Published: July 30th 2009
July 17th 2009
We breakfasted on fried eggs and bread, again courtesy of Andrew and Angela, we could get used to this having a support crew lark. We must be turning into a right pair of Ewan and Charlies. What are we going to do when we go our seperate ways? How will we cope without having the luxury of someone travelling with us who actually prepared properly to do this trip? It was to be a short day, only 180k on good roads to Abu Dom. The day's travelling passed in the blink of an eye, after the shocking roads of the previous two days, and by early afternoon, we were making camp.
Our camp was an earthly paradise, only metres from the Nile, with powder fine sands, fringed with tall palms. The first thing we wanted to do was wash. The day may have been short and easier than previous ones, but the temperatures hadn't relented. Even sitting in the shade, sweat still poured off of us as fast as we could replace the lost fluids. We had a huge body of water to jump into, but one problem. Crocodiles.
We asked one villager who came down to say hi,
and he responded that there definitely were crocodiles in this part of the Nile. We could have brushed off his advice, but he decided to try and find us one. The way he descended the bank, throwing stones in every underhang, and then jumping down rapidly and guardedly convinced us. Then he stood at the edge of the swift flowing waters, throwing more rocks, and poking sticks gingerly into the water. We were convinced, and kept trying to get him to come away from the water, before one of the man eaters of our imagination soared out of the water to swallow him whole. Of course, he completely ignored us, unsatisfied with his failure to taunt a beast into showing itself for us. He eventually stopped, and went back, but left his young boy with us, who refused to speak, but just circled us, watching us uneasily.
We walked back to the campsite, still sweaty and uncomfortable, disappointed with our impotence to cool down. Rather than sit and cook in my own juices, I decided to walk down to the river to find my own beast. I slid down the bank, checking each underhand like the local guy had,
before dropping down them, and stood at the edge, looking for any signs of a dinosaur that didn't realised it was meant to be extinct. I threw a few stones randomly, without seeing anything more than some fat and lazy fish flowting languidly in the warm waters, before noticing a large tree which had fallen into the water. 'If I was a crocodile, where would I lay in the heat of the day?' I picked up a flat rock, and skimmed it across at the rotting stump. The two hit with a dull 'clump,' and a second later, a two foot reptile shot out, far faster than I could have ever imagined, its stumpy legs practically flapped, giving the impression it was almost flying across the wood, before diving into the murky waters and disappearing. A f@*&ng crocodile! I didn't care that it wasn't even big enough to eat Hannah, I just saw a f^%$#g crocodile!
I ran back up the bank, shouting for the others to come and see, which obviously they did. Only what could they see? My croc had gone, and however many stones I threw, I couldn't tempt another into view. Eventually, I had to
give up, written off by the other three as a liar or a nutter. I know I saw my crocodile! The child continuted to stare at us out of the top of his eyes.
My 'sighting,' had convinced us all we weren't going to get a swim, until we heard the sounds of laughing and splashing from the river. We went down to investigate, and there were a bunch of locals, swimming and diving in the brown murk. 'Are there no crocodiles?' I ventured. 'Of course, but it's fine!' Well, if it is good enough for the locals... By the time I had this conversation, Andrew was stripped to the waist and ready to dive in. I followed, as did Angela, while Han watched us from the bank. We floundered around with the locals, our shallow dives and floppy hair providing them with endless amusement, Hannah's nervousness, with even more. Eventually she waded in for a few minutes, the soft Nile mud squishing in between her toes, scrunching her nose up with each footfall. Ten minutes was enough to cool us down, and as none of us had lost a leg, we called it a day, said goodbye to
our new friends, and walked back to the car.
While we were sat drying, drinking water in the shade, when we noticed our guardian had gone. Soon enough villagers came wandering over, on make believe tasks such as checking for dates, or 'looking at the water' just to have a look at the strange white guys. Our guardian must have gone back to the village to spread the word.
The swimmers came to join us too, and we soon had a large crowd of locals, who switched and changed over time, but we rarely had less than half a dozen people around us, asking questions or just staring. I interpreted what we were doing, and we were treated with massive respect and hospitality. One guy brought us dates, another brought me cigarettes, we shared stories and information, we were told how welcome we were, this was our new home. Andrew and I walked into the village, to meet more people, and try to find some cold Cokes. The village shop was open, but nobody was home, so I poked my head around a door to find the owner. As I poked my head around the metal gate, I
was met with a cacaphony of shrieking and ululation. A group of women flocked from around the corner, and flapped around us, asking questions and throwing lewd remarks at us. More women came from the other end of the street, brightly garbed, smiling and making crude innuendos about white meat, or informing us that they needed new husbands. Several of the younger ones asked us for our opinion of who was prettiest, and simpred and posed in various headscarves. A large matronly lady marshalled her chicks, and calmed the situation with surprisingly good English, before we said our farewells and returned Cokeless, to our actual ladies.
The women followed us over, with the village children in tow, and stood around the campsite, giggling and smiling. One of the women told us to be careful, as the 'winds were coming.' I don't have a clue how she could tell, she just pointed at the sky when I asked how she knew, as if it were obvious. Before long, they asked us if we could take pictures of them, and while they were arranging their hair and headpieces, we asked one of the older men if it was fine. Of course,
he told us it was, and even joined in the posing, throwing a hand around Angela for the photos. The children jumped up and down to see the pictures on Andrew's digital screen, squealing delight at the results, while the women cackled faux indignation at how the photos had turned out, demanding another go to get it better. Some men we hadn't met turned up, telling us not to take photos, but the women told us to carry on, and the old guy told us to ignore them, so we took another photo or two, before calling it a day. The women thinned out a little, with gracious goodbyes and beautiful smiles, and took their children back to the village. It was a beautiful moment.
Then it all got a little ugly.
We heard shouting, and the two strange men ran over to where we had set up the cooking equipment, and were begginning to chop food for tea. One stopped short, but the other continued right up to our camp, and lifting our blanket, shoved it at me 'you are not welcome here, you do not have the right,' he shouted at me in Arabic. 'I am
very sorry, there's no problem here is there?' I replied. ''You are the problem, you have no respect, you should know better being an Egyptian!' Well, how very bloody rude, not only was he shouting at me, and getting right up in my face, he was calling me an Egyptian. Oh the disrespect. I offered to delete the photos, if they were the problem, but he just continued to shout, telling me that we had to leave, and again telling me I should know better than the foreigners. Some of the other villagers, who had been so kind to us turned up at this point, telling us to ignore them, and make ourselves at home. They pulled the guy away from me, who I had previously been convinced I was going to come to blows with if it went further, but he broke away and got up close again. After, again being informed that I had no respect, and should know better as a muslim, I told him that it wasn't very Muslim to be so inhospitable, but he didn't take my point. The older men around kept telling us we were welcome, and apologised for the rude interruption to our afternoon, and several of them took the two idiots down the river a little way.
While we listened to the almighty bollocking the two dissidents were getting behind the trees, we decided as a group that it was best to move on, if we had offended anyone in any way. We packed up and made to leave. As we pulled out of the little paradise, the villagers who had become our friends in such a short time mouthed 'asif's at us, 'I'm sorry.' Through the village, the women and children waved us away, and we left to find a new campsite.
The two idiots ruined the good mood. Their major beef was that we had 'disrespected' them, by taking photos of their wives. It was very un-islamic of me. None of the other men minded, and the women loved it, but they took offence because of retarded fundamentalism and small mindedness. I don't recall the Koran saying anything about not taking photos, two thousand years before the camera was invented. Just another device invented by people who corrupt and pervert their peaceful and tolerant religion to keep women subjugated in my opinion. Never mind, if we met two ignorant and aggressive people, we must have met fifty generous, kind and open hearted souls.
It didn't take long to find another suitable campsite, but this time we were a little more wary than we had previously been. Our wariness was soon debunked by the arrival of an extraordinary man. Children had sniffed us out first, camping behind some abandoned buildings, and one of the farmers had given us his blessing to camp there, 'no problem, it's been abandoned for years, make yourself at home.' After the children, came a middle aged and exuberant man, who introduced himself in excellent English as Sheikh Abu Jasim. 'Though I'm not really a sheikh, but everyone just calls me that around here,' he explained, smiling. He then told us he had to pray, but he would join us in a minute. He asked for some water to perform his ablutions before praying, and then, in the middle of our little campsite, went though his rituals solemnly. Within minutes, he was sat down with us, sharing our tea and bemoaning the faltering standard of English speaking in Sudan. He turned out to be an English teacher, so we donated 'The Old Man and the Sea' for his collection, which he insisted we all sign. In return he sent out a boy to find us more dates. When we said why we had come to this area, he was aghast that we had been treated badly by anyone from Sudan, and it was obvious that he took it as a personal insult. I would not be even slightly surprised if he had gone to the neighbouring village to argue our case himself. We made sure that it was clear most of the villagers were wonderful to us, and that it was only a tiny minority who had taken umberance, worried by his anger over the matter.
We later argued for several minutes as he insisted that we must stay in his home rather than sleep outside, and only eventually conceded defeat when we agreed that if the weather got bad, we would come and knock on his door. He warned us, like the lady earlier, that the 'winds were coming,' and told us he would leave his door open for us, before excusing himself.
We washed up and made ready for bed. As we performed this task, several villagers came in dribs and drabs from the surrounding feilds, and each one insisted that we come into their home for the night. Each one also told us that we had to meet the 'Sheikh,' as he was a great man. Several boasted proudly of family connections with him, and all were so insistent that we come inside to escape the storm, and be away from thorns and scorpions. How did they know of a storm? The sky had been clear all day. The last guy to try was so insistent, that when we convinced them we were fine outside, the madman replied 'well, if you are sleeping here, then so am I!' Eventually he did leave, but again, said his door would be open all night.
As we made for bed, sheet lighting flashed in the heavy dark air, lighting up the sky low and ominous, like artillery strikes on the horizon. Looks like they were right about the winds. The sky was full of a million stars, and rusty donkeys creaked in the darkness as we lay down under them to sleep.
We were woken in the middle of the night by a mighty wind, that buffeted the tent, threatening to collapse it. I was only half awake, attempting to ignore the flapping, when I was brought properly into life by a loud crash against the side of the tent. I pulled trousers on and ran outside, to find the rubbish bag had broken free, and was throwing tins and paper to the wind. I chased them around half naked, and tied the bag under Donkey, to fall to sleep again, listening to the sounds of the sand being thrown against the flimsy walls of our tent, and the dogs barking their futile defiance at the storm.