About This Blog

Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Sunday, 24 July 2011

July 24th: Khartoum

On July 24th 1980 I was in Khartoum.  I was waiting to travel south to teach English in a secondary school.

A week before, I had lugged my massive amount of luggage to Denmark Hill Station in South London and from there to Victoria and on to Heathrow.  The check-in was a little piece of Africa.  You went past all the normal check-ins which had booths and orderly queues.  Sudan Airways, yes Sir, keep on through that door.  In an area cordoned off, there was chaos.  A large man in a robes stood in the middle with a sheaf of tickets in one hand and printed list in the other, while the customers milled around like a rugby scrum to see if he had their names.  There weren't any tickets for the teachers and it seemed the flight was overbooked.  Some returning teachers were even on standby, but Kevin from the Sudanese Cultural Centre turned up and everything fell into place. 

I had applied to be a teacher with the Sudanese Government and had been interviewed at the beginning of June.  I heard that I was going at the beginning of July and went for a couple of days training at Farnham Castle.  The training was divided between firstly tips on how to live in Sudan and how to stay healthy, and secondly some ideas on teaching from ELT experts.  There were some teachers from the previous year there to assist, but nothing was really relevant for Southern Sudan.  I got a letter a few days later with some leaving dates and luckily decided to take the earliest flight.

Khartoum:  My picture
By this stage in Khartoum, I had successfully negotiated to get to the South and knew that I would be going to Rumbek.  The main hassle now was to get the financial side sorted out.  This day I tried to take a  more positive stance against the bureaucracy.  At 8.30 we Southerners assembled at the Unity Bank, which operated in South Sudan, for a morning of opening bank accounts and dealing with ECR1s (the forms needed to convert Sudanese money into foreign currency).   I got more involved in these petty negotiations than I often did, maybe because I had the determination of innocence.  However something was achieved between the Ministry and the Unity Bank and the Bank of Sudan, and I think my presence was felt.  I felt positive about things.  I had virtually everything in place to be able to leave for the South.  Some teachers going to places close to Khartoum had actually left.  I had been given some spending money and I could see an ending to this period of waiting. 

They had put us up centrally in the El Sharque Hotel, The Shark, which was basically a cheap hotel: we shared rooms with running water and there were fans and a sort of rudimentary air-conditioning.  There were also massive cockroaches and the simple rooms were crowded with all our baggage for a year in Africa.  I had moved quickly to one of the rooms at the back which opened on to a courtyard and were quite quiet.

Omdurman:  My picture
Khartoum was hot, over 40° C each day, and dusty and occasionally humid.  It was Ramadan which made it harder to get food in the middle of the day; it also meant that smaller restaurants only opened briefly, or intermittently or not at all in the evening.  So the days tended to pass as follows:  mornings fighting the bureaucracy, lunchtime back at the hotel with fruit for lunch and then siesta during the hottest part of the day; in the evenings I often had a meal in one of the big hotels as I was trying to keep my weight up, sensing that I might have leaner times in the future; then it would be socialising, in the Athenée, an open air juice bar and cafe in a central square or drinking beer of one sort or another in one of the hotels.  There were occasional outings to Omdurman and I discovered Tuti Island in the middle of the Blue Nile which gave a feeling that you were actually in the country.  Occasionally it was pleasant to sit on the steps by the Blue Nile in the evening air and enjoy the spectacle of the huge flocks of queleas roosting near the Presidential Palace.  Basically there was nothing to do.  The nights were hot and sweaty and sleep was always difficult.

I made a point of getting to know my fellow teachers, who were a very mixed bunch.  Few of them had travelled much, one had never been out of Yorkshire, but people had very mixed reasons for being there.  I enjoyed hearing their stories and I tried to help and encourage some of the less experienced ones.  One unlucky young woman got polio very quickly and had to be shipped home in an iron lung.  Others got sick but nothing so serious.  One of my cohort lost all his money and belongings on the first day.  Some of the teachers already knew Africa, some had little idea what they were letting themselves in for.  I never understood the recruitment process, but I was glad to be there, with the prospect of living for the best part of a year in Southern Sudan.

There is a photo of the El Sharque, taken the year before I think, here.

Khartoum:  My picture

No comments:

Post a Comment