I am doing this entire blog by voice control (dictaphone)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 ;)
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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...
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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".
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 ;)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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...
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..."
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - waiting in the heat
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga