The impressions from the "Zikir" at the Hamad El Niel-Mosque in Omdurman/Khartoum deeply stay in our minds. Again, it's the personal encounters with people on the road which are even more inspiring than all the places, buildings and sights which in themselves are impressive anyway! Not only our Sudanese friend Tyseer, who has planned a whole program for our week in Khartoum, has brought us here to this place and explains all the new aspects of this culture, but also locals standing crowded together next to us sense our interest and curiosity and explain without us asking for it and, what is even more important, they do not missionize! Drinking a multitude of glasses full of a sweet tea with peppermint, we discuss religion, especially Sufyia, but also world politics and football in a spontaneous round of interested and interesting people. Sòley and Anouk also easily find other children of the same age and relaxedly roam around with them without any common language basis, which is fascinating the adults around them who take picture after picture with their smartphones.
In the middle of this bubbling bustle Tyseer's friend Sheikh Mohammad Mubarak, one of the leaders of the local Sufiya movement, joins us. When he heard that Tyseer would soon expect a visit of friends from Germany, he helped her to find a flat for us. Now we had the unique chance to talk to an expert on Islam and Sufiya and ask all the questions which had been going around in our heads. But one evening in this crowd is not enough and we would meet again and again after that, just to discuss and learn from each other, while Tyseer permanently translated. Also, Mischa has brought a German Qur'an which includes a glossary and explanations to find out more when we are in the flat. How many people do know that the Qur'an does not tell women to veil themselves completely? That Jesus is not seen as the Son of God in Islam, but as an important prophet, sounds rather plausible (if the term "Son of God" is meant in a literal sense, we then are back with the term "prophet", because Mohammed also percieved himself as God's mouthpiece, mediated by the Archangel). Also, the concept of "God" which seems to be more connected with the universal power God has instead of depicting Him as the human-like figure of a "God-Father" is not far from how we try to explain this concept to our kids.
Especially exciting is the background to the Sufiya movement which seems to be older than Islam and rather connecting different religions instead of dividing them. This topic and the Derwish dances we want to learn more about!
Tyseer really impressed me at some other time by her really warm-hearted reaction on beggars, which for me still are very inconvenient situations. Most often deep compassion mixes with the knowledge that some money will not help in a sustainable way but sometimes may even be a factor in increasing the suffering. This precariousness in me certainly can be perceived by others. Tyseer masters situations like this by reacting with the common benediction "Allah Karima", meaning, "Allah will take care of you!". Maybe, these words give some hope. Or is it just an empty phrase? Does it help? ... Insh' Allah! As God wills it!
At the end of our week in Khartoum some more practical things, running errands and planning the onward route through the Sudan mix in. Mischa had to go to a garage to extract a bolt from one of the tyres and have it repaired. A barber for Mischa and a cosmetic studio, where I could delve in into the relaxed atmosphere among women behing doors and curtains also were on the agenda. Happily gossiping, many hours are spent here taking care of the body, mind and soul from head to heels. Unfortunately, I only have time for a "short program", otherwise I would have loved to have done the wonderfully beautiful henna tatoos married women in Sudan typically have on their feet.
My hands already have been decorated by Sheikh Mohammad's wife after having dinner at their home.
Tyseer also invites us to her family's home where Anouk and Sóley can meet her nieces who are roundabout the same age as our kids. Due to these visits, we get quite a good insight into the private life of the people of Khartoum. But this is not supposed to be "it" ... Sheikh Mohammad not only wants to help us with contact persons from his family on our further way towards Ethiopia, but out of hand decides to join us in person for the next days ... now without our trusted friend and mediator Tyseer, because her lectures at the University of Khartoum start again. After the conversion, our Land Rover only has four remaining seats. For a short passage, we had already given our "fixer" Magdi a lift from the Sudanese side of the border between Egypt and Sudan to his home in Wadi Halfa. I simply resembled Sóley's child seat and squeezed in with the kids in the Land Rover's rear bench. No, this is not really convenient and also doesn't fit any European standards on child safety in cars, but we simply can't say "No!" to this offer coming from the heart of a new friend. So, we alltogether shoulder the five hours on rough dirt tracks to the small hut-village of Mohammad's family (in addition to three hours driving on road). Later on, we would even find another sixth "seat" for a roofrack passenger, which for the locals is no security risk at all.
But before we leave Khartoum, with the help of Tyseer and Mohammad we have to pick a bone with Mustafa, the owner of "our" flat. In a very dedicated and appearingly corteous manner, he had offered us his help and support in any kind of way, which was not strange at all for us, as all Sudanese we had met until then were immensely welcoming and ready to help. But sadly, Mustafa was not able to keep the natural distance between him and me, which in Muslim countries is certainly larger between men and women than in Europe. He touched my face, made compliments and told me about the problems he has with his wife in situations when I met him alone and thus hassled me in a way which simply is bad manners, both here in this culture and in Europe. Mohammad moderated a heated crosstalk between Mustafa and Mischa, but for saying "Sorry!" Mustafa simply was too proud ... too weak!? For us, he seems to be one exemption which exist in all countries, all cultures, still I have to admit that in Sudan I always attract attention as a European woman and seem to be "an easy lay" from the point of view of some men in spite of husband and daughters next to me. Do I have to wear the headscarf more often? "No!", says Tyseer. I am supposed to stay as I am, also in Sudan. She states that I already adapt myself far enough! So, I plan to carry on walking the streets of Khartoum in a self-confident manner, maybe with some more pretended pride.
With a "local" such as Sheikh Mohammad in the Land Rover, we don't have to present any documents anymore at the police checkpoints. A short smalltalk in English by us and in Arabic by him is enough to be waved through. In between, Mohammad sings like a muezzin for Sóley (she simply loves mosques and when the muezzin sings, always a glorifying "My friend!" escapes Sóley's lips) and tries to learn English and German from Mischa while Mischa tries to learn some more Arabic.
We reach the place of Mohammad's uncle in Sennar just as the sun sets. Some children play in the courtyard with a plastic bottle hanging from a tree. Sóley and Anouk without any heasitation join in and laugh so very loud that it can be heard by the complete neighborhood.
Meanwhile an sumptuous traditional Sudanese dinner is served on a large metal tray and we eat together using our right hands. We get a room for ourselves in the house even though we could have slept in the car, while some family members sleep in the courtyard under the stars. Sleeping in our Land Rover would have been an insult. The next morning the children of the family are beautifully dressed and brought to schoon by Bajaj (TukTuk).
We set off for the drive to the village where Mohammad's father lives (at least this is the place where one of his two wives lives). At first, we visit the really badly equipped and ridiculously overcrowded village-school and try to find solutions how one could help here any maybe raise some money to help them (for tables and chairs they need roundabout 2500€) and improve the conditions the students learn under.
We establish contacts to make sure that the materialy and money needed here will really end up in the right places and not in somebody else's pockets. We would be happy to hear about your ideas, dear readers!
In the village, we get our own room, which actually is a complete hut, this time with three beds. We are introduced to many villagers and again get so much to eat that we simply cannot finish it. Mischa joins the tea-round in the hut of Mohammad's father and I mingle with the women at the fireplace in another hut. Any kind of verbal communication here is nearly impossible, which is really sad, because there is a lot of interest in that from both sides. The womens' faces alone tell so many stories!
They seem to be a bit shy but very happy about me trying to start conversations.
They would have loved to decorate my feet wit henna, but Mohammad wants to drive with us some kilometres out of the village to meet some nomadic families. This certainly is an offer we cannot say no to. We give another "hitchhiker" a lift on the roofrack and on we go taking rough dirt tracks until we reach the simple tents of the nomads.
Impressively big in comparison to the tents are the camels. Proud, the nomads show us how multi-functional their homes are and invite us to stay for a tea. Within minutes the round gets bigger and bigger and when we want to leave the camp in the setting sun, all men stand up and pray together.
On our way back through the darkness, we tow a Toyota pick-up full of people, which already had been there when we came here.
It is no wonder that this kamikaze mission got stuck here: the fuel tank is a 1,5 litre Coke plastic bottle hanging from the left door mirror and the complete car seems to be kept in one piece by many metres of wire. Traveling in this car!? Insch'Allah!
Back in the village, we brace ourselves with fresh camel milk. We have to admit that at first drinking it took us some surmounting, but after having made sure that it had been boiled before, we are polite and take the offer ... just to be surprised to find out that the milk is really really tasty. This leads to the situation, that our cups are filled up again and again.
To be able to reach Ethiopia the next day, we get up early and give Mohammad a lift to the next tarmac road after another round of camel milk tea and a cordial "Goodbye!" from Mohammad's family.
It takes us three hours on really bad pistes full of potholes to get to the next asphalt road. Unfortunately, here we have to part with Sheikh Mohammad: he takes the bus back to Khartoum and we set sail for the border post between Sudan and Ethiopia near Gallabat. The road is relatively good and we even see our first monkeys which look like Pippi Longstocking's "Mr Nilson". The roundabout 80 km through the Dindir National Park before we reach the border the road turns out to be a whole population of potholes which could swallow complete Land Rovers. Also, the villages along the road look more and more desperate and poor. But the border double-village even tops this impression: it is a bustling, ugly gallimaufry full of dark characters, trying to lure us into something and beggars who aggressively bang their fists at the car windows. From a road on a dam, it is a steep descend down to the offices of immigration and customs, in front of which "helpers" of a really irksome sort try to obtrude their "services" even though nobody needs them. The border officials are really fast and thus we are able to leave this place and the rather improvised looking border after only 1,5 hours. Now it is already late afternoon, but we don't want to set up our camp here.
After some kilometres we suddenly have to break not to run into some Pierce of rope which blocks the road: another customs checkpoint! Men with weapons. Great! Now, we've got to unpack the complete Land Rover in the darkness! We show the men that we travel with children telling them that there still is a long way ahead of us until we reach the place where we plan to stay the night. This works and we can leave after some minutes. In spite of various obstacles, animals and people sleeping on the road but also nearly invisible potholes and wheel ruts, we push on for another four hours to be able to reach "Tim-and-Kim-Village" overlooking beautiful Lake Tana. Here we will try to relax for about four days without phone or internet connection. Insch'Allah!