Sudan: "land of the black" - Mysterious, friendly and fun
Sometimes I feel like we got it all wrong
I grew up in Denmark. There is much that you can complain about in Denmark. And people do. It's sort of a national sport to complain about stuff back home. When you lean back and see it all in a bigger perspective then I guess many of our complaints seem rather silly. And while others are legit it all becomes rather relative to the rest of the world. Denmark is a pretty good place to call home.
Sudan literally means "land of the black". It's a rather mysterious country with an extraordinary history and colorful culture. Until 2011 Sudan was the largest country in all of Africa. But South Sudan broke off and left Sudan to be the 3rd largest country in Africa and the 15th largest in the world. It's a huge country! You're unlikely to have heard about Sudan in connection to anything else than a region called Darfur. Darfur has been conflicted for a long while, but you can safely travel there if you take your precautions. I've been told that it's a beautiful part of the country. Anyway you should know that 75% of Sudan is not Darfur. You should also know that Sudan has 853 km (530 mi) of pristine coastline along the Red Sea. You know, that same Red Sea which tourists visit all the time to go snorkeling and diving. But in Sudan you get it pretty much unspoiled and all to yourself...because people don't know. You also have a small area of Sudan which contains more pyramids than what have been found throughout all of Egypt. But most people don't know that either... If you only take one thing away with you from what you read today then let it be this: the Sudanese are famed across the world for being amongst the most hospitable people on the planet - and I agee.
I entered Sudan from Ethiopia which is known to be the highlands and most mountainous country in all of Africa. About here I'd like to remind you that Africa is that huge continent with 54 countries and that to go once around the continent would be equal to go once around the planet. Sudan is far less mountainous and I immediately felt the heat! But a minibus got me from the border and to Al Qadarif which is a very nice and very Arabic town about 2 hours from Ethiopia. That's where I spent my first night. 3 wheeled motorcycles (tuctucs) where a common sight and a tuctuc driver brought me to a pretty posh hotel. I thought he understood my simple Arabic instructions but obviously he didn't. So I asked around and quickly found a cheaper place which suited me fine. I then drank as much water as a thirsty camel.
My first Sudanese dinner was great! But in reality you find a lot of Syrian and a Lebanese food too - which is also great!
In Sudan drinking water is available left and right. You can obviously buy it bottled but you can also simply help yourself to a cup of free water in most stores and on the streets. I really appreciated that as I walked about exploring Al Qadarif. I was feeling the heat as the sun set and prepared me for my first Sudanese night. And this wasn't even summer? What would the heat be like in the summertime? As the sun set people came out and the streets filled with life. The smell of the sizzling meat which was being prepared left and right filled the air. Sporadic fruit juice shops popped up as Al Qadarif came to life and I enjoyed a refreshing mixed juice while I took in the new culture. In some ways it felt like we were now coming full circle. We started in Morocco and now we were once again approaching Northern Africa. One of my heroes, Mohammad Ibn Battuta, is easily one of histories greatest travelers. He has such an interesting story which takes place when he was alive back in the 14th century. Ibn Battuta is recognized for traveling around 130,000 km (80,778 mi) on an incredible journey from Morocco to as far as Sri Lanka. I can hardly believe that I have now traveled much further than that without taking a single flight. In fact the distance we have covered throughout the Saga nears going halfway to the moon! No wonder I'm tired...
Al Qadarif - charming at night. Less so under the sun ;)
You might recall I met Steve Felder of Maersk Line (www.maerskline.com) when I was in Nairobi, Kenya. He connected me to all his country managers throughout Eastern Africa and that has in fact been crucial to how far we have come. And it was through Maersk in Djibouti that I was introduced to David Hanse from BMMI (www.bmmigroup.com) who happens to manage a devision in Sudan called GSS. David happened to be in business in Sudan as I reached the capital city Khartoum. It might interest you that Khartoum is the very point where the Blue Nile runs into the White Nile and they both merge into the Nile, which runs all the way up to and through Egypt. Anyway, as soon as I reached Khartoum, David sent a driver to pick me from the bus and bring me to his office. I was quite exhausted which is something that had been building up for a while. So I was delighted to see David again and have lunch with him at the office. He then offered me to go to sleep for a few hours in an apartment on top of the office. I had a quick shower and then my lights went out. Later that evening David invited me to join him and some of the GSS (Global Sourcing and Supply) staff for dinner. We went out to a nice restaurant and had fresh fish from the Nile. Then we headed out to Davids expat apartment where I was given a room for the night.
The crew at GSS (BMMI) in Khartoum. That's David in the pink shirt.
For the first few days in Khartoum I stayed at Davids apartment while I kept myself busy with talks at various schools and businesses throughout the capital. As per usual I was invited to meet with the staff and do a presentation at Maersk, and I finally got to meet the country manager Nadeem Ahmed, whom had been a massive help to me regarding obtaining my Sudanese visa. When David left to return to Djibouti I moved in with Hatem who is the HSE manager at GSS. Hatem is Egyptian and has studied law. And his Sudanese friend Marwan is a lawyer and quickly became my friend too. Also Per, who's a world traveler from USA/Denmark, was in town and we naturally had to meet. I had in fact gotten to know Per a year earlier when I met him in the Republic of Congo. So it was fun to meet again on Africas eastern side. Furthermore a Danish traveler I know from the Danish travelers club (DBK) was in Khartoum and we had a chance to meet for the first time. His name is Claus and he has visited 174 countries which beats Per's 170 :)
Can you imagine the conversations around this table?
Then Hatem and Marwan began working on a deal with Zain (www.zain.com) which is a network provider from Kuwait, which might be interested in providing the Saga with network coverage throughout the remaking adventures. Possibly even internet. How great would it be to get that from a company in Sudan? It would be like "in your face world" if you know what I mean? Sudan has been heavily sanctioned by the United States of America and as a result millions of ordinary Sudanese are struggling to have a normal life. The Obama administration lifted the sanctions towards the end of his term through a trial period where Sudan has to live up to certain goals. The Trump administration appears to be taking things in a different direction. What does this mean for you? Well, if you come to Sudan then you better bring lots of dollars because they like them here. And you won't be able to use your credit cards. If you are a foreign company operating in Sudan then you are prohibited from using USA software of any kind which is most of what we are used to using where I come from: Microsoft, Windows, Skype, Dropbox etc. These are not blocked off in any way and you can use them with ease. But you're not supposed to.
3rd floor at Zain Sudan in Khartoum :)
I also dropped in on the Red Crescent who are doing a great job here in Sudan. And as it happens there is a delegate office from the Danish Red Cross here which is operated by Louise, whom I met in Kenya. So that is great!
And I got a hug from Louise which means more to me than you'll ever know.
Then there has been the Eritrea predicament, which is sort of a silly political thing. Eritrea is an absolutely amazing country which boasts culture and history alongside its coastline to the Red Sea. Yes, this is the same Red Sea which has the same colorful aquarium fish as the one alongside Egypt and Sudan. In fact many Sudanese cross the border in and out of Eritrea every day so we know that the predicament isn't physical or geographical. It's political. There are many people with travel lust who simply cannot obtain their visa for Eritrea. The country is rather famed for this amongst travelers. It all becomes a little more complicated when you are not willing to fly. This is often because airports possess far more security than land borders and therefore you are often welcome to fly but not enter by land. The same applies for visa on arrival for many countries.
The Ahfad University for Women was founded in 1966, but the groundwork was laid down as early as 1907 with a secular school for girls.
I had no idea how well my talk had gone until it was time for pictures :)
I have been in close contact with Tekeste in Eritrea who is well known for being helpful. In fact Tekeste and I have been in touch for about 6 months! I have also spoken to Carla who is an Italian tour operator in Sudan/Eritrea. And I have met with George who is somewhat of a legend amongst travelers who reach Khartoum. And I have spoken to a whole lot of other people to and I have read articles and I have.... well, it all kind of caught up with me. I fell sick and I needed sleep. I have been on a collision course for a long time now and I knew it. In fact I have been promising myself that once I reached Khartoum I would find a nice place and rest up for a few days. But that never happened. I have appeared as a public speaker on far more than 10 occasions in the short time I have spent in Sudan. So my stomach broke which I think is psychological more than anything else. And then I went to sleep for a very long time :)
After the talk at GSS :)
Hanging out with the Hash group after my official initiation :)
My first visit of two to KICS :)
My friends at Maersk Line Sudan after the talk :)
I did several talks at WNS and these cuties were the youngest :)
I'm aware of several cities with beaches - but a Khartoum is the only one I know that has one in the middle?
Somewhere throughout all off this I have also managed to fit in 5-6 interviews and I went out on "the Hash" with some new friends. Remember that I told you that the Blue Nile meets the White Nile in Khartoum and forms the Nile? Well there is a small island in the middle of all of that called Tuti Island. "The Hash" actually originates from The Hash House Harriers and has been around for decades. It's a walk/run which is ideal for expats and locals alike. I was invited by Jessica who's a teacher at Khartoum International Community School (KICS). Great Stuff. That's where I met Mandy from Texas who works at White Nile School (WNS), which I also paid a visit.
In reality Khartoum isn't very pleading for the eye. The overall logistics are however good and there are plenty of restaurants and clubs.
The social media of the Saga keeps growing and I'm just about my limit for what I can handle. There is truly a lot of activity, comments, questions and more. I grew up in a village with about 1,200 people and my school had about 325 students. So these numbers are quite impressive to me:
Surely some of you follow more than 1 of the above and I would personally be following a combinations of the blog and Instagram if you were doing the Saga and I was comfortable back home. But I'm not back home and I haven't seen home since 2013. There is no way around it: I chose this upon myself. But I sincerely believe that in these times of fear and doubt the Saga is more vital than ever. We cannot go on believing the world is on fire and that our neighbors are our enemies. We must be aware that people are just people and that in Sudan people take selfies too.
How cool is this!!
I'm only going to do this once...and as long as we circle the sun I promise that I will do it right the first time! ;)
Thank goodness for VoIP calls :)
While I'm feeling more rested now and ready to "fight" again I can briefly mention that I have spotted a few angles to enter Eritrea legally so I feel like we are going to be fine. And something which might have you smiling is the very fact that my one of a kind fiancée has booked a flight to come and see me in Khartoum ;)
Happy belated Valentine's Day from me and the kids at WNS :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - happy to be in Sudan
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga