Sudan - deeper down the rabbit hole
I've got a plan. But it's taking time
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 :(
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.
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 :)
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?
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?
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?
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...
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.
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 :)
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 ;)
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?
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?!? ;)
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.
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 ;)
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! ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - feeling alright
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
ONCE UPON A SAGA