Dora Bitsi

Dora Bitsi

Jan 02 2015

A guide to the welcoming Sudan!

Sudan!
The country of the wide straight roads, the infinite red dessert and the safest country in our journey!

We knew there was something different in this little visited place from the moment we crossed in from the green Ethiopian plains.Getting to the border involves changing 2 minibuses and 1km walking through a bridge until you reach its guarded doors.

“Inshallah”, at the end of the day we can get some decent sleep!!
 Everything changes to Arabic and people seem to not have seen a foreigner before. As soon as we are there,a huge man with a gelebia appears and begins to grunt and point us that we have to get searched before checking our passports. Then we wait for someone else to come who takes our names but doesn’t open our bags. We proceed scared at the visa check and for 15minutes we sit in the dirty room full of flies and fans getting more and more sweaty. The officer though was taking his time and we thought maybe we will never leave. “Inshallah” is the way to go here (meaning with God’s Will).

However he calls us after a while and he asks: “Yunan?” A smile in his voice i didn’t detect at the time but it was the start of us getting some recognition for being Greeks! “Ok” he says, and we depart in a haste before the giant catches up with us!

A minibus was waiting at the end of the dusty road.Surprisingly, the driver shook our hands and we didn’t even bargain any price since the price he told us was very low and we assumed it was the local one! I sat in the front and poor Elpis in a broken seat behind me and we started for the long way to the Capital, Khartoum! In a while though, the driver slowed down again.

A bunch of men/officials took everybody out and started searching the vehicle and passports. Strangely women were not suspicious because they didnt bother checking us. But the hours were dragging on and there was no aircondition.All the scortching heat and the dust was coming through the open windows. After what looked like eternity the lights of Khartoum appeared and it was 10pm by the time we arrived on a busy road. We didn’t even understand which of the vehicles were taxis!!! We made a sign and a tiny minibus pulled over. We said “Acropole Hotel?” But no sign of understanding!

Pavlos, the youngest of the Pagoulatos family in his office :)
 The stairecase of Acropole always full with busy archeologists!
Finally after a lot of efforts from Mr Loizos, a Greek raised in Sudan, who explained the hotel whereabouts to the taxi driver in Arabic and soon we were crossing, dirty and tired, the doorstep of Acropole Hotel, a hotel with great involvement in the country’s history. The friendly greek family of Pagoulatos that runs the hotel for 3 generations now, has managed to give an air of security and homefeeling to the simple and clean rooms of the hotel.
Next day we were up and ready to explore Khartoum!
Khartoum is like an oasis in the dry desert of Sudan. It is founded at the place where White and Blue Nile are merge to form the Nile. From there, it will start its magnificent journey across Sudan and Egypt before it pours into the Mediterranean!

The bridge over the point where Blue and White Nile merge!

The people here are as warm as the weather!
Wandering through the dusty roads you will find men in their bleach white gelebias chilling in short stools at the shade. One of their daily rituals is drinking tea -or shai. In about every corner, you can find these shai spots were women equipped with only a low table full of strange bottles are making tea .But no. The tea is not just a lipton tea bag. THIS tea  is a perfect mixture of pure tea and differnent herbs made on the spot!! Well, the locals drink it veeeery sweet but this is optional !
In the streets of Khartoum life goes slowly and in a stress-free way :)

Even though the dressing code excludes shorts and sleeveless shirts (even for men) being a foreigner here doesn’t even feel like you are a tourist at all! People don’t stare, they are giving you kind goodmornings and genuine chats and take hospitality very seriously!

Taking our afternoon coffee on a river boat by the Nile!
The government in Sudan is undoubtedly one of the most bureaucratic and basically considers every non Sudanese as a possible spy against the country’s interests. That is why a permit is required for excursions outside Khartoum.Even for the tourist attractions like Meroe pyramids. Apart from this, you need to carry cash because there is an embargo to foreign banks . In spite of all these difficulties that make Sudan one of the least visited countries in the world, again the locals were there to give us a hand every time we needed it and they surprised us with their open mindedness in meeting new people and their level of awareness.

Crushing a typical Sudanese wedding was fun!
Following the tour that Acropole Hotel organises for free for its guests every Friday, we managed to get a glimpse of the best sights this city has to offer.
1. The National Museum of Sudan

Archeological findings, pyramids and statues from the famous Nubian civilization and the “Black Pharaohs”. Even though the Egyptian influence is the most significant in Sudan’s history, there is also an interesting link with hellenistic era and the unknown part of Christianism of Nubia. In the courtyard, you can visit the 3 three temples that were moved here after being rescued from the flood waters of Lake Nasser in the 1960s.
2.The Khalifa’s House in Omdurman

This house belonged to a very important man in Sudanese revolution , Abdu-allah Al-Ta’eshy. The low mud-brick house has several small spaces and is very interesting on the inside!
3.The Mahdi Tomb

Opposite its house, one can visit the tomb of the Mahdi, a magnificent building with a silver dome.
4.Whirling dervishes at Al – Nil Tomb

On Fridays as the sun starts to set the Sufis begin their prayer to their God. The setting is one of the most mystical we have ever witnessed. The sufis that participate in the ceremony don’t wear the simple white dress but instead a crazy patchwork of green and red, often topped off with leopard skin, and dreadlocks.

The participants form a circle and inside  the dervishes walk around clapping and signing to the rythm of drums. Occasionally, one of them will start swirling around themselves with a weird expression of ecstasy on their face. As they chant and clap you feel like you are part of something ancient. You have to be there to feel it too! 

5. The Souq (Market) of Omdurman

Dried Crocodile skins, shoes and bags made of snakeskin, mountains of dates, and golden jewlerry will entice you under the canvas shade of the small alleys and the friendly shopkeepers! 
What’s more ?
6. Al-Housh Restaurant

A complete surprise decoration wise and one of the best places to try traditional well cooked Sudanese food!
Made to look like you are inside a small Sudanese village, it will blow you away!!
7.The Greek Club and Community

In it glorious days the Greek community of Khartoum was one of the largest European populations in Sudan. The people that have remained there told us that you could walk around the neighborhood and listen to Greek everywhere. Nowadays, the population of our community has dropped significantly and it is such a pity cause there are beautiful buildings as the school, the church, the sport club, etc..

Mrs Ioanna from the embassy had arranged for us to be hosted at a flat of the Greek community for the most of our stay and showed us the best places in town together with Bishop Narkissos.

After having amazing time in Khartoum, it was finally time to travel to Al Youya village in the state of North Kordofan.. the place we had arranged to dig the water well and give clean water to more than 1,200 people.. more info on a separate post coming soon..

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