Khartoum lately

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time because my computer exploded, s.o. u.p.s.e.t. I had it plugged into the wall in the flat charging a few weeks ago and suddenly there was a power surge (some of the lights burst too – there was glass everywhere). Ever since then I haven’t been able to turn it on. I am hoping that it’s just the charger but sadly I have a feeling it’s the whole thing. I’ve left it on the sofa and sometimes when I walk past it I try to put it on charge in the vague hope that it might start up again. No luck so far. A few weeks ago my iPhone stopped working for a couple of days (wouldn’t charge or anything) then one day (on the off-chance) I put it on charge and IT WORKED! Such a brilliant feeling.

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The Nile, near the Tuti bridge

Anyway – computer aside, I’ve had some wonderful experiences in Khartoum lately and I’ve also been very lucky. I’ll start with the lucky story: Around 2 weeks ago I was going to Riyad after class to meet someone in an ice cream parlour. Somewhere along the way I lost my wallet but I didn’t know where – I went back to work and looked all over the classroom, hoping I’d left it behind but it was nowhere to be seen. Everyone was being really kind and sympathetic but I just felt so sad about it. The next day I was waiting for a bus to go to work and a bus stopped on the side of the road. It was full but the conductor called me over – the driver scratched around under the steering wheel for a bit then pulled out my wallet! Everything – my ID card, house key, money and chewing gum all in tact! Exactly as I’d left it.

I’m reading a Leila Aboulela book at the moment called “the Translator” – the main character describes Khartoum to a Scottish friend whose never been, saying: “I wish you could see it, it’s beautiful…but it’s not considered beautiful” (p. 51). I know exactly what she means. On the surface Khartoum looks like a dusty, crowded, polluted city but the more time I spend here the more I appreciate it. Sudanese people couldn’t be more kind and hospitable – on a daily basis I get welcomed to somebody’s house or to share food with them. I heard a story somewhere about some motor bikers who were going through the Nubian desert (northern Sudan) – they stopped and a breathless, exhausted man ran up to them, he’d been running after them for 10 km because apparently he invited all motor bikers that passed through that town to stay with him. Sudanese hospitality is real!

Leila Aboulela is a Sudanese author based in Scotland and Dubai. I love her books, I read these three and wish I had access to more. My favourite is Minaret. They are especially interesting to me because they are all (at one stage or another) set in Kharotum so I recognise some of the places she mentions. Besides that they’re just really well written. In January Leila is coming to Kharotum to host a writers workshop at the ELI (where I work) so hopefully I’ll get to meet her! 

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Concert at the Goethe Institut

We’ve also been to a few cultural events recently. Last week we were invited to the British Ambassador’s Residence to sing Christmas carols which was sooo cool – green lawn, trees, Christmas lights, toilet paper, western style toilets (you learn to appreciate the small things), mince pies, drinks…wow, what more could anyone want!?! Except for the evil cat, which looked really sweet and then attacked and scratched anyone who touched it (me). It didn’t look long and gangly like the street cats in KRT, it was actually chubby and fluffy. We sang various Christmas carols including “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” There’s one part that goes “on the (?) day of Christmas my true love gave to me (?) leaping lords”. After we finished singing the speaker pointed out that there were in fact two lords in attendance, she asked them to stand up, so they did and as a joke they started leaping around in front of their chairs! Was SO funny and cringey!

These pics of the carol singing are by Andrea Collados.

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All of us at the Christmas carol singing
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Programme
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Ambassador’s cat
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The beautiful garden – the lights looked a lot less bright/gaudy in reality.

It was the European Film Festival at the end of November and I attended 3 films – the Book of Kells (Ireland – I’d give it 4*), Bon Voyage (Netherlands – 5*) and Die Brucke am Ibar (Germany – 3*). They were held at the British Council and the Goethe (German) Institut. They hold this festival every year, it’s sponsored by the EU and shows movies from all over the continent – Czech Republic, France, UK, Slovakia, etc. It seems to be popular with young people who are trying to learn European languages or who want to live in Europe – the ones I went to were pretty much sold out (between 30 and 50 people). The themes were interesting – the Dutch movie especially. It was about a family who were planning to go on holiday but then the Grandpa falls ill so they stay at home. It focuses on the lives of each individual member of the family throughout the summer. The Grandpa – especially his relationship with his youngest Granddaughter, how he teaches her about life and death, the mum – who may or may not have a crush on the weird guy next door, the dad – who runs around being generally helpful and nice, the son – who’s struggling with friendships and bullying and finally the oldest daughter, who is taking her first steps into the world of relationships, boys, etc., – very controversial by Sudanese standards! Lots of people were asking about it at the end.

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We also went to an Asian Festival – it reminded me of Hyper Japan in London. It was held at the Grand Holiday Villa Hotel which is on Nile Street – such an old, beautiful building, right in front of the river. They put a marquee at the back of the hotel and had food stalls in front – I had samosa’s and gulab jamun from the Pakistan stall. So tasty! Along with many Asian nations Russia also participated which is interesting – I guess it is technically part of Asia but I’ve never really thought of Russia as being in Asia. They had a stage at the front but it was pretty pointless because it was so low down that everyone’s heads blocked the view. I wasn’t even that far from the stage and I couldn’t see anything. Disappointed, we left early, and went to Syrian Castle for some food, then to the other side of Nile Street for coffee. Seeing as alcohol is banned here (apparently, years ago, some other teachers drank alcohol in Kassala – they were found out and got lashed 40 times each…!) anyway the most popular beverages are tea and coffee. The part of Nile street that we went to had a clubby feeling but it was just boats with little cafes on them. One of them had a neon light picture advertising what looked like an outline of a cocktail but “JUICE” was written below it. On the opposite side to the river there’s a large field (no grass though) where thousands….and thousands…of people are sitting amongst hundreds of tea ladies, stools and shisha pipes. Just chilling and drinking hot beverages. That’s what people do on the weekend here! It’s cool, I really like it. Mostly young people but also older folks and kids. The lack of alcohol makes it all pretty placid. Unfortunately women aren’t allowed to smoke shisha though, men only.

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The Asian Festival at the Grand Holiday Villa Hotel on Nile Street

The next day I had a lesson and one of my students brought me a pizza to congratulate me for getting my masters! So touched! Best celebration ever…so sweet.

I have been asked to post some more pictures of day to day life in Khartoum – here they are:

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Sunset outisde the flat where I live in Khartoum 2
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My favourite garden in Khartoum – the ELI (university of Khartoum) where I teach
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Boat trip on the Nile.
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Souk al Arabi – one of Khartoum’s main shopping areas
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Souk al Arabi
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A corner shop near where I live. They have some if their stock delivered by donkey.
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Halls of learning – the University of Khartoum. The actual building is stunning, built in 1901 as the Gordon Memorial College. Some of it feels like a museum because it’s pretty much gone unchanged since it was built. I visited one of my students who works in the engineering faculty and all the equipment in the lab (scales, basins, taps, machinery) are the originals. Even the ceiling fans are old.
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Main university courtyard. All the colleges – Arts, Engineering, etc. have their own little sections with courtyards of their own.
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Juice vendor near Jackson station. The little orange seeds (in sacks at the back) are used to make juice, I think they come from palm trees.
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4 comments

  1. I love the pictures here, makes everything come to life in a more vivid way. It sounds like you’re having a great time. Keep posting, I look forward to reading more of your updates 🙂

    Like

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