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Published: March 30th 2009
While conducting my morning ablutions, I am surprised to see another clearly foreign face. This is a Canadian guy, Wally, recently arrived in Wadi Halfa and hoping to catch the ferry north. He has an iTouch on which he has copies of the WLP for all countries in East Africa. I mentally compare the size, weight, and info of my Africa-wide WLP with his iTouch and its contents, and am consumed with jealousy.
The others head out for breakfast, which I miss due to a combination of not realising the time here is 1 hour ahead of Egypt, as well as the age-old excuse of washing my hair. It seems I also miss an altercation near the breakfast cafe, where bystanders have to keep apart two men intent on going at each other with knives.
The WCs at the lokonda
are squat toilets with a scent and fly content that leads you to them, the washing facilities simply a tap from which you can fill a jug. You then move to your preferred area of the courtyard to carry out your business. I have a premonition that these types of "shower" will feature fairly heavily in my near future.
Registration involves dealing with an excess of bureaucracy and being shuttled from one office to another, but it is still preferable to being locked in the town's prison - we see various mournful faces behind bars, many apparently from the ferry, in the slammer for some unknown offence. Jessie's Arabic helps smooth our passage, both due to its technical value and the respect the police have for his ability, and we then locate transport south to Abri. Our vehicle will be a boksi
, a Toyota pickup with a covered back holding two facing benches. We enter our names on the passenger list, whose numbering reveals the worrying potential for 14 passengers in total. We get away lightly with just 11, and it's still a squeeze. We depart just over an hour late, which I'm told qualifies as early by African standards.
Facing me is a local woman with bags of attitude. In between screaming into her mobile phone and hailing everyone who we pass, she chews seeds constantly for the first hour, spraying the discarded husks in a normal distribution centred on me. She then switches to oranges and accompanying pip-spitting, before settling on plain gum. At this
point she decides to curl up on the floor for a nap, reducing already-cramped leg room to the bare minimum. The tips of her fingers are hennaed and her hair, revealed on occasion when she reties her headscarf, has been braided.
Time estimates for the journey have ranged from 10 hours (Bradt) to 6 (WLP) to 3 (the driver). Wally from Wadi Halfa turns out to be the winner, as his reverse journey had taken about 4 and we clock in at nearly 4.5. The first half is on paved road, leading to as comfortable a ride as could be expected. The second half is on dirt and is gruelling. The low ceiling and lack of handholds make for interesting times as we bump and lurch across the terrain.
More insidious is the dust. It's present in the air at all times, with extra density whenever a passing vehicle stirs up yet more. I soon stop wiping my glasses as they acquire a new layer within minutes. I can't see the time on my watch. The woman opposite points out, amused, that small dust mounds have formed on my cheeks, stuck to the sunscreen.
We drop off
one of the passengers on the outskirts of Abri in a desperately poor community of houses cobbled together from found items. The boksi
is surrounded by dusty-faced, snotty-nosed kids, who regard the whitie contingent with interest. A less shy girl steps forward to shake our hands. This is the Africa of my imagination, a scene constructed from countless pictures of famine and grinding poverty. But it's the first such image in a month here, and I'm determined to create a new one in my mind based not on preconceptions.
By the time we reach Abri, my T-shirt - black when I left Wadi Halfa - is grey. My hair feels stiff, and shaking my head creates a minor dust storm of its own. Jessie leaves to look for a friend of his, a professor in African languages at some German university. The remaining three of us check into the lone lokonda
in town and share a room that is initially dark due to the power not coming on until 6PM. Even then, the low wattage bulb only partially illuminates the interior, mercifully enough as it turns out, given how alarming the stains on the walls are in the half-light.
However relief at disembarking from the boksi
is only temporary, as Abri turns out to have an awesome plague of sandflies. I am soon reminded of the Red Centre, but this is far worse - these little bastards not only land on any exposed flesh and seek out the darkness and privacy of all orifices, but they bite too. We notice several locals wearing mesh masks, and my initial reaction is to pooh-pooh such protection, but after several minutes of walking, swatting, inadvertent fly-swallowing, and hearing the echoing buzz that indicates some insect has penetrated too far into one's ear, I realise my sanity is perilously close to being lost and I willingly part with SP2 to acquire a mask of my own. It helps to some extent but the flies still land and bite every other piece of my skin. We have a quick walk by the Nile as the sun sets but soon retreat to the lokonda
to escape our tormentors.
Dinner is relatively fly-free at the cost of having a gusting bowl of burning incense in the middle of the other dishes. We are a curiosity in the village and receive many stares, smiles, and
hellos. It has been a tiring day and we retire soon after dinner, turning off the switchless light by simply pulling out a wire. Dull but possibly useful info
i. The boksi
I caught from Wadi Halfa to Abri was supposed to leave at 11:30AM. I've no idea how many departures there are per day. It cost SP25 and took 4 hours 20 minutes. We had one break after about 1.5 hours.
ii. Make sure you have a scarf and (sun)glasses to protect your head (in particular your eyes, nostrils, and ears) from the dust.
iii. I think the only lokonda
in Abri is El-Fager - supposedly there is also a chap (mentioned in the Bradt guide) who does a homestay, and his wife's cooking is highly recommended, but when we asked about him we were told he was visiting Khartoum. We paid SP25 for a room with 3 beds.
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