(43) Kindness in Khartoum
Sunday 6th January – Friday 18th January
We woke in the night being bitten, not really knowing what it was. We turned on the light to see a few tubby looking mozzies buzzing around the room still wearing their napkins. We spent the next few minutes playing the hide and seek and squish game before falling asleep until the sun came up. After breakfast we spent the morning cleaning our bikes and kit as the sand from the desert had got everywhere and knowing how destructive sand can be, it felt great having everything back to normal. Our bikes and kit looked bright and shiny once again and now looked out of place.
We were excited as we were due to meet Huda to go and stay with her and her husband Yousif. We made our way through the city to check if the hub had arrived but with no sign we continued on to our meeting point. We followed her car down the highway and on through the dusty streets and arrived at the gates of their home. The first thing we noticed was the colours of the beautiful flowers and the tall mature trees. It felt like we had passed through a wardrobe into a tropical Narnia. We went inside and were greeted by even more colours – amazing African paintings, stained glass lights and ornaments from around the world. It was stunning and felt so homely.
We were shown to our room to find not 1 but 2 king sized beds that were so comfortable that you could sleep as soon as your head met the pillow. What a difference from our cramped room at the hostel. We unloaded the bikes and felt pleased we had cleaned them before arriving. We went out for lunch and met Yousif who has a great and warm character and we spent many hours laughing together. To our delight, Sally Sharon’s friend had sent out a goodies parcel containing chocolate, sweets and even some luxurious shower gel. Thank you Sally, it was a wonderful suprise! We went to our room for a rest and slept until after 9pm, we must have been exhausted. We got up and joined Yousif and Huda for a snack before heading back to bed. What a great day!
A space of tranquility
Yousif and Huda’s stunning home
During our stay with them, we were so well fed, it was like Christmas every day and we started to worry that we would struggle to climb the Ethiopian hills that awaited us with all the extra weight we had put on!
We headed out each day trying to locate a few things we needed; mozzie spray, mozzie nets, maps and of course the elusive parcel containing Tim’s bike part. We circled the city so many times trying different roads making our tracks on the GPS look more like a word search competion that had been checked 100 times but the only words not circled were the ones on our list. Tim came across a camping shop in the centre of the city that looked like it had supplied gear to Lawrence of Arabia. He enquired about a mozzie net, making the sound of the little mites to then have the owner show him a small tent with the word TOILET written on it. He appeared from the shop laughing and Yousif told us to try a pharmacy. The first one we tried sold them for £2 each.
On our way back to the house one day we passed a shop sign saying Victorinox. On closer inspection it turned out to be the largest collection of Swiss army knives,watches, kitchen utensils and tools in the world and with our knife going missing between Cyprus and Egypt it was an unexpected surprise.
Khartoum is a quiet city despite being home to approximately 5 million inhabitants who are spread across 3 large districts. Khartoum is where the Blue Nile (coming from Ethiopia) and the White Nile (coming from Uganda) come together before heading north through Egypt into the Mediterranean sea. Khartoum is cited as being one of the hottest major cities in the world, with an average annual temperature of 37 degrees and the average rainfall is 6 inches per year! The main streets are tarmaced with sandy back streets and you can buy most things – including Dairy Milk chocolate : )
A fruit stall in the centre of town
Khartoum’s spice market
While we were there, Sharon (and Tim) fell in love with Kitty Hudas’s cat, who was due to have kittens any day. The night before the big day, Kitty was pacing up and down and we knew the time was near. The following morning, Kitty appeared looking much less pregnant but not a kitten in sight. We called and called around the garden but couldn’t hear them. She was obviously searching too. We presumed the worst until one of the handy men spotted Kitty climbing a tree. Excitement followed as we soon realised that she had given birth to her kittens up in the tree. A ladder was quickly fetched and the kittens brought down to safety. Unfortunately one had died but the other two were ok. Huda had made a comfortable bed for them all in a large cage and there they stayed – Kitty looking proud and purring continuously! Biscuit, Yousif’s puppy was a new member of the family and spent most of his time ‘bonding’ and ‘playing’ with the other cats.
Kitty and her kitties
We met many of Huda and Yousif’s friends while staying with them. They were a lovely group of people and we felt so pleased to meet them. We enjoyed meeting Neil who is a Scotsman living in Sudan and working as a Soil analysist, who has become a good friend. We told Neil about the struggle we were having to find a map of The Sudan and he offered us his. We also met Aymen who is a musician and Alyson his wife who works at the British Embassy. One evening, they invited us to do some Scottish dancing at the Embassy. We had a fantastic evening; Sharon made the mistake of mentioning that we’d had Ceilidh dancing at our wedding and we promptly messed up the first dance! There was lots of laughing it and it felt surreal Scottish dancing on a tennis court, in the British Embassy surrounded by razor wire in The Sudan. Brilliant night. Meeting Yousif and Huda’s friends made the long wait for our bike part much more enjoyable. We were being treated really well.
Sharon, Tim, Neil, Yousif and Huda
Scottish dancing at the British Embassy
We also visited Huda’s tailor who sewed up a few items for us. He also made us new bags for our stools with bright and colourful material. He was from Turkey and in typical Turkish generousity, offered us tea each time we visited.
Making our stool bags
As mentioned our stay in Khartoum was prolonged by the fact that we were waiting for Tim’s hub. The German company who had sent it insisted it was in Khartoum and Sudapost, the Sudanese postal service (who we renamed Suda’pest’) insisted it was in Germany. We had requested the hub to be sent by DHL express as advised by Dina as it was the only reliable way of getting it here. For some reason, as we had requested standard delivery it was then put in the hands of DHL Germany and Sudapost once it arrived here.
We made many frustrating phone calls to Germany – Sharon practised her German on the poor woman on the other end of the phone; being only able to say ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘1-10’ and ‘I love you’ didn’t really speed the process. The part was ordered on the 11th December and was due to arrive on the 30th December. By the 13th January we’d had had enough and ordered another part, paying an express delivery charge of 176 euros (yes we know) which should reach us within 3-4 days. At least now things were happening.
Would you believe it, the following day the part turned up in the Suda’pest’ office,which was a different address on the parcel, and it transpired that it had been sat in Frankfurt airport all this time.
Next time we’ll travel in this!
With the part now in our hands, we spent the evening preparing for our talk the next day to the International school. Ayman and Alyson had put us in touch with the headmaster Simon and had suggested we might like to do a talk. We had also been invited for dinner with Tom and Richard, the 2 English motor cyclits who were riding from London to Ethiopia – they were in Khartoum waiting for Eritrean visas. We finished our preperation and headed across town in a taxi. We enjoyed eating Cottage pie and had a great evening with them and their Egyptian hosts.
Thursday 17th January
We woke with the alarm and the exciting task of doing a talk at the International school. We arrived early and were greeted by Simon who was from Devon, our home county. He showed us to a classroom and we had time to do a run through before the children arrived. We were grateful for this as it was the first talk we had done.
The children from year 1 and 2 arrived – all 50 of them, along with about half a dozen staff. Simon introduced us and with Sharon leading, we soon got into the swing of it. The children looked up at us with curious eyes, then the questions started and didn’t stop! Our favourite commment was from a young boy who raised his hand excitedly and said ‘I know a quicker route you could do’, while pointing to the map on the wall indicating we could go directly north-west from Sudan to Alaska. We were of-course tempted to follow his advice but explained we were trying to cycle the longest way around the world – fortunately no-one asked ‘why?’!
It was hard to fit 7 months of adventure into 40 minutes but we did our best and they were keen to hear more – we were asked to stay on to speak to some of the children about healthly living; we didn’t mention Tim’s chocolate habit. We enjoyed a cuppa in the staff room and met Simon’s wife Amanda, who was a teacher at the school before heading back to the house. It was a great experience sharing our stories and photos with the children; it not only gave them an insight into our life on the road, it also reminded us of how much we had achieved, how far we’d come, what we’d seen and the challenges we’d faced. Talking about Norway felt like a different world.
Us and the children at the Khartoum International Community School
We had packed our bags for the talk so were prepared in advance for our estimated departure for the Ethiopian border on Saturday. We were still waiting for the second part that had been ordered by express delivery and needed to send one of them back. We hoped it would arrive the following day as the tracker site showed it had left Germany.
We spent the afternoon painting our bikes. Tim meticulously painted flags of the countries we had visited on his bike – it looked fab and much more colourful. Sharon painted stripes and daisies on hers.
Tim’s more colourful bike
Friday 18th January
As soon as we woke Tim checked the DHL website to see if the hub had arrived. The website confirmed that it was now ready for picking up, plus with our visas now extended we could collect our passports at the same time. This was the news we had been waiting for and it felt like the weight was starting to lift. We joined Yousif and Huda for breakfast then rode across the city to the DHL office.
We soon arrived, re-packed the box with the old hub and the new one that had arrived ready to send back. We headed on to the Acropole hotel as the owner had arranged our visa extentions fos us. It was a breath of fresh air with it being so easy having it extended even though it was another extra expense.
We rang Neil to see if he was still at a local cafe called Ozone so we arranged to meet him for a coffee. It felt different crossing the city this time knowing we were leaving the next day and was nice to see Neil and hear about his adventures in the north of the country collecting dust samples. He had also visited an ever growing lake that was created as a result of a bore hole drilling that went wrong whilst looking for water. It is now over 1km long. It felt great to relax knowing we were leaving soon. We said our goodbyes and headed on back to the house to sort out any loose ends and repack our bags. We chatted about being concerned with getting up the Ethiopian mountains with our expanded bellies from all the food Yousif and Huda had fed us. While Tim tweaked the bikes, Sharon helped Huda design her next sofa cover and used the internet to sort out a few things. Tim backed up our pictures and went out to oil the saddles; he treated them well, polishing the copper rivets until they shone. With all our jobs done we sat down for an hour or so before heading for dinner. Tim went out to lock up the bikes which were kept next to the window by the TV where we could see them. Tim turned to Sharon and asked her where his bike was thinking she had hidden it as a joke but this was no joke – it was gone!!!!!
Tim ran through the garden and out the gates, there was only one guard outside when there was normally 2 or 3, and he was in a hut watching something other than the road. Tim asked if he had seen anyone go past on a bike? The guard gave Tim a vacant look so he went to get a torch to try and follow the tracks we had noticed in the sand. This soon became a pointless exercise as the sand road turned into tarmac and the bike could be anywhere.
Tim returned and went off to the police station with Yousif to make a report. It felt frustrating filling in the numerous forms for the next half an hour while he imagined the thief to be riding away further and further. The police seemed keener to watch the football on the TV. Two plain-clothes policemen went back to the house to make enquiries but we didn’t hold out hope.
How can things go so wrong? We felt so bad as we had already stayed far longer at Yousif and Huda’s place than we hd planned and they were now helping with the police. We were in a state of disbelief – Tim knew every inch of Winston and we were so sad to have lost a team member. It was like a scene from the film Castaway with Tim calling for Winston across the garden, with his big beard (but with a much larger belly then Tom Hanks due to Huda’s cooking).
Next instalment coming soon…