It was a strange sensation to feel a bit nippy. I hadn’t felt cold since that night in Sheik Jarrah in East Jerusalem, three countries and many weeks previous.
I had woken early to catch the bus to Khartoum, and as the sun was rising on the other side of the Nile, the air was pleasant, far from the stifling heat to which I had become accustomed. Sat in one of the coaches that plies the new Chinese/oil funded roads in North Sudan, the air conditioning was pumping out cold air. Only when the driver opened a window briefly was one brought back to the reality of the interminable heat of this country, reinforced by the desert landscape that unfolded the other side of the smoked glass. I was alone in keeping a crack open between the curtains, watching the expanse of sand and rocks stretch to the horizon, occasionally spilling out onto the road. My fellow passengers were well aware of the monotonous landscape through which the tarmac traced, and it held little interest for them, looking out only at the occasional army checkpoint.
Despite the vast expanse of glass that constitutes the front of a modern bus, the view the driver had of the road was small, peering in-between plastic flowers, numerous Tweetie Pi’s, empty gift bags and other trinkets. Faith was put in the Masha’Allah (approximately “God has willed it”) sticker that adorns all public transport, as the bus swung around corners and overtaking wildly, all the time leaning on the horn. Time seems to hold little value in this part of the world, except when behind a steering wheel.
Arriving into Omdurman, the city neighbouring the Sudanese capital, separated by the confluence of the Blue & White Nile, the first image I had was of a lorry driving past full of armed soldiers. It seemed the archetypal cliché of Africa. I wondered what to expect in Khartoum — the name conjuring up many images — and what the atmosphere would be like with the elections looming.
The bus stopped at the edge of the giant Omdurman souq, where boys carrying blocks of ice weaved between tea-ladies and water coolers. Within two minutes of stepping into the stifling air of the city, three men had proffered the “traditional” Sudanese faux-leopard skin shoes. There seemed an odd juxtaposition between the midday, heat-induced lethargy as men lay under vehicles, napping in their shade, and the bustle of the souq.
Taking another, local bus to Khartoum itself, we crossed the Nile and I found myself in the dusty streets of downtown Khartoum, wandering around in the mid-afternoon sun with more than twenty kilos on my back, wondering where I would be spending the night. Once the afternoon power-cut had subsided, my question was answered by an Italian Cooperation worker. Couch-surfing in Khartoum.