Eine deutschsprachige Version dieses Eintrages gibt es hier
The great unknown Sudan embraces us very cordially right from the beginning. Directly in front of the border gate, Magdi Boshara, our "fixer" for the Sudanese side of the border, picks us up to help us with the border procedures. He appears to be really nice, organised and professional. Sóley and Anouk are allowed to watch cartoon after cartoon on the i-Pad and so for them the three hours of waiting at the border pass in a flash. At the same time, I can witness a way of dealing with each other of the people around me I already know from Ethiopia ... brotherly and sisterly hugs between colleagues and friends, laughing and holding hands ... simply warm and cordial.
Our first night in Sudan we spend with Magdi's family. He also has young children who easily make friends with our two daughters. Magdi's wife cooks for us and together with Magdi, Mischa goes to Wadi Halfa to get Sudanese sim-cards for our mobile phones while I am introduced to how to wear the "Thob", the traditional dress of Sudanese mothers.
With a heavy heart the next morning we have to say goodbye to Magdi's family. A very good tarmac road leads us through the Sahara desert running parallel to River Nile, which we can only see every once in a while.
In the hot desert sand, we discover fossilized trees every now and then - turned to stone witnesses of an ancient time when all this countryside was covered with forests ... nearly inconceivabe!
Passing Dongola we reach the pyramids of Gebel Barkal near Karima late in the afternoon. As there is an Italian run "Nubian Resthouse" directly next to the pyramids, we decide to ask if we can camp there for the night. The place seems to be rather deserted but we meet the Italian owner who shows us around the beautiful premises ... only to send us away after that because later on there will be other guests and no room left for us. The Sudanese chef is told to show us a place behind the sand dunes where we will not disturb anybody. So, it is a night of freecamping in the desert. Darkness approaches rapidly and the desert wind is giving us a good sandblast. The petrol mix in the Coleman stove produces a rather weak flame so that it is hard to cook properly. Still, after a (long) while a patient Mischa is able to serve the vegetable pasta sauce just as promised. Dusty but happy, we fall asleep.
The next day, we take a closer look at the pyramids and after that go on driving to Atbara. The pyramids here look differently compared to the pyramids of Gizeh ... they have a smaller tip-angle, are smaller and there are more in one place. We learn that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt.
In our GPS-maps "Tracks for Africa" we find two campsites near the famous pyramids of Meroe south of Atbara. To go there we even put up with driving into the darkness of the coming night, something everybody has warned us against. At last, we find a signpost reading that the camp is Italian owned ... what a coincidence!
For the next five kilometres we follow wheel tracks in the sand and with some help from locals we finally find the camp, straw-roofed huts, big tents and a whole fleet of white Toyota Landcruisers. "Here, surely, we will find a place to stay for the night!", we think. But, again, we are sent away ... a family with two small kids is sent away into the darkness of the night - nobody has even asked whether we would be willing to pay for camping! This neither fits to the African mentality, nor to our general impression of Sudan and certainly not at all to the wisdom of the Qur'an where helping travelers is a duty. Really disappointed we try to find a place sheltered from the wind to set up camp and finally are allowed to enjoy the impressive starry sky.
At sunrise we discover in a multitude of colours which beautiful landscape yesterday we had stopped in. From the Italian camp a traditionally dressed man appears after a short while. What does he want?
He sits down next to the Land Rover and shows us the local jewellery and knifes he has in his bag. Anouk is very excited gets out her pocket money and buys a bracelet for herself and for her sister. I also get one from Mischa. Another guest, a man on a camel, approaches, but we don't want to go on a camel ride before having had breakfast. After a fast breakfast, we go on to the impressive pyramids right next to the Italian Camp where all tents face the pyramids to provide an optimum view for the guests.
Obviously, people are preserving the pyramids here, but they use concrete which from our point of view doesn't really fit the original way the pyramids were built. Fascinatedly, we wander around this "village" of pyramids but then the midday heat makes us go back on the road. Also, we would rather like to reach the Sudanese capital Khartoum before sunset. Alas, this doesn't work out well as Anouk throws up in the car and before going on, we have to clear up the mess. Eating and drinking in this heat and the different food are great challenges for our children. It was not due to a virus or bacteria that Anouk was sick, but it was the orange juice, which was the only thing she wanted for breakfast even though we had fresh flat bread. Anouk dreams of cheese-pasta instead (á la Christina Ohmes!), but the hunger doesn't vanish just through dreaming!
At the Nile Street in Khartoum, we meet Tyseer, a friend of our Ethiopian friend Samuel, who had visited us back home on Spiekeroog earlier this year. Being on a DAAD-scholarship, Tyseer studied in Germany for four years and now she is a professor at the University of Khartoum.
She has found a flat for us (including a large garage for the Land Rover) to which we are guided now. Here we plan to stay for one week, for which Tyseer has already planned a whole sightseeing and information program. We visit the Natural History Museum, the old English palace, and the National History Museum of Sudan.
The ancient history, but also the turbulent fights and resistance against the Turkish and English occupation of Sudan are brought to life for us. In addition to that, we also walk the dusty streets of Khartoum and again and again sit down on plastic chairs in small street cafés directly on the pavements and talk, talk, talk in a very intense and open way.
During a motorboat trip on the Nile we can witness how the Blue Nile (which apparently is rather brownish) and the White Nile (which actually is grey) come together but don't mix immediately. Water samples are taken to show that even in a bottle the waters of the two rivers don't mix and vertically separate again after a while (which, of course, is not true, but that's just for the fun of the crew).
But the absolute highlight, topping everything, is a trip to the Friday Sufi prayer and Derwish dances at the Hamad El Niel Mosque in Omdurman. Around the fairytale-like painted mosque there is an immense graveyard full of graves which rather look like mole hills with small homemade signs. On the large yard in front of the mosque many Sudanese men, women and children romp about wearing their traditional garments, but also some tourists (about ten, I guess) mix with the crowd, apparently without disturbing the ceremony in any kind of way. In the middle of a circle of people, two men wearing turbans are dancing, singing and beating drums. Every now and then, another Muslim joins them, dances a few rounds together with them to be nearer to Allah during this dance (and apparently that works just guessing from the enraptured and happy look on their faces). Then, he puts some banknotes into the drum bag and leaves the circle to make way for somebody else. We are extremely fascinated by this spectacle. Especially Anouk is really captivated and even has the courage to stand alone in the first line of the big circle of people to be able to see properly. This is really brave of her here in this loud and unfamiliar situation. Mischa and myself are a bit embarrased by the other tourists who have two big cameras each around their necks nearly pressing their giant camera Lenzes into the very faces of the dancing people. Sure, they are just as fascinated as we are, but we still are ashamed of their behaviour and dealing with this deeply spiritual situation. This rather destroys any kind of decent and creative photography in us here at this wonderful place (here you can watch a video shot by other overlanders).
What we have witnessed so far is only the beginning of the ceremony: a truck with dancing and singing people beating drums approaches and stops near the mosque. They get off and form a procession which comes nearer and leaves again showing large flags all the while people are beating large drums. An even larger circle of people forms, the beating of the drums is getting more and more intense and all men and women (!) in the first line of the big circle start to rhythmically dance forwards and backwards as if they are in some kind of trance and meditatively sing and hum. Some of the dancers celebrate their faith by stretching out their arms to spin around really fast in true Derwish manner. This main part of the ceremony is called "Al Zikir". It is really impressive with what deep happiness these people celebrate their faith once a week on a Friday while the sun sets. Any comparison to a Christian service simply is impossible, especially thinking of the atmosphere. Everybody celebrates boisterously, talks with friends (or foreigners), eats and really lives a certain community spirit. Is this the rigid and conservative Islam people in the West are worried about or even fear??
Sóley, who in the middle of the ceremony awakes out of her midday nap in Mischa's arms, is not really too impressed by the ceremony and rather wants to paint pictures and symbols into the sand in the middle of the crowd's feet. This after a very short while opens up another scene, because here also forms a small circle of excited Sudanese around her. Some add their own paintings to hers. It is a matter of seconds and again, we sit, talk and are invited to drink black tea with peppermint (and an immense portion of sugar!) ... In one of these conversations, Mischa is asked whether the Germans really are as xenophobic as the media report it ... media-founded information-chaos and guidance by fear on both sides! It is good to meet and make a difference!
Khartoum is no "love at first sight" for me, but the people we meet, humans in the very sense of the word, open up an exciting and diverse city and country for us which is dominated by an immense hospitality and openness which nobody will believe who doesn't come here but lets himself be guided by western media instead. Sudan definitely is one of the absolute highlights of this travel so far - we will have to come back!