Happy at the Scottish Ball
How's this for the back packer look? Every single item we have on is borrowed. What fun to be glamorous after six months of travel!
Guess where we went for Thanksgiving? Let me give you a few hints. Turkey, stuffing, apple crisp, pumpkin pie, fabulous friends, dress-up clothes, the Scottish Ball, Sex in the City reruns and Cindy Crawford workout videos. You got it! Sudan.
While half of you were getting stuck in Chicago Midway, we were on our way to Khartoum, Sudan. Flying into Khartoum is like flying into a dust bowl. It is real deal desert. Everything is orangey brown. Everything is dusty. Everything is oppressively hot. Everything, that is, except our friend Catherine's air conditioned apartment.
We have to admit to spending hours on Catherine's couch while she was at work with UNICEF. We would go out for a few hours at a time, and then on the verge of collapse, retreat to the aircon and the iPod.
We did walk around Khartoum. It is fascinating. There is more diversity of faces in Khartoum than anywhere else we have been. There are, of course, Arabs and then there are Africans from all the neighboring countries - Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Kenya -- and from the south of Sudan. The
Cat and the Cam
Catherine clutching the saddle with all her might as the camel approaches top speed. (It’s very high speed film!)
Dinka, from the south, are so tall and so black. So distinct. I ended up standing next to one gentleman in the internet cafe one day, and as I gazed up at his massive six and a half foot frame and black black skin, I just laughed and said, “Can you believe we are both human beings?!”
For me the most memorable part of walking the streets of Khartoum was catching the gaze of the women hidden behind their full burkas. Our eyes would lock and between us would pass a million questions about each others' lives. And then we would walk on, she to her family of five and me to the Scottish Ball.
The Scottish Ball is THE event of the year in Khartoum, and we were there for it. Imagine our luck. We had to raid our friends' closets for something other than hiking boots and travel pants, and then we had to Scottish dance. Or jump. Or bounce. Or whatever you call it when a room full (a grassy field full, actually) of otherwise normal adults are prancing around, kicking up their knees, swinging each other around, and folding over with laughter on a
balmy November night in Khartoum. I can honestly say that I had not laughed that hard in years. That kind of laughter that makes the back of your head hurt. But we looked glamorous. That's for sure.
Another highlight in Khartoum, second only to the Ball (and Thanksgiving day, of course) was our day with Mohammed. We found him innocently enough. Just flagged down a cab. But when he heard we wanted to go to the Sufi mosque where the whirling dervishes gather on Friday afternoons, he screeched to a halt, pulled out the three meters of white fabric he just happened to have tucked alongside his seat, and proceeded to wrap, wrap, wrap it around his head. If we were going to have a day of touring the Islamic sites of Khartoum, darn it, he was going to make it authentic. So then, properly garbed and turbaned, he drove us to the mosque, where it was clear we were far too early to see anything. No one was there but a bunch of other white folks waiting for the show to start. So we decided to fill our time by going to the camel market. Just around the
Beads beads beads
These guys are an institution in massive Omdurman Market. They drive a hard bargain, but their red amber is impossible to resist.
corner, or so said our book. Well, I'll spare you the details of time and turns and searches and wrong neighborhoods and driving straight through market stalls. And then another screeching halt. A camel! Not the camel market that promised hoards of elegant animals gathered for barter and sale. But there were a few camels hanging around. And the important thing is, we got to ride 'em.
The Sufi Friday celebration is magical. It is devotional and rhythmic and intoxicating only in the purest sense of the word. Men form a massive circle around the courtyard in front of the mosque. They sway and chant and praise Allah for hours. It is quiet and powerful and both personal and communal. Inside the circle others parade and twirl. Or whirl, as it were. The sun begins to set and the chanting begins to race to a climax. The imam, who looks just like I imagine Jesus Christ - young and pure and wise, walks slowly around the enclosure. He is surrounded by the whirling of green robes and rocking bodies of young men and boys. When it all comes to an end, one of the Sufi leaders approaches Jonathon, who
Hey you! No way!
This is the first and last picture we took of a Mosque in Khartoum. The moment we snapped it, a bus swerved off the road to remind us not to take any pictures of anything that anyone might consider picture-worthy (or something like that). Since we lacked the officially required government permit to take any picture of anything anywhere in Sudan, we decided to play it safe and oblige.
has been alongside Mohammed in the circle. He asks, “Are you Muslim?” Jonathon replies that he is not. “That's OK,” the man says with a warm smile, “the next time Allah comes knocking, you will answer.”
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