Heat and Generosity in Sudan

“Tap – tap – tap” I could hear them landing in the tarpaulin that I had spread under the acacia tree to lie down and scape from the unforgiving sun. I had my eyes closed and didn’t have the energy to open them or to move, even though I knew that if I did they would all go away.

Tap – tap – tap

Heat had been my constant companion since I entered Sudan, it was to be expected as it is early summer in this part of the world. In Wad Madani, as I was getting closer to the border with Ethiopia, the thermometer was reaching 46 centigrades at noon. Nothing and nobody moved and the smallest shade was always occupied by a person or an animal, even the long shadows of the electrical concrete posts were crowded, people neatly squatting on a long line along them.

It was so hot that at noon mini tornados appeared everywhere. Many of them together create a sandstorm

When I got to Wad Madani I booked myself in the poshest hotel in town, the promise of air conditioning and good WiFi too appealing to let it pass. The comfortable bed and the cool water from the fridge an absolute treat.

My night at the Wad Madani Imperial Hotel could not have been more different from my previous one spent in a village family compound. The sun was setting and I couldn’t find an obvious place to camp. I was beginning to get a bit anxious when I stopped at some water jugs to fill up my bottles. A couple of women were filling up too and I asked them whether they knew of a good place to pitch my tent, they pointed at the scrubland across the road but it felt too exposed so I decided to take the plunge and knock at the metal door of the compound next to the jugs. After knocking several times a woman opened the door, she looked at me, smiled and called a second woman.

I knocked at the door of a compound

The second woman was Tagua, she was  dressed in an stripy orange and black wrapper and had her little daughter resting on her hip. Tagua had lively eyes, and easy smile and spoke three words of English which instantly made her the interpreter. She readily agreed for me to come into the compound and before I realised I was surrounded by women and children.

The compound was encircled by a high cob wall and it had four or five square boxy buildings inside. Each one was a one room small cube, some were made of cob, others of bricks and they were building a new one of breezeblocks. Plastic sheeting was attached to wooden poles at one end and at the roof of the houses at the other to  provide shade to the beds scattered in the ground underneath it. A spotless common latrine sat in one corner of the compound.

The children were keen to help me put the tent up, so many little hands were making it a bit messy . Just at the right time the call to prayer arrived and they all disappeared for long enough to give me time to finish the job on my own. I was nearly there when I heard a chorus of “Blanca, Blanca, Blanca”  approaching from the other side of the compound. It was no time before I the women were asking me questions whilst the children thought it was great fun to jump inside my tent.

The children loved my tent

The women were all very different. There was Taiga, proud of her knowledge of a few English words and the status that gave her being able to ‘talk’ with me, then there was Umahmed always with the headphones on, very much the party girl, humming to the music in her ears and dancing in her black clothes with pink and blue embroidery, Ufag Ahmed Umkamal trying to be aloof and ignore my presence but the fist one to bring a chair to watch me setting the tent and Sutanifur, an older woman on a tie dye wrapper in blue and orange, offering me food and drink.

Umhahmed reading my Arabic phrase book whilst Ufag Ahmed Umkamal just watches on

It had been another hot day on the road and every inch of my body was covered in a film of salt. I needed a wash and Tagua taking control took me by the hand to her cube house an showed me to a concrete extension, gave me a bucket of water and closed the metal door. I took my clothes off and had the most delicious wash listening to the women chatter outside.

When I came out some of the women were lying down in their beds so I thought I could have some time on my own but it was not to be. They came back with me to the tent and watched me whilst I made tea admiring my stove, watched me whilst I eat peanut butter inspecting the tub and delighted that they could read the jar of my Khartoum bought spread. Eventually they all left and I crawled into my tent and had the most wonderful night sleep.

The next day I had to face the extreme heat again. Khartoum and my time with Ann felt like light years away although it had only been four days since I had left the city. I met Ann though a Khartoum Women’s Cycling Group and when she wrote to offer me her place to stay I was delighted. I ended staying with her for one week discovering how much we had in common, planting trees with the children of her school, going for the Wednesday evening women’s ride, doing some radio interviews, meeting some Spanish expats and cooking the first Spanish omelette of this trip.

Sharing a tortilla with Ann and Teresie another cyclist

Khartoum was truly very far away in this environment where the sun seemed to have bleached the colour out of everything, only women’s wrappers and mosques providing a respite for the white dust.

Colourful mosques in all the villages

In the North of the country I could still find some golden sands but here it was dust, scrubland and unbearable heat.

Golden Sands

Since I had entered the country I had found jars of water everywhere, under trees, in specially made water shelters, outside shops and houses. Whithout that freely available water and in this heat, it would have been impossible for me to cycle through Sudan.

Water is made available to everyone

The generosity in the availability of water reflects the generosity of the people of Sudan. Everywhere I went I got welcoming smiles and offers of water and food. I got help pushing my bike when it got stuck in the sand and got my meal paid on my last day in the country when I was totally stuck for cash.

A camel man help me push my bike in the sand

I never felt threatened or unsafe in a country that for a long time has lived and still lives with conflict, violence and war. In Sudan, millions of people have been displaced and the influx refugees from neighbouring countries mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic and South Sudan added pressure to their already limited resources. The economic situation made worse by the comprehensive US sanctions only lifted in October 2017.

A reminder of the recent and current situation is never far away

Life is hard for ordinary people, inflation run at 35% in 2017. Acute petrol shortages generates queues kilometers long at petrol stations,  yet someone had the generosity to siphon petrol from his car to my fuel bottle to enable me to cook in spite of my protestations and the fact that he had been queueing for over four hours and had a few more to wait before the tanker arrived and some petrol was made available.

Thanks to him I could cook for the rest of my stay in Sudan

And feeling safe enabled me to enjoy the country and its people, camp in the middle of nowhere and go to sleep under an acacia tree whilst dozens of grasshoppers kept me company.

 

 

 

 

 

37 thoughts on “Heat and Generosity in Sudan”

  1. Hi Blanca – how nice to be catching up with your travels again. The one thing that strikes me everytime is the kindness and dignity that you meet with everywhere you go. People at Macmillan that you know well and who keep abreast of your travels, sometimes express concern for your safety because of where you are travelling (because they care about you) but I always tell them there is nothing to worry about; it is note-worthy that it is so often the case, that those that have so little (materially) relative to many of us here, possess so much dignity and offer so much kindness to strangers . People here at Macmillan who know you even in your third year on the road still reminisce about you. On a personal note, Jenny and I have gone our separate ways (still friends) and I now live in Yorkshire, although I am now considering Glasgow. I look forward to reading the next installment of your adventure. Ed

    1. How wonderful to hear from you Ed. It is true that I meet with so much kindness from people who have nothing. The other day a man run to his hut in the middle of the desert to fill my bottle of water because he felt the water in his hut had less sand. Moments like that fill me with warmth and bring tears to my eyes. I do remember Macmillan fondly, you all were/are amazing but it was time for me to move on. Please give my love to everyone and for you all the best in the new phase of your life. Huge hugs

      1. hey,Blanca, so nice to read your stories…Just crossed my mind that this kind of people, who have nothing( so nothing to lose) have no other choice but to be generous….by default. I miss you and LOVE you. The fact that you meet this kind of people along the way ( whether locals or tourists traveling just like you) tells a lot about the kind of person you are. Greetings and I m looking forward to meeting you, don’t forget the promise we made to ourselves! 🙂

        1. Hi Sorina. Call me an optimist but I think it is in human nature to be generous and people who have little understand basic needs and mutual support and are willing to help a stranger. I feel blessed that life is giving me the opportunity to experience so much generosity. And we will see the northern lights together one day!! Much love to you and your sons, albeit short, I will never forget my time with you.

  2. What a wonderful story. Colleen and I experienced the same kindness and generosity during our ride in Sudan in Dec/Jan. It will is one of the highlights of our trip, and we remain in contact with people we met along the way.
    All the very best for your travels through Ethiopia. In Gondar we stayed at Yohannes Guest House. A nice spot away from the husle and bustle and popular with cycle tourists.

    1. It’s so heart warming, isn’t it. I had a scary moment on the road on my second day in Ethiopia and I’ve been at Yohannes for 4 days and won’t be cycling anymore in this country. One of my daughter’s is coming to visit so I’ll be a backpacker that’ll be nice. I love the way you are shinning light on the road for me. Safe riding and hugs to you both

      1. Sorry Blanca, I get so excited reading about your travels but I cannot stop myself from worrying about you. Hope it isn’t too serious an incident and hope the bike is also ok for any further journeys. For a million wonderful people all it takes is for one person to not be so wonderful. If you are having wifi whilst waiting for your daughter please pass some time googling Danny Bent who cycled from the UK to a small remote village in India and had many wonderful and not so wonderful moments. He wrote a book called You’ve Gone Too Far This Time Sir! you too have a lot in common. I look forward to reading your series of books too one day!!! Take care and hope you are on the wheels again soon. xxx And yes you are talked of and admired often here at Macmillan.

        1. Hi Maureen.I’m not sure about the books but thanks for your support and don’t worry I am quite a sensible traveller and would never take unnecessary riks. Say hullo to all at MSL and a big hug for you

  3. So interesting to read about your trip through Sudan and to see your photos. I love that they have water shelters and the people sound very welcoming. Today the sun is shining in the UK but not at the temperatures you have experienced! I will be off for a cycle later. Safe travels.

  4. Wow, what adventures again. And so glad you got the petrol – I know how much you like cooking your lunch and dinner

  5. Aupa Txuri !! Que ilusión leerte y saber que sigues bien por tierras africanas, y disfrutando de la experiencia…
    Besarkada handi bat

  6. Always wonderful to read. Thanks for taking the effort. Khartoum has an interesting history indeed. Gordon and the Mahdi.

  7. Hey Blanca, It’s so wonderful to hear about your time in Sudan. The people sound absolutely lovely. How special to stay inside a compound and get to know some of them a little.
    Wonderful, evocative photos as always.
    I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience in Ethiopia. Hopefully the trekking will be wonderful!
    Lots of love
    Kath xxx

  8. Muy emocionada leyendo un relato que te reconcilia con la humanidad. Te deseo un viaje lleno de buena gente. Un beso grande

  9. What wonderful pictures you paint for us Blanca!
    It’s good to remember that we are all citizens of the same world and your blog does that for me.
    Some of the Doctors and Nurses I work with spend some weeks each year volunteering in a hospital in Sudan and they tell the same sort of stories of the warmth and generosity of the people there. I’ll let them read your experiences and know they’ll love them, as I do.
    Take care my friend, love accompanies you on this amazing journey! Maureen x

    1. Thanks Maureen it is really comforting to have you in my jouney. The people of Sudan were truly warm and friendly, it was a privilege to visit the country. Big hugs

  10. I’m loving your pictures, especially of the houses and children. What kindness and generosity from people who have so little, while our own vile government is doing all it can to deny the smallest crumbs and expel people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades. Enjoy your time backpacking with A. and keep safe! much love Carol xxx

  11. memories of my walk through Sudan from top to bottom after having walked from Alexander 15th August 1979, on George Cunningham’s Trans Africa Walk for Peace Expedition.
    I still not know if i want to return one day, a travellers day. So much has changed there, sad changes, yet people are still so helpful to a visiting stranger.

    1. Hi Max. What you did sounds like an amazing experience. Change is unavoidable and I am not sure whether all the changes have been for the worse. I don’t know how it was then but my experience is being truly enriching

  12. Hi Blanca, are you anywhere near el Duem I wonder? If so would you like a little task? My brother died by drowning in 1951 and was buried, presumably in a Christian cemetery there. My father was the district commissioner there so there might be some record . I know a simple stone with his name Andrew Cooper was put up by a friend later but that is the only info I have,. A photo if you could track it down would be fantastic. If you are nowhere near, please don’t worry. Thanks
    So impressed with your journey.
    Frances

    1. Hi Frances. Thanks for writing. I was moved by your request, I would have loved to send you that photo but I’m now in Addis Ababa so sadly I won’t be able to help in this occasion. It would be wonderful if someone could send it to you one day and I very much hope it happens.
      All the best
      Blanca

    1. Gracias Patricia. Viene Amaya. Emma se ha comprado un piso con su pareja y está muy ilusionada creando hogar. Muchos besos

  13. Blanca I just love reading your blogs. You open my eyes to the world and places I’m very unlikely to visit. It’s so heartening to hear about people you meet who have so little, give so much. It puts my faith back in humanity because frankly I had lost it. You’re an amazing lady and I hope you continue to have more amazing journeys. Enjoy your time with Amaya and give her a kiss from me. Sending you much love. Michele x

    1. I’m really happy that you enjoy reading my stories Michelle, I enjoy writing them! In my experience the world is full of kind people I consider myself privileged to meet so many of them in my travels. Amaya arrives tomorrow and I can’t wait! Hugs

  14. Lovely to hear about your travels again Blanca. I smile the whole time I’m reading your blog posts….apart from the bits where my jaw hits the floor! Looking forward to your next instalment. Love Jo xxxx

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