You drag it out, than I’ll drag out breakfast

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Africa » Sudan » North » Khartoum
January 31st 2011
Published: February 17th 2011
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I am in Nuri a small Sudanese village and walking towards some dilapidated pyramids. A police guard decked out in light blue walks up to me and informs it costs 25 pounds to enter (about $6.50). I had already seen two groups of pyramids the days earlier so I decided to walk off. At the roundabout I walk along the other street and thought. “Well the morning is not over yet I might as well have my breakfast and have a distant view of the pyramids instead.

So’s I open my bag and see the guard walking towards me. He’s assuming I am going to sneak in from the other side. He stands next to me and realises I am about to eat. Instead of taking his distance he stands next to me and waits. There are limited spots to sit as the desert is full of rubbish so I position myself on a rock next to what was most likely dog poo.

The guard still stays on so I drag it out. First I peel a banana, than I get a knife out and cut up an orange but its not over yet. Out comes a tomato and some bread. It would be my best breakfast in Sudan. I saw it as a chance for payback after the annoyance of registering and the constant passport checks.

Sudan really likes to treat you like an Alien and they don’t hide from it either forcing you to register at the Alien Registration office. But this over the top mummy and daddy treatment is felt throughout and it does dominate your trip throughout Sudan at times.

As just mentioned you are forced to register within 3 days of entering the country in Khartoum (the capital) at the Aliens Registration Office (I.e. Foreigners Registration Office). As well as that you need a travel permit for every destination outside of the capital and a photo permit. But to have these registration places in the same area is just too logical for Africa so what should only take an hour drags on for 4-5 hours. What doesn’t help is that they all have moved to new buildings that have been strategically positioned in the completely opposite direction. (Yes you read, new buildings.)

When I found out that the first office changed I found myself an older taxi driver. That was a huge tip given to me by a person I met earlier. Pre Islamic revolution Sudan was controlled by England so English was learnt by the older generation. Arkem my taxi driver didn’t know much but enough to understand and perhaps play dumb as well.

The big green building is 10 minutes out of the city centre and really makes you feel un-welcome. It took half an hour to find the place and once in, I am told that I need an invitation letter from a sponsor or hotel. So despite preparing with a photocopy of my passport, visa and passport photo of myself I had to go all the way back and forth for a hotel letter.

It had been an hour and a half since I first set off to register so the process is frustrating. There are multiple windows I got to say “Salam!” to. The first is to get the papers stamped by someone out the back. That takes a while because for some reason at 11am they are having breakfast.

Whilst waiting I started speaking to these Malawians who are studying accounting in Khartoum. They were there to register some 30 odd students for their first year. I said that I wasn’t aware Malawi had Islamic influence and the one with the best English said that it’s mainly near the south close to Mangochi. They get sponsored by the Islamic trust. He said that they don’t choose where to go they just go to where ever the person willing to pay their studies will send them.

Speaking to them killed a bit of time. A weird moment soon after was when some Russian guy, which fitted the Alien name, walks in looking a canary yellow version of Robin Hood. He substituted the bow and arrow for multiple bags hanging off his small backpack. He said that he doesn’t have a hotel he is not staying in Khartoum. Myself and other locals inform him that he will not be getting registered without a hotel sponsor letter. He left soon after.

Just before he left I moved to window #2 where I paid 100 Sudanese pounds ($33) for the privilege to spend 50 pounds on taxis for the day to process this thing. I than moved onto window #3 where I paid another 10 pounds - This time to see two red postage stamps get put on my papers. I would never see these stamps or papers again. I am told to wait a further half an hour for this to be processed.

Half an hour went and I was back, nothing was ready and I am again informed at 12 noon that they are at breakfast. I asked, “How many breakfasts do you guys have?” Eventually it is ready, taking up half a page in my passport with stickers and stamps. One African trip can take up a full passport.

But it is not over yet. I then need to get a photo permit and Travel permit where I will have to sign an agreement that I will not photograph ‘slum areas, beggars and other defaming subjects.’ I start to think as we drove to the other side of the city. ‘If these are brand new buildings than why wouldn’t they make the building near the same place or within walking distance from one another? Surely no one would be this stupid or do this deliberately.’

But as we drove past the airport for a second time, this time with my permit I realised that this is what they are trying to do. They are trying to make you appreciate the country you are about to see. A brief moment I thought stuff it I don’t care about this country but then when the process is finalised at 2pm you start putting wisdom into the autocratic governments stupidity. And you start thinking in this positive manner so you feel like you haven’t wasted a day on this shit! That is what travelling is about!! Sudan is going to be fantastic!!

Back to reality and its time to exchange money. Banks and exchange places are a rip off and the good people from the black market world give you a much better rate about $5-10 better per $100.

Once that is done its time to go photocopying. The photocopy business is really at a high at the moment. You need multiple photocopies for everything, the visa, the passport, the registration and the permit. This is because at any moment someone will ask for your papers and than sometimes keep them.

When I arrived it was the last day of voting for the referendum of southern Sudan. Front page of the papers the day after the elections had rumours that 5 top delegates from the southern Sudan region met previously with Israeli officials about arming the south of Sudan and encouraging other nations to provide free embassies so they can set up the country with ease. Truthful journalism or just propaganda?

Sudan was the largest country in Africa and the Arab world and 10th in the world. The country is rich in natural resources such as petroleum and crude oil. Sudan’s economy is amongst the fastest growing in the world. Just walking along the Nile River and you can see that investment is starting to happen in the capital. Brand new buildings have come up in what seems to be a Dubai’esque attempt. A lot is coming from oil. But around 75% of Sudan’s 500 000 barrels per day of crude comes from the south. China and Japan are the main export partners.

Oil is one of the main reasons for north Sudan’s reluctance previously to let the south go. This has led to civil wars between the predominantly Christian south and Muslim north. On 4 March 2008, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the first sitting head of state ever to receive this from the ICC. It happened again on 12 July 2010, the ICC issued a second arrest warrant for al-Bashir, adding the charge of genocide.

Throughout my stay here I never headed south I stayed in the north and it seemed as if nothing was happening. So many times the locals would say that they are united - everyone in the country is Muslim but I really don’t think they know what is going on in their own country. It is one of the most uneducated peoples I have met.

Take this dickhead who chose to lecture me about Americas mistreatment of the black people, Martin Luther King and what he stood for. Had I not been so sick (still from Ethiopia) and wanted to avoid conversation I would have said. ‘What the hell are you talking about? Why are you giving crap to America for? Look in your own backyard dickhead. Look at what you are doing in the south and Darfur. Clean that up first than you can talk to me about America and Martin Luther King.’

Because of Khartoum’s neglect - Southern Sudan’s health system ranks among the lowest in the world. More than 2% of mothers die in childbirth and one in 7 children die before age 5. Only 16% of the population have access to health care. In 55 years only 1000 doctors have been trained in the region. Most have moved onto other jobs. As of today there are 300 doctors and 20 trained mid-wives. There’s limited clean water, limited education (there are plans to make mobile schools for shepherds children after the referendum).

When I left, the newspaper suggested that 99% of the votes counted were for succession. Now if Sudan were united or treating their citizens with respect than would succession have happened? And Sudan was the first Muslim country I had been to where many people didn’t like that Australia is not a predominately Muslim country. It was my most disliked Muslim country yet. I have quite liked my Islamic travel experiences until here.

Once succession does happen they will need to tackle borders (like Abyei region), citizenship and how to share the $40 billion of debt. Statistics indicate that about 17% of the population live on less than US $1.25 per day

The day I left I read an article, a double page spread on female circumcision. It is rampant in the suburbs and rural areas. The story is based on a father who forces his two daughters to get circumcised but walks off half way through because he couldn’t handle the screaming, leaving them with the mid-wife. It describes how once the circumcision was over, blood poured out and one of the daughters died on the way to the hospital, the other died later on. It blames the governments for not providing laws banning the practice. It makes aware that it’s a lifelong pain. During menstruation, sex, giving birth, heightened stress levels.

The whole region suffers this problem. Some places like in the Dugon villages of Mali use knifes that are 40 years old. Around 95% of young females get FGM in Sudan, Egypt, Somalia and Ethiopia. The world Health Organisation suggests 3 million girls in Africa are risked of the procedure each year.

It seems to me that perhaps if the government spent more time tackling these issues and others instead of being unwelcoming to their guests than maybe things can improve here. From Kassala near the Eritrea border I was the only person on the bus who had to get out of the bus and get questioned. 4 times in one hour.

One of the guys starts yelling at me. I retaliate “Why are you yelling at me!” “Because I am police!” “That doesn’t mean you should yell at me.” There are also informants on the streets who are like citizen arrest people. They keep an eye on the tourist in case they are taking a photo of the wrong thing. Frank, a German, the only other tourist I met here was arrested 3 times in one hour for taking photos on the street.

It’s a suspicious country that lacks trust, which seems to only be on mass in certain parts of the world. From my experiences that is some ex Soviet countries and the Arab world. I had just left African lifestyle and entered the Arab world.

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17th February 2011

Insightful Blog
A very illuminating read indeed. Usually I enjoy travelling through predominately Muslim countries very much, but obviously Sudan is a different proposition. Possibly one of the reasons for the negative attitude to Australia is that over 80% of Sudanese refugees heading to Australia are Christian. I'm sure the people of the soon to be formed Republic of South Sudan would hold a different view. I love blogs that spend some time exploring the psyche of a country; thus, this has been a very enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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