Friday, 31 August 2012

National Museum 31st August

Egyptian lions
Nativity Scene
Today we decided to visit the National Museum which is highly recommended in my guidebook.  It is a half hour walk from the flat, walking along the Nile past some very grand government buildings and hotels.  According to my guidebook there is a charge for entry, but we were told that there was no charge.  The museum is entirely devoted to the archaeology of Sudan.  It gives a very clear chronological overview from the very earliest pre-historic finds up to the beginning of Islam in the 7th Century encompassing large sections on Egyptian Nubia and early Christian frescos rescued before the construction of the Nasser Dam.  The museum is worth more than one visit to appreciate it fully.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Thursday 30th August visiting CLIK

Becca has recommended that it would be a good idea to visit the Catholic Language Institute Khartoum (CLIK) which is in an area of Khartoum called Amarat.  CLIK produce a highly recommended Sudanese Arabic text book and also do language courses.  Jennifer and Martin both want to do an intensive course.  I have decided to learn properly when I reach Ed Damer, perhaps in exchange for English lessons, while relying on my limited phrases which I learnt before coming here for now. 

We took an amjad (a type of small, cheap taxi) but had great difficulties finding the right street.  Two hours later, feeling very hot and sticky, we finally found it.  We were led into a lovely cool old building and met a French La Salle brother who discussed our requirements with us.  He told us that the main aim of CLIK is to help Catholic organisations and also volunteers from other organisations rather than operate as a commercial school.  Jennifer and Martin were able to work out a tailor-made course for the short amount of time we are in Khartoum.  He gave a discounted rate taking into account that they are two people and both volunteers.  The textbook was beyond my means, so he offered me a slightly defective copy at a much reduced rate.  Afterwards he offered us a lift back towards the flat as he was going into town.  We very gratefully accepted.

29th August post

Today I decided to visit the British Council for the first time to see what is available there.  It is walking distance from the flat, so I left early to avoid the heat of the day.  I found the building quite easily following my map.  The British Council no longer has a library due to budget cuts.  However, I was introduced to several English teachers who work there and allowed to look at teaching materials, which was useful.

In the evening I walked down to Nile Street, the equivalent to the Embankment in London.  The Nile is a great deal bigger than the Thames though.  On the way there and back to the flat, I passed the Ministry of Justice, where very official looking guards sat at the gates.  They all wanted to practice their very limited English, ‘Hello, how are you?’  I am finding generally that people are keen to do this, and that this is the standard phrase.  The other thing people ask is whether I am English.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

28th August - ethnographic museum

Today Jennifer, Martin and I decided to go out early rather than facing the heat of the day.  We went to the Ethnographic Museum, which I had spotted on Sunday on my way to the cathedral.  It was small but gave a very interesting overview of the different ethnic groups in Sudan, both African and Arab.  My favourite exhibit was a magnificent war drum made out of a single piece of wood in the shape of a cow. Afterwards we walked slowly back to the flat, stopping for lunch on our way.

In the afternoon, Rami came to fetch Martin and me to look for compatible dongles.  I brought my laptop with me so we could make sure it worked with my computer.  To my joy, we found one on a very reasonably priced package, giving unlimited use for the next three months.

27th August - more wedding celebrations

Rather than giving a blow-by-blow account from now on I will write the main things that happen. Today I found an internet cafe and was able to check my bank account and emails.  For some reason emails and international texts don’t seem to be working through my mobile, which is quite a nuisance.  In the past I have had problems finding a compatible dongle for my laptop, so finding one here might prove difficult.  The internet cafe’s internet connection was frustratingly slow, so I am very keen to find a better alternative.

In the evening we all went to another evening of wedding festivities for the same bride and groom as the event on my first day here.  This time the event was held in a huge air-conditioned room.  There were many tables and chairs for all the guests.  The bride and groom were dressed western-style, as were the bridesmaids.  They came in doing a slow, very expertly rehearsed, dance.  Then the bride and groom were led to throne-like seats where there were many photos taken.  There was a band which started the evening with western-style music, followed by an excellent local singer.  There was a lot of dancing the whole evening.  Food was served, almost identical to the food served at the previous wedding event.  There was a mixture mainly of meat and bread.  At 11pm precisely the singer stopped singing, in mid-phrase.  However the band took over.  Later Becca explained that there is a very strict law in Sudan that celebrations must end by 11pm.  She said it was the first time she had been to an event where this was ignored.


Sunday 26th August

I went to Mass at the Catholic Cathedral today.  My understanding from internet research was that Mass was at 9.30.  I arrived to find an Arabic Mass in mid-progress, with the Cardinal officiating.  I joined in.  The church was crowded with an entirely African congregation, including lots of babies and small children.  It was a sung mass with instruments.  Afterwards, I asked a nun if there is also an English Mass.  She said that the 10am and 6.30pm masses are in English.  I stayed for the 10am mass, which also had music, but was much less crowded.  The hymn book was specially written for the Sudan Diocese by some Italian priests.  The church itself is built in the Italian style, so it is clear that Italian missionaries were/are very active here.  The liturgy was the new English translation which has only been in use since September 2011.

After Mass I walked back by a slightly different route which I think is more direct and also better shaded.  The roads in this part of town are properly metalled, the first that I have seen here.  Shops seem to be organised by type, so that there will be a large number of shops selling men’s shoes, or travel agencies all huddled together.
The heat is at its most bearable, predictably, either early or late in the day.  Now that it is the heat of the day, I am writing this diary, doing more hand-washing etc.  In other words, lying low.

25th August - Day 2 in Khartoum

Today I got up early and had another mango and plenty of water.  After a shower, and feeling much fresher, I decided to make a start on cleaning the floors of the flat, which are very gritty.  Rajeev has told me that the floor gets filthy faster than it can be cleaned.  I also did some clothes-washing. 

I had my Blackberry unlocked and a Sudanese SIM card installed today, much to my relief.  I was pleased to see that I can still get my emails without having to re-set the phone.  For lunch I went out and found a stall selling tamiya (a Sudanese style falafel). 
Later in the day, Rami, the SVP coordinator, came and took my passport and photos so he can organise internal visas and a resident’s visa for me.  He told me that I will be going to a town called Ed Damer, which is on the River Nile, to the north of Khartoum.  It is a state capital, quite near Meroe, where the famous pyramids are.  Becca also came and we had a chat.  We were told that two more volunteers, a couple, were arriving this evening.  Raj will share with the husband and I will share with the wife.  I tidied the room to make room as my unpacked suitcases were using up the whole room.

In the evening I went in search of food and found a kebab stall.  The kebab was very much smaller than in the UK and much tastier.  When I came back, the new volunteers had arrived.  Their names are Jennifer and Martin, and they had just arrived from Ethiopia where they were teaching at a summer school.  They were totally shattered. 

Arrival in Khartoum 24 August

Today I arrived in Khartoum and was met by the SVP Coordinator Becca and Omer, who drove me and my huge amount of luggage to the SVP flat.  The flat is in the centre of town on the third floor of a block of flats.  There is no lift, and there were no lights on the stairway, so we had to carry my luggage up, in the dark.  All credit to Becca and Omer for stoically doing this at 5 o’clock in the morning.  Omer invited me to a relative’s wedding the next day.  After a tussle with my mosquito net, I crashed into bed at once.  I can’t pretend that I slept well.  The heat was extreme and I was beyond tired.  I slept fitfully, getting up in the morning to iron my wedding kaftan, before crashing out for a much more refreshing sleep.  I finally surfaced properly in the late morning and met my flat mate Rajeev properly (we had met briefly when I arrived).

We had some water melon for breakfast.  Then, after my third shower of the day, changed into my smart clothes and left in search of someone to unlock my phone and sell me a SIM card.  Rajeev is seriously learning Arabic and was very helpful.  My phone turned out to be too technologically advanced for the local shop, but they suggested a shop which will be open tomorrow.  I will keep trying.
The streets are definitely third world.  They are unmade mud roads, littered with rubbish, even though this is the centre of town.  As well as the rubbish, there are many potholes, so it is necessary to watch your footing carefully.  We stopped for a very refreshing fresh mango and banana juice before walking to an ultra-modern shopping mall which would not be out of place in London.  The contrast with the surrounding area is extreme.  There we were picked up by Mahmoud and a friend and driven to the wedding.  Both men are architects.  Both are very keen to go to the UK to further their studies but are unable to afford to.
The house where the wedding party was held was some distance away, across the Nile.  The Nile has had a disastrous flood recently and a lot of land has been inundated.  There are no embankments.  I saw what I thought were bushes sticking up through the water, and was told that these were actually the tops of trees.  Crocodiles and hippos, which are not normally in this part of the Nile have been swept up from Ethiopia.
The wedding party was held at the groom’s family home.  Men and women had separate parties, so Rajeev went one way and I went the other.  A young girl was asked to sit with me to help me settle in.  Her family emigrated to the US and have returned for the wedding.  We sat in one of many rooms full of women of different ages.  I was given a large plate of food, mainly meat, to eat.  I was very careful to eat it with my right hand.  Lots of women came and went, all of whom needed to shake hands.  I said ‘Salaam al lekum’ to many, many women while becoming increasingly worried by the stickiness of my hand. 
Later another SVP volunteer called Mary arrived.  She has been in Sudan for 10 months as part of her Arabic degree course.  Mary was able to explain a lot of things to me.  It turned out that the groom comes from a very distinguished Sudanese family, descended from the man who started women’s education in Sudan, Sheikh Babikr Badri.  From a beginning as a girl’s primary school, the movement grew to a stage where there is a women’s university in Khartoum.  Women’s suffrage has now reached a stage where there are many women politicians in the Sudanese government.
Mary had agreed to help another volunteer called Suzanne to find the wedding.  We went out together to meet her on a local main road, as with all roads, unmade.  This one was lined with stalls and tables and chairs where you could have a drink.  When Suzanne arrived, the three of us went to a tea stall.  The sun was setting and there was a refreshing breeze.  We had a good conversation, before Suzanne was fetched to go to the wedding.  Mary took me back to the flat by bus.  The bus was crowded and had a strange seating arrangement so that there are put-down seats which take up the passageway.   It must be very difficult if people at the back want to get off, which fortunately did not happen.  We got off at the last stop and walked through crowded streets, buying some mangos for my breakfast on our way.
I had one of the mangos, showered and went straight to bed.  I slept better than the previous night., but still not well.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Before I leap into the unknown

This Thursday I am going to Sudan to teach English as a Foreign Language as a volunteer with the Sudan Volunteer ProgrammeI am now at a stage of life where my children have left home and have their own lives.  This is the first time in my adult life that I have been footloose.  I decided to re-train as a TEFL teacher and look at possible places to go. 

I got a wonderful book out of the library called Teaching English Abroad which contains details of many countries and mentioned Sudan and SVP.  I did a bit of background reading about Sudan and was hooked.  It is a country with a lot of archaeology and interesting and diverse cultures.  It is a country with a lot of problems, both war and poverty. The SVP sends volunteers to enhance understanding of the outside world in Sudan and at the same time increase understanding of Sudan elsewhere.  As they are a very small charity, this is obviously a drop in the ocean, but at least it is a start.

I have spent the last nine months preparing to go. I have achieved my TEFL qualification, had some lessons in Sudanese Arabic, reverted to my maiden name, bought suitable clothes for an Islamic country and had a large number of vaccinations. I have also got rid of most of my possessions as I intend this to be a lifestyle change, hopefully doing alternate years of volunteering and paid work for the foreseeable future. As from Thursday I have rented out my home (a boat on the Thames, see picture).  It is almost time to say "Goodbye boat, salaam alekum (peace be with you) Sudan!"