Far From the Madding Crowd
Driving out through the desert from Karima, the road passes by the pyramids that I had seen the day before, then crossing over the Nile to Merowe. Here, a bokasi (a pick-up truck) is the public transport that ferries people out to the villages, into the back of which I cram to drive out to the village of Nuri.
The pyramids at Nuri lie far from anything significant, bordered only by the small adobe houses of the neighbouring village. They sit, weathered, amongst the desert dunes, their small rounded bricks eroded by the millennia that have passed since their construction.
The scant information I had regarding this site mentioned that “tickets” to visit this site should be bought back in Karima, although there is rarely anyone to collect them. Standing in a never-ending expanse of sand, it’s hard to imagine anything as organised as ticket-sales for such a location. But as I walk back to the village, a man arrives on a motorcycle, asking in Arabic for my ticket, which—of course—I did not possess. As I claim ignorance, he kindly proposes to accompany me to the local police station to rectify the situation. Having heard stories of Sudanese police, and being not yet in possession of the photography permit that should accompany the camera stowed in my bag, I am keen to decline his kind offer. I thus try my luck with baksheesh (“bribe” or “tip”, in Arabic, depending on the situation), offering him half of the declared price of a ticket.
This baksheesh turns out to be quite the investment. He accepts it, and as we strike up a bit of a rapport in my broken Arabic, he invites me back to his place for lunch and to meet his family. I climb on the back of his motorcycle, we unsteadily traverse the desert sand and are soon speeding down a dirt-track to a collection of rustic houses.
He is in the final stages of the construction of another room for their house, and so I sit with his brother and a paint-covered friend as we eat a platter of local dishes. The water comes from a clay pot, which he describes as river water. Having exhausted my supply of water in the desert heat, I gladly accept, hoping that my stomach has obtained enough resistance with local water to not cause any problems.
Following lunch his brother—Rashid—insists that I visit his nursery, a project that he has been cultivating for the past three years. Rashid has constructed this haven from the arid environment that is filled with a variety of plants, as well as hosting some more “exhibition” pieces. A box contains a history of Sudanese money, birds are sculpted out of rocks, and he is building an enclosure for some animals. Signs are posted in Arabic & English amongst long grasses, and a seating area is shaded from the scorching sun by a parasol made from an old satellite dish covered by woven grass. I am astonished at what he has done to create this sanctuary, but at the same time question the purpose it will serve. Nuri is a small village, hardly known, far from anywhere, and I can’t imagine that this place, once opened (in one year, insha’Allah), will receive many visitors. It is, however, a great testament to both his imagination and dedication, and I wish Rashid & the Nuri Modern Nursery the best of luck.
For me that day, a little bit of baksheesh went a long way.