A Long Day of Traveling
It began at dawn, flagging down a rickshaw in the cool morning air, the sun not yet pressing its thumb on this arid, African country. This is the best time of the day, but it doesn’t last long.
Fighting through the touts at Mina Buri, I secured a bus to El-Obeid. That morning, there were none to Kadugli, South Kordofan’s provincial capital in the heart of the Nuba mountains. I needed time out of the city and wanted to see more of Sudan. Any region that has “mountains” in its title merits a look.
After a long, lolloping ride in an impossibly hot old bus, it reached El-Obeid an hour and a half later than planned, not bad for Sudan. The day was already well advanced, and when asking around for transport, some said that I would have to wait until tomorrow, others spoke of a bus station the other side of town. A long trek ensued, traversing the souq in the afternoon heat, until at the outskirts, buses were leaving.
These transpired to be the same style of bus as the Khartoum “city” buses, small affairs where 30-or-so people cram in. String-tied boxes lay in the dirt, waiting to be attached to the roof by a posse of youths, hoping to scrape together some money for a day’s work. Crammed in to the front seat, sharing it with another passenger, we crossed the check-point to the exit of the town. I expected problems as traveling in this part of the country raises eyebrows; I hoped my permit was in order. It was dusk, and I still had many miles to cover.
In the last throes of the day’s pink light, the thick, winding trunks of baobab trees lined the route. Ahead, a haboob was blowing strong, an orange mist covering the road reflecting the light of oncoming vehicles.
A collection of thatched huts appeared—a Sudanese service station—gas lights providing a little illumination to the stands of fried fish and falafel. The closer we got to Kadugli, the more the road deteriorated. At times, the driver took to the dirt by the side of the road, preferring this than the tarmac road. Looking across, he was looking sleepy; intermittently jarred back to life as we bounced over pot-holes.
It was past midnight when we arrived. I had no idea where I would be sleeping and the town was black and deserted. Armed police stood outside the occasional building, and seemed to know little of the town’s accommodation. Eventually finding a locked door with lokanda written in Arabic, indicated by a man with a Kalashnikov slung across his lap. The proprietor, disturbed from his sleep told me I couldn’t stay until I registered with the police. “At this time?” I queried. With a snap of his fingers, his friend was called over and I was on the back of a motorbike speeding down the dirt streets. “Come back tomorrow for your passport” the policeman told me, weary with sleep. I felt uneasy leaving him my passport, but seemed to have little choice.
Back at the lokanda, the mosquitos were biting as I slept in the communal courtyard, sweat covering my body in the humid night air.
Welcome to South Kordofan.