donate too and it is much needed. Remember the lake versus ocean I referenced earlier on? Well, we better dry out that lake and it requires funding. So please through a few coins at the Red Cross through Once Upon A Saga so it looks like I'm doing my job ;)
 
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Sara and Mike from Ireland :)
 
And speaking of funding you should know that we have now created a company called Once Upon A Saga IVS. So we are getting closer to a much needed crowdfunding campaign for this project. I don't reference this enough but I have 3 very good friends onboard as project members: Ann-Christina whom I have known since before the birds could fly. She is a hardworking mother and wife who never rests, is constantly surrounded by engagements and still finds time to help out with the Saga. There's Parth whom I have known since color TV was introduced and he is responsible for a lot of the cool stuff like graphics and clever ideas. Parth's wife is expecting so we know where his head is these days! Finally there's Søren who appeared in my life about the same era the dinosaurs vanished (sorry William Hayes) and made sure this webpage got up and running. He has a beautiful wife and 2 twin daughters besides his day job so it's a blessing that he too is a part of the project group. While we are name dropping I might just mention my friend Kuno from the good old business school days. He advanced to become a partner and owner of a accounting firm and has advised me again and again on large and small. My father is a solid wall that I can bounce a ball up against whenever I need it be and my mothers love is a mothers love! Nuff said! I'm blessed with good friends as well as an extraordinary following on social media. So I get plenty of cheerful comments and lots of VoIP calls when needed. My brilliant sisters are there for me and I better stop now before the list grows to long. But suffice to say I'm not alone. Far away from home but not alone.
 
I might just mention one final person. My unbelievably wonderful fiancée whom I'm so lucky to have in my life. She helps a lot regarding the Saga with all sorts of stuff I won't even mention. But most of all she keeps me sane and balanced when needed and that's no small thing. If she wasn't there then I surely wouldn't have gotten this far. And here we all are: 4 times around planet earth in distance, 4 continents, 125 countries and far richer than what can be measured in money.
 
Have a great day! ;)
 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - feeling alright
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
ONCE UPON A SAGA 
 
 
 
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Sudan: The perfect vacation and a wedding

I am doing this entire blog by voice control (dictaphone)
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Just hanging with the boys. 
 
Wonderful new world. I can't believe that I can sit here in front of my phone and speak into it and the words appear. So let's try and see if this is going to work?

The last time I wrote all of you, was just before my fiancée arrived. I had been preoccupied with public speaking, finding a way into Eritrea, learning about my new surroundings, The Sudanese Red Crescent and preparing for my fiancées arrival. So what happened then?

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Well, that she finally arrived is what happened :) But first I had to find out where we were going to stay for the first few nights. My friends Hatem, Marwan and Mohammed we're not in favor of the place I had selected for me and my fiancée (Le). For me it was just a matter of a place to stay for the first two nights. My fiancée is not so picky, so I was sure that she would be able to handle a few rough nights, before we headed out on new adventures. Besides I felt it was best to save money for activities. In the end the room is just for sleeping and there is so much to explore in Sudan. 

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Sudan is at least as entitled to thoughts about pyramids and hieroglyphs as Egypt. Perhaps even more. 

 
But Hatem and Marwan would have none of that. They did a lot of research and found a hotel that was willing to sponsor us. But then only 2 days before her arrival it was canceled. So Hatem and Marwan did their very best to find another solution, which meant that we had to walk around the streets of Khartoum the entire night. Well, truthfully it wasn't that bad, but we still did a lot of searching.
 
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Salah Elamin is the Danish Honorary Consul and owner of Lisamin Safari Hotel. 
 
The next day I had a meeting with the Danish honorary Consul. He told me to come to Lisamin Safari Hotel (http://lisaminsafari.com/) to have a meeting with him. The name of the Honorary Consular is Salah and he's a great guy. It turned out that Salah was also the owner of the hotel which was quite handy! Because then I was in the position to ask him if he might be interested in striking a deal with me? As it turned out he simply liked what I was doing and wanted to help me so he offered two nights complementary.
 
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The night finally arrived when my fiancée landed in Khartoum airport. I had shaved my beard off for the occasion and was excited to go and receive her. Hatem offered to drive me to the airport and pick her up. It was 4 AM in the morning so that was quite an offer. But that is just the kind of guy he is. Afterwards we went straight to the hotel and fell asleep (without Hatem).
 
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We woke up later for breakfast and then ventured out to see a little bit of the city. It was a relax full first day and in the evening we had some spectacular Lebanese food together with Hatem, Marwan and some of the boys at a place near Al Waha Mall. In fact there are a lot of Lebanese and Syrian's present in Sudan which means there's a lot of good food too ;)
 
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Adil is one of the boys :) 
 
The next day we ventured out into the city again. In Sudan you need to take care of your paperwork. You need to register your visa within three days of arrival. And if you want to travel anywhere then you also need a travel permit. The hotel took care of that, but we still have to wait for it. So meanwhile we ventured out to discover the National Museum. I had already heard that the museum was good - but it was much better than what I expected for some reason. There's a first floor and a second floor. The first floor is full of archaeological artifacts which most of all resemble what you've seen in movies from Egypt.
 
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I guess that's the world we live in? Nobody has really heard about Sudan while everybody has heard about Egypt. The second floor contains an exhibition of paintings and ornaments from the Christian era. It is quite surreal to see something like that in an almost all Muslim country. But I guess that speaks towards the richness of the culture and history of Sudan. Around the museum building there are many displays of buildings and walls with hieroglyphs. The building is also surrounded by a lovely garden and it is all in all a very nice place to visit. And quite cheap too ($1)!
 
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Just outside the museum we sat underneath a tree along the road and had some tea (Although this is the wintertime Sudan is still rather hot). The way the locals deal with that is by drinking hot tea. If that surprises you and then consider that if you drink something cold then your body needs energy to heat it up and that actually heats up your body. 
 
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On that day we also did some research on where we would be able to enjoy sushi. There is a five-star luxury hotel in Khartoum called Corinthia and I guess it's the only place in perhaps all of Sudan which serves sushi? We changed some dollars into pounds and then we were ready for the next day. Hatem had organized for a vehicle to pick us up early in the morning. We were going to see the pyramids at Meroë and then continue to Port Sudan afterwards.
 
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The conversation went a little like this: "Do I need to wear a scarf?" "No". "I think it's better if I wear a scarf?" "Okay, here you go". "It is too hot! I think I'll take it off again!" "Okay".
 
The next morning at 6 AM we waited for the driver outside the hotel. There isn't much in Sudan which is on time and this driver was no exception. But in his defense he was only 20 minutes late. Then we have to go and find gas which wasn't easy this early in the morning. And then we finally were on our way. Sudan is an extraordinary beautiful country which becomes quite apparent as soon as you get outside the city. The desert and the fields stretch as far as the eyes can see. Small villages dot the surrounding landscape and coffee and tea is available left and right near the villages. As you look across the horizon you see camels. It is a special kind of beauty. After about four hours we reached the Meroë pyramids. Meroë is an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile and was the south capital of the Napata/Meroitic Kingdom, that spanned the period c. 800 BCE – c. 350 CE. There's lots of history to be found in this region. Like when the Romans invaded Egypt and battled the Meroitic Kingdom. Eventually a peace treaty was signed between them almost 2000 years ago. All of this fascinates me...
 
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So there we were, we entered the ancient city and pretty much had the pyramids all to ourselves. It was just me, my fiancée and three guys with three camels who desperately wanted us to ride their camels. Two hours seems to be enough at the pyramids. It is a very fascinating site and there aren't many buildings or other forms of infrastructure nearby, so it makes for great photos. In fact I guess, I would describe it as a place that is well worth visiting, but don't get your expectations up too high. Soon we were back on the road again.
 
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The road to Port Sudan is very long. We both nodded off a few times and once I woke up, and we were in between the mountains. Where did they come from? 
 
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A few hours after that we finally reached Port Sudan. Tourism isn't exactly booming within the country so you can often strike a good deal with a hotel - and we did. From the hotel we were able to organize snorkeling. The same Red Sea which follows the coast of Egypt continues more than 800 km down of Sudan. The main difference being that in Sudan it is predominately untouched. Port Sudan is a very relaxed city and we felt safe and welcome. As such you could describe a parallel society within the country. Not to say that people are not friendly in the capital, people are friendly all over this country. As an example of the difference shisha is not served out in the open within Khartoum. And at one of my favorite shisha places Le was not permitted to smoke Shisha. It was only for men. However Sudan being Sudan, she was rejected in such a kind way that we afterwards felt like saying thank you. But in Port Sudan life is much different. There is the obvious difference which is that the capital is inland and Port Sudan is at the Red Sea. But also Shisha comes at a third of the price in Port Sudan, it is openly smoked at the wharf and women can smoke wherever they want. 
 
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Don't smoke! It is bad for your health.
 
In Khartoum Le was at first concerned with having her beautiful black hair flowing freely under the sky and asked for a scarf. This however quickly changed and she took the scarf off again, when she realized it wasn't necessary. But in Port Sudan we never even considered such things. The atmosphere was simply very relaxed.
 
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We decided to stay there for a few days and enjoyed the lovely atmosphere. We tried out different restaurants, we had some fresh fish and we even managed to go and visit the Maersk Line office (http://www.maersk.com/en). We did the kind of stuff that couples do: We held hands, we watch movies, we talked, we explored, we enjoyed and everything else that makes up life. As it is with everyone else, people are just people. 
 
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Visiting Maersk Line in Port Sudan. Great crew!! 
 
Our snorkeling experience was great. For about $35 we were picked up in the morning and brought to a glass bottom boat. We then headed out to sea and were fitted with masks and snorkels. The water temperature was just fine and the reef was unbelievable. Apart from the many colorful fish we were lucky enough to spot a sea turtle! We did two different sites and at the second site there was a ship wreck which attracted the sea life.
 
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Our guide was in the water with us and was excited to show us around. It was very relaxed. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry. When I saw something moving underneath a cluster of coral I signaled our guide who came over to me. I pointed toward something which was moving. It had clear red and black stripes. It turned out to be a very poisonous sea snake and the guide urged us to leave it alone. Now that is solid advice ;) However I wouldn't worry anyway as I hold a dive certificate and know that most of the creatures of the sea will leave you alone, if you do the same for them.
 
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We were joined by Luke and Carol from France and Chris from the U.K. 
 
We were fortunate to discover that GSS (www.gss-contracting.com/), which is the company that Hatem works for, had a vehicle which was heading from Port Sudan to Khartoum right around when we wanted to return. So we were able to hitch a ride. Good stuff!
 
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Maersk has been the a great support to the Saga!
 
That however turned out to be an extraordinary long drive. About 14 hours as we stopped many times for various reasons. We reached the Lisamin Safari Hotel late in the evening, had a delicious Lebanese meal and went to bed tired. 
 
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Back at Lisamin Safari Hotel. A GREAT place in Khartoum!
 
The next morning we got up and packed our bags. We have been fortunate to receive an invitation from Corinthia, where they offered us a complementary room. The Corinthia (www.corinthia.com/en) is a five-star luxury hotel overlooking the Nile. So this would be a great way to end a great vacation.
 
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Our view of the Blue Nile from the room :)
 
The Corinthia is a very classy place and we were given a room on the 11th floor. The view from our room had a great view. Magnificent!
 
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Our last meal together. Dinning at the Rickshaw Restaurant at the top of Khartoum!
 
In the evening the General Manager (Nicky Borg) had arranged for us to have a complimentary meal at the Rickshaw restaurant. A specific table had been selected for us and we dined in absolute luxury. First we received our entrée which was sushi (mission accomplished). That was followed by a soup, salad and the main dish. It all tasted amazing and the staff was very kind and attending.
 
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It's quite a drop from the 11th floor.
 
As such we both owe a very special thanks to Nicky, but also to the entire staff who made our stay so special. Around 2 AM in the morning we had to leave the hotel as my fiancée was flying back home to Denmark. I escorted her to the airport and kissed her goodbye. And once again I would like to bring up one of my favorite Shakespeare quotes: "Parting is such sweet sorrow".
 
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Now you didn't think that we actually got married - did you? Of course we didn't. Can you imagine how many family members and friends would be heartbroken if we pulled a fast one like that? No, but this story does include a spectacular wedding! Because I was lucky enough to be introduced to Abdallah through Hatem. Abdallah was getting married to his beautiful bride Elaaf and they had chosen to follow strict traditions, so they had not seen each other for one full month! But this is 2017 so obviously they both had smart phones and Facebook and weren't completely disconnected ;)

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It all started when I was invited to Abdallah's henna party. I went together with Hatem and I'm sure Marwan would've been there as well if it wasn't because he was off on a business venture in Dubai. As we approached the neighborhood it was difficult to park the car because of all the other vehicles. Everybody was smiling and in a good mood. We entered the a garden and walked up the stairs to the top of the building, where we found a gathering of about 30 people. There was a woman singing, there was a band playing, men and women were separated and the men were dancing in the center of the roof. When I say that men and women were separated, then that isn't entirely the case. It was more like an arrangement where the men were seated on the left and the women were seated on the right, but everyone was speaking together and having a good time. There was also a camera guy who was pretty much "in your face". But his footage was great and could be seen on a large flatscreen which had been put up for the occasion. Party on the roof! Great stuff!

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Abdallah (the groom) and I getting our first layer of henna put on. On the second layer it turns black. It stays on your hand for 2-4 weeks. But sits in the nails until they grow out.

There was a lot of interest in having someone like me there, so I was regularly pulled into the center of the circle so that I could dance for a few seconds. I am normally very shy when it comes to dancing, but the Sudanese have a way of making me feel at ease. As the night progressed the music slowed down and everyone gathered around the henna. The groom called me to come and sit next to him. Abdallah was the first to have henna laid on his hands, but I was next.

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That is my hand after my 2nd layer next to Abdallah's sister. See what I mean :)

The Sudanese are masters when it comes to creating decorations with henna. But the beautiful creations are only for the women. The henna which is applied to men is much more crude and sort of tribal. That night ended around 2 AM for Hatem and I, and there were a lot of people still partying when we left.

 

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Sudanese weddings can be many different things. But the way that Abdallah and Elaaf chose to go about it was a seven day festival culminating in a big party. So the following day Hatem and I showed up again. And we partied again. And I had a second layer of henna applied to my hand. Does anybody remember David from World Adventurer (world-adventurer.com/)? David is also traveling to every country in the world, but in a different style. He's a great guy and has already reached 188 countries! David and I first met in Gabon and then later on in São Tomé. So it was great to hear that he was making Sudan his country number 188.
 
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David and I sharing a rickshaw in Khartoum.
 
He arrived just in time for the second henna party and we invited him to join. It was great to have David around for a few days, because honestly I don't think many people understand what it is that I'm going through. And although David flies, he has a profound understanding for visa issues, bureaucracy and foreign cultures. As it happens to be, Eritrea is also David's next country, but after three days in Sudan he would return to Italy (he's very international: Belgium/Chinese born in Australia) to work things out from Europe.
 
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First an oil is applied to the hand followed by the henna paste which is scented. It sits until it dries, which is at least 1 hour. Then you can wash your hands.
 
The next day David headed out to see the pyramids and in the evening Hatem and I returned to comfort Abdallah on his last night before the wedding. That sort of turned out to be another henna party. 
 
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Mohammed and Hatem are giving me a hand. 
 
David returned the day after that and met me at Lisamin Safari Hotel for shisha and conversation. I knew I was going to the wedding in the evening and that it was going to be a big event. Perhaps 800 guests! David was invited to join the wedding and together we went to meet with Hatem. Then we got dressed up and ready to go before we joined the wedding.
 
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At the wedding with my good friend Hatem whom I owe a lot. But he would say: "Nonsense"! :)
 
It was truly a glamorous event! I could never imagine an event so grandeur in Denmark (where I come from)! There were more cameras present at the wedding than what I have seen in any television studio. Everything looked perfect. We were seated and served food and drinks while we waited for the bride and groom to arrive. Then in a grand moment, to the tune of "Chariots of fire" by Vangelis, The bride and the groom arrived and walked into the tent. Now, this was no ordinary tent! This was probably the largest tent I've ever been inside including a few circus tents. It was a beautiful moment. People were cheering, all the cameras were on them, it was the culmination of one month apart from each other and one week of preparing for the big event with friends and family.
 
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This is is a picture of true happiness! Abdallah is a handsome man :)
 
Then the band on the stage started playing and hundreds of people gathered to dance with each other. It wasn't so much one person dancing with someone else. It was more like 200 or 300 people dancing with each other all at the same time. And I was absolutely privileged when the groom spared a few seconds to dance with me. Because can you imagine having the full attention of around 800 people?!? Now that must be a night to remember!
 
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Abdallah in the air :)
 
Around 11 PM all the men had to leave the tent as it was now a time solely for the women. So we left the tent and stood outside for a while. Hatem explained that now the women would party for about an hour, and then the closest family members and friends would be invited back in. Perhaps only around 50 people. So for us the party was over. Both David and Hatem were to board an airplane the same night. In fact they had to be at the airport around 2 AM and leave at 04:10 AM. So we headed out for one last shisha together, had some pizza, talked about the party and then we split. Hatem was going home to Egypt for a month. David was flying back to Europe via Cairo. It's a small world like that. In a couple of days the newlywed couple will also fly to Egypt as they will be celebrating their honeymoon in Hurgada. It seems like everybody is going to Egypt? But not me. At least not yet.

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The Sudanese Red Crescent honored me as "humanitarian ambassador". Thank you so much!!

With the most recent developments it appears that I might be in Sudan for at least two more weeks. As I believe you all know, I am a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. The Danish Red Cross made me a goodwill ambassador due to the project (Once Upon A Saga). As such the Red Cross is not obligated to help me with any logistical matters although they independently choose to do so sometimes anyway. The Danish Red Cross has been very strict on not helping. But several national societies have been forthcoming when needed. In many ways this journey proves the unity of the Red Cross Red Crescent all around the world. So I am delighted to inform that the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) in Nairobi along with the Eritrean Red Cross Society (RCSE) are now working together to assist wherever they can regarding my entry. However it will take time...

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The transition is nearly complete...


That is all for now. I'll be back with a new blog one week from today and meanwhile none of us know what tomorrow will bring. "Life is just like a box of chocolates..."
 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - waiting in the heat
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
 
 
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From hieroglyphs to selfies - Sudan continued.

There is so much that we do not know
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Can you believe this?!? As it is, I'm already not very happy about writing these blogs, because I do it on a tablet or on a smartphone. And the entire process of getting a blog online with the writing, editing, uploading photos and more takes anywhere between 6-11 hours!! And a few hours ago I just finished writing the entire blog (3 hours), and then it disappeared?!? PUFF! Whaaaat? Please kick me when I'm lying down... anyway: here we go again:
 
According to genetic and fossil evidence Homo sapiens first appeared about 180,000 years ago. That is a really long time ago! And that has me wondering? But first let me tell you about a few of Sudans ancient kingdoms and dynasties. You may have heard about the Nubians? "Nubian" is Egyptian for "gold" and the Egyptians and the Nubians weren't always the best of friends with their kingdoms bordering each other. The first Nubian kingdoms saw their beginnings about 5,500 years ago and were dominant in terms of technology, knowledge and art. About 4,500 years ago the Kingdom of Kush rose to power and established its dynasty across Sudan and throughout Egypt. 
 
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Sudan remains mysterious to the world with many unlocked secrets just below its surface. As an example astronomical instruments have now been uncovered in the north which are at least 2,000 years older than Stonehenge. Therefore it is perhaps no great surprise that the Kush discovered steel before the Egyptians. As I remember the story, the Egyptians were lined up against the Kush. It was about to become a bloody battle as so often before. Only this time it would be remarkably one sided! The Kush had forged swords of steel while the Egyptians went into battle with the more conventional iron bladed swords. So as the steel blades struck the iron blades they were cut in half. Can you picture a surprised Egyptian warrior standing on the battlefield with only half a sword across from a pumped up Kush warrior? Game over!
 
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There has probably always been conflict and battle in the world. And it's almost always due to the few while the masses are indifferent. Eritrea is putting up a bureaucratic fight with me because I'm Danish. I don't have anything against Eritrea and I doubt that anyone there has anything against me. However there is no Danish diplomatic mission inside Eritrea and some men in fancy suits are unhappy about something. So while I couldn't imagine that the average Eritrean spends much time thinking about the average Dane, and vice versa, I'm simply stuck doing silly paperwork. At the Eritrean embassy I was asked to provide a recommendation from the Danish embassy in Sudan. But there isn't one so I asked if it would be okay to arrange for a recommendation letter from the Danish embassy in Ethiopia? The answer was no. That's how I got in touch with Salah Elamin who is the Honarary Consul General of the Royal Danish Consulate Sudan. And Salah is very likable! He almost immediately said something outspoken to me which didn't offend me the slightest. Then he immediately apologized by saying that he is very open and honest and that I should know that about him. He had me laughing a lot and promised to help me however he could. 
 
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In my experience you usually become an Honorary Consul when you are a well respected businessman with ties to both countries. Salah happens to be a well connected businessman who also runs the Lisamin Safari Lodge (http://lisaminsafari.com/). The Safari Lodge might by the way be your best choice for value in Khartoum. Check out the webpage and you'll see what I mean. Salah is the holder of a Danish passport and is Danish although you'd never guess it from speaking with him. But then he suddenly switched to Danish which is one of the many languages he knows. You'd still guess that his first language isn't Danish - but in his defense it's a hard language and he is living in Sudan. I also met his son who on the other hand spoke Danish with a real Copenhagen city accent :)
 
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Salah told me that recent discoveries point towards that the first humans may have come from what is today Sudan. So we are all Sudanese! :) Anyway this brings me back to my thoughts from earlier: If we appeared about 180,000 years ago and we today are baffled by ancient civilizations that are "only" 5-10,000 years old, then which kingdoms and empires could have gone lost 50-150,000 years ago, and are still unknown to us. And will we ever know about them? And did they ever exists?
 
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I've never seen meat presented like this in Denmark :) 
 
Sudan is a really peaceful country for the most part. It's somehow embedded in the Sudanese culture which makes them one of the most hospitable countries in the world. The capital (Khartoum) boasts around 5,000,000 citizens and yet there's no detectable threat other than crossing the road. I think I might have mentioned this last week, but I spoke with some Canadian and US American expats who said that Khartoum was the safest city they have ever been to. In fact they had never been harassed, attacked or heard stories of anyone who had, which is truly unique. Could you say the same for Paris or New York?
 
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That's good because my fiancée is due to arrive tomorrow (Saturday) and I have been busy preparing. This is an Islamic country and I had to find out what precautions there might be. Also what kind of stuff will we be doing? When it's just me then it's just me and I'm pretty much on autopilot by now. But what happens when you throw a woman into the equation? What about clothing? Can we stay in the same room? Must she cover her hair? Can we hold hands in public? Is she allowed to smoke shisha (water pipe) in public? What about bathing in the Red Sea? Ah women! You can't live with them you can't live without them! ;) It turns out that she needs to cover her legs to below the knees and she also needs to cover her shoulders. She doesn't need to cover her hair, we can hold hands and we can kiss. However it's always wise to feel out your surroundings as people might see it differently near certain government buildings and mosques. She can smoke shisha and we can stay in a hotel room together. But the locals must present a valid marriage license to do the same which creates a parallel society. And I'm not too fond of that. In other words Sudan is a country where it benefits you to be a foreigner.
 
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I have been told that once we approach Port Sudan at the Red Sea everything becomes even more relaxed. This means that we can go swimming/snorkeling without her worrying about covering shoulders and knees. So that's all pretty good. I've been doing other stuff as well. I was able to find my tetanus shot at the Royal Care Hospital but they didn't have typhus. When I asked I was told that they can treat typhus but that nationally they do not prevent it - so I might get that one in Egypt and then my vaccines are up to date again. I also applied for and received my Egyptian visa which took only 4 hours. I wish all visas were like that. Please other countries: be like Egypt! :) The main thing which has been taking my time has been the Red Cross. As a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross I was tasked with writing an "always present" story from each of the 190 countries, where you find the Red Cross or Red Crescent today. That's effectively 190 stories I need to write about the same organization. It's not as easy as it might sound. My approach has been to visit the individual national societies for each country and gather enough information to write a story, that can promote their efforts and invite more volunteers and donations. It happens that I fall behind with my writing as I try to come up with a new and different angle. So I've recently written stories for Kenya Red Cross, Ethiopia Red Cross, Somalia Red Crescent and Djibouti Red Crescent, which brings me up to date.
 
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I have yet to visit a perfect country. But what is perfection anyway? 
 
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This was my USD 0.50 lunch :)
 
Because of USA sanctions it's not possible to use American credit cards in Sudan. And you'll quickly notice that a lot of them are: MasterCard, Visa etc... So you can bring USD and then exchange them to SDG. However I hear the sanctions have been lifted recently. Anyway: how much should we budget spending for the week my fiancée is in Sudan? Well my first though was that Sudan is pretty cheap. But then I slowly realized that I didn't really know what most things costs in Sudan? The case being that shortly after I reached Khartoum I met Hatem and Marwan.
 
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In this project we like to say that a stranger is a friend you've never met before. And that's great because it gets proven over and over again. Both Hatem and Marwan are lawyers although Hatem now works for GSS as their HSE manager. Hatem is Egyptian and Marwan is of Nubian decent (Sudan). And if you remember the brief little introduction to Egyptian/Nubian history in the beginning, then you can see that it all worked out fine. Because Hatem and Marwan are great friends. And they have both become friends of mine too. They have been chauffeuring me around between all my meetings, they have been taking me to restaurants and clubs, they have introduced me to people and have organized for, and helped me, on a daily basis. Furthermore they have basically paid everything. But I fixed a leaky toilet in Hatem's apartment the other day so we are pretty equal. NO! We are far from equal! :) I'm so much into their debt that it's ridiculous, but they don't see it like that at all. In fact whenever I have tried to pay I have been risking a severe and violent beating from the two of them. This is their culture and I am a guest. Ergo: I do not pay. Besides they also see it as a contribution to the Saga. To top it all off I have been staying in Hatem's apartment almost since I arrived 10 days ago.
 
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Nubians and Egyptians after all those years ;)
 
Okay, let's end this blog with a funny story. Because a few days ago Hatem had a bunch of friends over and we were sitting in the living room when a guy named Adil said: "You're not going to believe this!" Adil works at a company, but has been attending classes lately regarding business and management. For this a Canadian in his mid 60s has flown in to give a series of lectures. This was the 10 day and the Canadian was complaining (only slightly because he was Canadian) about the heat. This is when the class learned that the Canadian had been wearing a BULLETPROOF VEST under his clothes for the past 10 days?!? The students were baffled?!? But apparently the Canadian had been advised to do so before he left home?
 
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Khartoum University saw its beginning in 1902.
 
Now here's what I think about that: Fair game. He's Canadian and pretty much every other country in the world can be perceived less friendly than his :) But somehow he should have been aware about his surroundings. I mean: This was his 10th day! He should have been aware how ridiculous it was already on his second day. Then on the other hand I did once meet a guy who proclaimed that we have a day in Denmark each year where everyone is naked? I guess I have missed out on that somehow throughout my childhood, adolescence, career etc...people are just people (and some of them are weird).
 
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Khartoum University was my 8th public talk in Sudan. And I haven't needed a bulletproof vest once ;)
 
Oh?! Let's really, really end this blog with this! Have you heard that we recently discovered 7 earth sized planets in a solar system only 40 light years from earth?!! 3 of them are firmly within the habitable zone which means that there could be water and almost certainly life as we know it! In theory there could be life on all 7 planets! Now all we need to do is work out how we could travel with the speed of light and then put aside 40 years to get there. I sense something coming up: Once Upon A Saga 2 ;)
 
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Al Sunut forest - and some plastic.

 

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - stuck but moving
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
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