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Getting Jiggy With Sudan

March 22, 2010

Sudan clearly has problems. President Omar al-Bashir has recently been indicted by the Internbational Criminal Court for war crimes, the horrors of Darfur make headlines all over the world, and the Civil War between the north and the south is the world’s longest running. There is a general election next month, and in 2011 a referendum in the south to decide whether it will become a separate state. The future of Sudan is in the balance.

And yet despite the instability that war inevitably brings, I have rarely felt as safe as a I did in Sudan. Khartoum is, some say, Africa’s safest city, and Sudan is Africa’s largest country so it is easy to avoid the trouble spots. I am in Kenya now, and loving the greenery, relatively cool temperature and amazing wildlife, but in comparison to the horror stories I have been hearing about murders, robberies and muggings here, Sudan for tourists is a breeze.

I’m glad I haven’t been stuck behind a dashboard in air-conditioned luxury on my journey, because it is people who have made it so enjoyable. In every country I have found kind people and so have had fun, and been made to feel welcome. Despite Sudan’s vast deserts and it’s pyramids (the oldest in the world), it was the kind people I met there who I will remember most. I could list countless times we were made to feel welcome in peoples’ homes, offices and restaurants, but two occasions come to mind.

Within 5 minutes of meeting Muhammed, an Arabic teacher in Atbara, it was agreed that we would spend the night at his home. He ushered us through the dusty streets to his bright blue front door and we leaned our bikes against the white washed wall inside. He lived in a series of out-buildings with two (out of 14) of his siblings. He was born in the main room 63 years ago.  The main room acted as kitchen, living room and bedroom. He used to live in the house with his two wives but he divorced them both at the same time 2 years ago – they had only borne him one child, a girl. Despite this, he was the most gentle, generous man I have met on my entire journey. On the first night he took John, Lindsey and me to watch England beat Egypt in the Atbara Teachers’ Club, an open-air building where 4 teachers sat playing dominoes in the dim light, feigning interest in the game to make their sun-burnt guests feel less guilty. Muhammed bought us food and drink and sat with us, despite an obvious lack of interest in the game. The next day we were invited to his niece’s house where a feast was laid out for us on a large platter. Fifteen of us tucked in with our hands. Their English was poor and our Arabic worse, so after half an hour conversation dried up. We began impersonating the animals that Muhammed kept inside his house – chickens, dogs, a tortoise, sheep, pigeons and goats. I impersonated the goats because, after a night spent sleeping 2 yards from them, I felt well placed to do so. It was 9pm when I was dragged from the courtyard where we were eating, into a large room where Muhammed’s brother-in-law was teaching 30 young children. After finishing the lesson he came and ate with us. The next day we were saying goodbye when Muhammed’s brother brought the tortoise into the dust covered living area. Lying on it’s back, it managed to send a fountain of poo a metre into the air. As it landed it splashed and covered the floor. A spade was fetched and Muhammed’s sister just covered the mess with more dust. We were all pretty surprised.

Before we left, Muhammed had one more surprise for us. He presented all five of us with goody bags full of drinks, sugar, sweets, milk, tea and biscuits. We presented the family with a photo of us all that we got developed in town and set off for Khartoum.

A few days later we reached Khartoum after a 160 kms effort cycling through the 51 degree heat of the day. Lindsey had arranged for us to stay with the daughter of a family friend. Here name was Dr Hiba, and upon arrival we discovered that she was was a famous television star, with her own bi-weekly show – I don’t know the name of the show, but it was an aerobics show for really fat Sudanese people. We were led up some stairs into a lecture theatre full of huge Sudanese people, all in fancy dress. We sat at the front facing them, and were introduced. The room erupted into gasps of disbelief and a round of applause. We didn’t know how we were introduced but John thought it might have gone something like “two months ago, these guys were as fat as you.” A 25 stone Sudanese man dressed in traditional Japanese clothes complete with stick-on pencil moustache asked us all where we had come from. We answered, and then we were shown the door to let them continue their therapy session. Downstairs we spotted some scales and I found out that since starting my journey I have lost 7kgs – I’m not sure where from.

Fat Camp was a strange introduction to Khartoum, but over the next few days Dr Hiba took us under her wing and showed us some of her city. On our last full day, she and her sister drove us around in her blacked-out 4 x 4. She took us for lunch and refused to let us pay. I mentioned that I was keen on Sudanese music, so she drove us to a record store and asked the girl in the DJ booth to make us CD’s of Sudanese tunes. While we waited the shop door was locked and we were encouraged to DJ ourselves. We spent half an hour dancing around to rap, hip-hop, reggae and traditional Sudanese music, at 2 in the afternoon. Will Smith’s Gettin’ Jiggy With It was the highlight. The footage I took will definitely make a highlights reel.

Sorry for the lack of photos on here folks – every computer I try is refusing to upload having done the first one perfectly! Check out the photos on my website though…Since Sudan I have spent a week in Kenya. A doctor friend out here told me to rest my leg from cycling so that’s what I’ve been doing. I tried to cycle from Nanyuki to Thika but it was painful so I only did one day. I have left the bike with a friend in Nairobi and am borrowing his rucksack to walk for 2 days to St Andrew’s School in Turi near Nakuru. I figure less athleticism is needed for walking. Then as soon as I can next week I will catch a flight to Mumbai and begin cycling across my next country. If you know anyone in India involved with schools, cricket or the media, please let me know. I will be heading across India from Mumbai to Goa, across to Chennai and up to Calcutta. If you liked this blog then please sign up for email updates here, and of course keep donating, that’s what it’s all about…only 90,000 pounds to go!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Read permalink
    March 22, 2010 12:16 pm

    Fantastic detail yet again. You’re just gonna LOVE India…..All power to your legs…..Keep us all weel informed of your adventures…

  2. Ray Higginbottom permalink
    March 22, 2010 1:32 pm

    The photos look fantastic Ollie and your adventures just get better. Take care of the leg and have a great time in India.

  3. March 22, 2010 2:20 pm

    Oli, sounds like your leg will heal faster than my wrist here in Dakar, but then you didn’t have a machete slashed through it.

    Depending on your time plan you should try cycling along the Konkan coast south from Mumbai to Goa – it was a highlight of my 5 months in India. You will totally avoid the traffic by departing on a boat at the gates of India.

    Tailwinds, Peter

    • March 23, 2010 11:18 am

      I read about your ordeal Peter – nasty stuff and I hope you’re now on the mend. Best of luck with the rest of the trip, and yes, thats the plan to cycle down to Goa…I cant wait to get back on the bike! Good

      Keep recovering! Oli

  4. tali permalink
    March 22, 2010 6:35 pm

    peaness your blog made me laugh! i really think you should try to get in touch with nikhil when youre in india, for hotels, or media and cricket contacts, he’s pretty well connected. Try getting in touch with my sister on fb for his contact details.
    loads and loads of love xxxxxx

  5. Viv permalink
    March 23, 2010 11:54 am

    I wish I had a tortoise in the living room. It’s obviously quite a conversation piece.

    Take care of the leg, Oli.

    Hopefully the donations should come rolling in when you get to India.

    love Viv x

  6. Katy Darlow permalink
    March 23, 2010 11:57 am

    Hey Oli

    Love reading all your stories. Take care of the leg.

    LOVE DARLOW…PPS I am pregnant ! xxxx

    • March 23, 2010 2:05 pm

      Darlow, no way! Congratulations dear…that’s amazing news….lots of love to you from Kenya xx

  7. March 25, 2010 1:31 pm

    did i see you tweeting shane warne???
    be great to meet him in mumbai. presume he is there for the IPL.

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