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WHEN GARETH BECAME AN HONORARY WOMAN FOR THE DAY

 

HELLO + WELCOME as we drive from Sydney to London, via Africa.

It’s Kirsty writing today. Let’s go…

 

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We arrived in Wadi Halfa our final port of call in Sudan or a blisteringly hot day. Which is to say it felt like any other day in Sudan.

Our fixer for the ferry to Egypt had told us to meet him at the town market. The town was small, brown and filled with nondescript concrete buildings. So we text him back ‘Outside Polici station!’ Sometimes on this trip we can’t help but laugh at the situations we find ourselves in. We both shake our heads, look side to side and say ‘Just standing in a sandy street in Sudan, watching donkey carts, men in Jallabiyas, waiting for someone we don’t know’

Mazar arrived on motorbike like a savior on a white pony galloping in to save the day. We chatted. We drank sweet hibiscus tea and ginger flavored coffee. Every person who walked by seemed to know Mazar. I warmed to him immediately as I heard how he laughed so loud and freely with his friends. He invited us back to his home saying ‘My home is your home, come whenever you want. Shower? Food? Sleeping? You come whenever you want. My wife is there’

When he realised he had somewhere else to be he simply said “OK bye!”, that’s when we realised we hadn’t spoken at all about the ferry out of Sudan (the whole reason we were with Mazar). “I told you; you are the luckiest people in Sudan. Ferry probably Tuesday. Car barge when it comes. I call you. No problems” I can only imagine if someone had been nondescript with information a year ago I would have raised my eyebrows. But after being in Africa it was understood perfectly and there was no need to ask any more questions. The boats would arrive when they arrived and we would go when we would go. We were in the land of no schedules; and we were down with that after nine months on the continent.

We spent four nights wild camping in the desert about 10-20kms outside of town. We found a sandy track that connected to another track and then made our own track and slept by the water. It was a visually spectacular setting – our own little oasis in the desert.  Although ‘oasis’ is a loose term seeing as there was no shade and the heat was sitting between 40-50 degrees all day. Dipping to 35 at nights.

 

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:: Driving towards Wadi Halfa

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:: Alcohol is illegal in Sudan. This is the only beer we found.

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:: Sudan is basically one gigantic desert with Afghanistan like mountains

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:: Our home for a few nights while we waited for our boat out of Sudan

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:: In a country of browns and yellows finding a green shoreline and bright greeny, blue water was very special

 

Out by the oasis we filled our days attempting to not die. Gareth and I reached our temperature limits at different times, so that worked well and we were able to support one another. Gareth slept outside in the BlackWolf tent on top of our lounge mattress. I slept on bedding that was throbbing with heat from baking in the roof of the Troopy all day. I aired it out in the 40’ degree heat to cool them down.

We made friends with the locals who passed by our little patch of land. Every day someone different would appear and have an entire conversation with us in Sudanese (Amharic). They would then leave as abruptly as they arrived. They were welcoming and very curious  about us and why we were camped in their ’neighbourhood’ . We figured out a few words in Amharic…  boat, Egypt, leaving tomorrow… and that seemed to satisfy them. In any other part of Africa we have travelled through we would have had a group of 20+ sitting around all day staring at us. But overall the Sudanese were very respectful of a persons space, and it was nearly like they felt they were being intrusive for even glancing at us.

A favourite encounter was with a local fisherman who lived by himself in a hut just over the hill from us. On the first morning he came to wash his feet at the water right in front of our car.  He nodded his head and stared at us. We weren’t too sure if he was happy about us taking up residence. Just as we had labeled him a grump… and considered moving on, he returned with an arm full of desert cucumbers to give us. This man lived in a hut that consisted of four wooden sticks with a grass roof – this was the equivalent of him giving us his riches. His generosity brought tears to my eyes.

My immediate Australian thought was to give the bounty back ‘He needs it more than we do!’, ‘No way, that would insult him’ G said. I knew he was right, but over the next few nights we made sure we delivered him presents every day. It was a beautiful exchange.

 

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:: Driving towards our wild camp

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:: Local fisherman would hit the water with a stick to round up the fish into their nets.

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:: Taking a look at the mens haul

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:: Gareth’s slept in the BlackWolf tent to escape the heat of the car

 

Each day we ventured into town to drink something hot and disperse our attention from the words ‘F!!! I’M HOT’. Surprisingly drinking a hot drink in the heat works wonders. Who knew!? We sat side by side at the local tea stands with the local gossips – men in turbans and long white Jallabiya dress. No women sat at these tea stands. I was adopted as an honorary man. The men paid for us, saying ‘You are my guests’. Gosh us Aussies could learn a thing or two about hospitality.

 

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On one of our visits into town Mazar’s wife, Rim, threw us an impromptu party. We had only come for a shower from a bucket but before we knew it there was a crowd. It was as if she had text all her friends ‘OMG There are white people in my house! Come quick!’ Gareth was the only man present for the party and was adopted as an honorary woman for the afternoon.

As the ladies entered they unfurled from their strict muslim head covers and began nattering away. We didn’t understand a word but somehow joined in. Food was served at intervals. Sweet biscuits. Noodles with sultanas. Freshly roasted peanuts. Coffee.

The coffee deserves it’s own paragraph. You see, I’m not a coffee drinker. In fact I have never drank a full cup in my life. So when Rim offered a coffee I naturally said ‘No thanks’. But my knee jerked when my 50’ degree brain caught up to the fact that she had just prepared the coffee from scratch. I yelped ‘YES’. To make the coffee from scratch she had taken green beans,  proceeded to roast, sautee’, grind, boil, simmer, and pour. Over scented coals. When I changed my mind from no to yes a small glass was passed from another ladies lips to mine. It was delicious, the flavour was complex and mouth watering. And there in Sudan I drank my first ever coffee!

In the afternoon fun it was interesting to observe a few things. Male children were treated with precedence over girls. We had brought in a couple of play things for the kids – an Australian photo album and Botswana tourism magazine. The boy wanted /expected the toys to himself. The mothers didn’t bat an eyelid. After some cajoling (from us) he shared. It was also interesting to observe the ladies reaction when Gareth spotted a baby that had woken up from sleep. It was blubbering and so he naturally scooped the baby up and and comforted it.

As soon as the room noticed a few hushed and amused noises were made. The lady next to me shook her head in what we both interpreted, as ‘He shouldn’t be doing that’. Profuse apologies ensconced the situation. Soon after a woman breast-fed the baby openly. Gareth had obviously established his ground as an honorary woman.

G and I exchanged those kind of ‘Holy shit I can’t believe we are here!’ glances all afternoon. As a chick who had been craving female company the afternoon filled up my cup. Rim whooshed some incense around me in an attempt to improve my scent. When we walked out of the compound the women walked away in their head dresses, giving me hugs and Gareth and I couldn’t help but wonder what type of relationships they were going home to in their sandy homes.

 

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:: Party time, Sudanese style

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:: The lovely ladies we spent the afternoon with

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:: Mawabip and I. When I asked her what it was like for women in Sudan, she raised her hand over her mouth and shook her head. It said more than words could ever say.

 

Something I have grown to love over the course of this expedition is the sense of community that is revealed the longer you stay in one place. In Wadi Halfa every day we ventured to the bakery to buy the one and only product on offs – pita bread. Soft and scrumptious.

On the first visit to the bakery I was served by a perplexed look from a lean dusty faced man. He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to serve me. I could see his brain ticking over as I motioned towards the bread Woman?White?Weird?… And thanks to our fixer, I knew the correct amount of money to pay for the bread which really spun him out.

By my fourth visit I was greeted with a smile. Served ahead of anyone else. Received ‘extra’ change. And the look in his eyes had changed to one of camaraderie and knowing. We were both in on it. It’s the small travel experiences like this that make my heart boom with happiness. 

 

One of those days after collecting some bread a white German chick rushed up to us and said Hi! with a wonderful smile.

We had sweet tea together. When in Sudan…

And that is how we came to know Anne (pronounced Arn-ey) and Jaan (pronounced Yarn!) German motorbike riders who had driven from South Africa on their way home. I liked them very much. Which may have been swayed by Anne’s To-Do list she was ticking off for the ferry ride and the fact they were the same age as us. Which has been a rarity on our trip.

Jaane’ (anne and jaan, geddit?) would be our crew for the ferry ride north. We were stoked.

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In the next post we finally get on that ferry!

 

Cheers,

GK Signature

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  • Great read! Its amazing the generosity of some humans, it has overwhelmed me a few times on this trip when I think about how great people have been to us.. What an experience though, homemade coffee in a house in Afica communicating with body gestures and smiles I assume. Sounds like so much fun!!

  • Kate O'Donnell Says

    Hey guys! It’s so refreshing to read such nice stories about your time in the African countries that don’t usually fall within the tourist trails. I especially love your story about the bakery :) We’re actually planning the opposite trip down from London to Cape Town at the end of this year, so gathering as much information as we can before we leave and getting pretty excited. Any chance you could send us the contact details for your fixer, Mazar? Cheers

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