23 Jan 2010


Its where the two Niles meet. It has been described as the world's largest waiting room. From personal experience this is not unfair.
Nothing happens in a hurry here. The word for 'urgency' does not exist. You just keep your patience, wait and wait. Otherwise it can drive you slowly mad. Even without doing very little of note, the city seems to exhaust you and wear you down.
I got pulled over yesterday in Omdurman market by a stern plain clothed man. It was a fairly innocuous area. But he told me he was from the Tourism Police. I was not to take photos, he insisted. He demanded to see my passport. After trying hard not to laugh at his title, I had no choice but to comply. He didn't seem in a mood to argue.
Sure, I said, no more photos. I walked on down the road. After waiting until he was well out of sight, I continued taking photos. This side of the Sudanese government is unpleasant and extremely counter productive to the enjoyment of being in a fascinating country.
It is also a total contrast to the wonderful nature and generosity of the vast majority of the Sudanese people. They are several worlds away from their government in so many senses of the world. Sanctions have punished them in the same way they have punished the ordinary and poor people of Burma.
I wish more people had the capacity or initiative to take their curiosity beyond the simplistic and often misleading news headlines, to climb over the easy and lazy negative assumptions we make and solidify about countries we know so very little about from the inside.
And yet, the notoriously slow and unhurried Khartoum appears to be changing. Or at least undergoing a dramatic visual facelift. The Chinese haven't just arrived. As quietly and discreetly as they always seem to do, they have built themselves upwards and concreted their way into influence and power here.
Colonel Gaddafi has erected an outrageously attention grabbing shiney tower. Maybe he knows a thing or two about what is going to happen in this big and mysterious country.

17 Jan 2010

Inside Sudan

'Ah, you are British.' said the uniformed official as he looked me up and down with suspicion. 'You are the colonisers!'
I didn't know what to say.
Then with a big flourish he imitated a large handlebar moustache and afforded himself a chuckle.
'Welcome to Sudan!' he beamed.
I can assure you that the Republic of Sudan is not at all what you might think it to be. In fact, it could be so far away from cliched and negative perceptions that it is a mystery why we understand so little of it. Africa's largest country - 8 per cent of its the continent's total land mass even - and still one of the most closed off and well hidden.
Next door Egypt receives something like 12 million tourists every year. I would be surprised if Sudan receives more than 1,200. I've only witnessed a handful of other Westerners so far as I follow the River Nile south through the desert.
The landscapes are extraordinary. The people are luminous and warm spirited. The roads are generally good (thanks to the Chinese - more on that another time). The biggest challenge seems to be the bureaucracy. There's so much of it. Everywhere I go I have to register. Imagine that. I need permission to move from one place the next. Yet so much of the form filling and box ticking is utterly pointless and irrelevant. Often I write it out myself. I could write anything on some of the forms and the policemen would not raise an eyelid. Such is the structure of Sudan.

6 Jan 2010


Having travelled through (a very cold) Europe by train to Istanbul, and through the Middle East for a second time, I am in Egypt heading down the Nile and waiting for my Sudan visa. It might be a long and expensive wait!