Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: The end of a year and the end of an adventure!

First, I must express apologies that this blog came to an abrupt end. There are many reasons for this: including an increased workload during exams and reports, and the ever increasing tedium of life in Khartoum. Also, a new opportunity arose for me in Singapore – where I am now writing this blog from.

Now I’m living in Singapore, I thought I would sign off this blog by summarising the things I will miss and the things I will certainly not miss about life in Khartoum.

Things I will miss:
1)      The Nile. The land near the river is so much greener so when walking or running, you can so easily forget you are on the edge of the Sahara.
2)      Being called a Hawaja, and then being ushered to the front of a queue (not sure of spelling or exact translation, but ‘Hawaja’ essentially means white foreigner)
3)      Seeing shopkeepers and tea ladies sweep the dust away from one area and into another. It always seems so pointless – yet it suggests a people have a certain degree of pride in where they live and work. There was a man in my apartment block, who did exactly that. He would sweep all the dust on our floor into a nice neat pile. Then he would just leave it and walk away – looking very pleased with himself!
4)    The absurdity of security and metal detectors in public buildings. Whilst I was living in Sudan, a new shopping centre opened called Al-Waha (pictured). It was a very good shopping centre, but to gain access you had to go through a metal detector which never did anything! Even more absurd, there is another metal detector in the exit – I’ve even pushed a shopping trolley through this – and nothing happens!
5)      Finally, I’ve leave the sentimental one until the end. I will obviously also miss my colleagues and the students (well, most of them!)

Things I will not miss:
1)      The dust and the pollution – which you can not escape.
2)      Absurdly slow internet speeds.
3)      Inflation – prices were going up almost every month whilst I was living there.
4)      Local drivers – especially those ones who think beeping their horn is an alternative to giving way!
5)      The lack of alcohol availability. (I think this is the first time I have used the word ‘alcohol’ in my blog. Amongst expats in Sudan, it is normally just referred to as ‘special tea’)
6)      Electrical wiring, which is never earthed and rarely fused! A tip for any new expat – just don’t touch any wire!)
7)      Sudanese Time. Whenever you are given a time to be somewhere, you have to always ask if is normal time or Sudanese time, which is always at least one hour later! (why not just put the clocks back? – oh yes, because then people would just be two hours late!)

So, this is it. The end of a ‘Teachers life in Khartoum’. Hope you enjoyed my blog entries. Please look out for my new blog on Singapore – starting in the next week or two.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A day to stay indoors

Last week had been quiet and uneventful until Friday when, as you may have heard, there were a few protests in Khartoum! I don’t think there is any need for me to outline the reasons for the protest, which are well known, but suffice to say after Friday prayers many of the local Sudanese were extremely angry – and for a good reason.

In anticipation of some disturbances, I and most other teachers were already at home. From my apartment, I had a good vantage point and could see large crowds walking in the direction of the British and German embassy, which are next door to each other.

A short while later, I could clearly see the smoke from the direction of the two embassy’s, which are about 5 minutes walk away. Unfortunately, from my balcony both buildings are obscured by a larger block, so I could not be sure exactly which embassy had the fire.

Slightly more concerning was when a small group of protesters turned off the main road and started walking towards my apartment block. However, they did pass by without incident – albeit making a lot of noise. In fact, within a couple of hours the entire city appeared to be much calmer.

Despite this, the decision was taken not to open the school on Saturday, enabling everyone to enjoy an unexpected long weekend!

I know that many people read this blog if they are considering teaching in Khartoum or moving here for another reason. So I would like to end this week by emphasising that Khartoum is very safe and the people are very friendly. I don’t have any statistics to prove this, but I am sure you are far more likely to be attacked in London that you are in Khartoum.

I would not want one unusual weekend to put anyone off from accepting a job here!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Communicating with Khartoum

One of the difficulties of living in Khartoum is staying in contact with friends and family back home. To call the internet erratic would be an understatement. For the last week there has been no connection at all in my apartment (or any of the apartments in the block), and even when there is a connection, it is usually far to slow for skype. There is certainly no chance of a video call.

Completing simple tasks online, which would be straightforward and quick in England, take a long time here in Sudan – whether it be checking your emails or uploading a blog like this one. As I have found, trying to open a 2MB email can easily cause your entire computer to crash!

So what about the alternatives? Phoning home is possible, and providing the conversation is not too long, it will not break the bank either. There are two main mobile phone operators in Sudan: MTN and Zain. I have an MTN sim card in my mobile and a 10 minute conversation back to the UK costs me about 15 SDG. Texts are cheaper but, of course, you never know how long it may take for a text to be successfully delivered to a UK phone.

As for the post, this also takes a long time. I recently received a wedding invitation in post (which I’m looking forward to attending during half term!), but it had been posted more than one month earlier back in the UK! Many of the new textbooks which the school ordered for the new school year were also delayed recently. So I think the main delay is with the bureaucracy of customs in Khartoum Airport, not with transporting the post itself.

But how long will it take to post something back to the UK? A question which can only be resolved one way. Postcards are not easily available I Khartoum, although some hotels will sell a small selection. So today I walked to a small and friendly local hotel called ‘The Acropole’ which not only sold me a small selection of postcards, they will also be happy to post them for me tomorrow. Very handy, especially considering Khartoum has no post boxes!!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Come on you reds!!!

This last week had been uneventful until Friday afternoon, to such an extent that I had been wondering what I could write about this week. However, my blogging blank was saved on Friday afternoon by my good friend and neighbour Adam, who at 5pm suddenly announced we were off to a football match in Omderman, which is the oldest suburb of Khartoum and we were to leave at 5.30pm for a 7pm kick off.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was also not going to turn this opportunity down, even if it was just a local team playing a friendly match on a field with more sand than grass! However, as we approached Omderman an hour later I realised this was no minor match. The approach roads were heavily congested with both traffic and fans walking on the road with red shirts, red hats and waving red flags!! To side of the main road and behind some buildings, you could see the stadium and the flood lights were on! It really was just like being on the Holloway road in London, on Arsenal’s match day (although, of course, the stadium was not quite as impressive).

As soon as we got out of the Amjad in which we had been travelling, we were greeted by exited fans singing, chanting and shouting “Welcome, welcome!!” I think they were very impressed with my Arsenal shirt! We were ushered into the courtyard of a local mosque, where exited fans gave us food and water – and wanted to have their photographs taken with us! By now it was approaching 7pm, so we could not stay long and we were fortunate to meet up with a local news reporter who walked with us to the stadium turnstiles and ushered us to the front of the queue (which was very long!).

Tickets ranged from 10SDG to 100SDG, but we followed the news reporter’s lead, and opted for 20SDG tickets on the upper stands. Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was even more incredible, and excited fans were chanting and waving, in anticipation of kick off, which – by the time we reached our seats – was imminent. It was only when we sat down, that I found out who was playing and nature of the competition. The home team was Merreikh and they were playing Shendi, which is a town about two hours drive north of Khartoum, in the group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup (sponsored by Orange). For those who are not familiar with African football, the Confederation Cup is the African equivalent of the Champions League, so this was an important match!! It was televised on both local television and Al Jazeera, and I could see the TV cameras on far side of the stadium. More info on the competition is online at:

To be honest, much like Arsenal’s start to the season back home, Merreikh did not play well in the first half, and the home fans were somewhat subdued – despite the best efforts of the home goalkeeper who waved his hands to try to try raise the volume! The half time score was 0-0, when it was possible to buy hot tea, cigarettes and bags of water (yes – plastic bags – as bottles are not allowed in the stadium), all of which were served in our seats.

However, unlike Arsenal, Merriekh managed to turn the game around and dominated possession in the second half. Unsurprisingly, when Merreikh’s first goal was scored (at 6.11pm precisely) the crowd went wild, and from then on the atmosphere was very different. There was much more singing, chanting and shouting. Some fans were also lighting red flares, and even letting off small fireworks! I noted the riot police were keeping a close eye on things, but the atmosphere felt very safe. In fact, as Merreikh wear red and Shendi wear sky blue, it did at times feel like watching Arsenal vs Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium. This enabled me to take part in the crowd by chanting “Come on you Reds!” Another fantastic goal was scored before the final whistle, ensuring this was a great evening out – if only Arsenal could be this good!

Final score: Merreikh 2 – 0 Shendi

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Visiting Meroe - Pyramids and the 6th cataract

The 10 day holiday for Eid has flown by, and I spent most of time planning for the term ahead, as well as the odd game of Scrabble and Risk – none of which I won!

However, the highlight of the holiday was a two day expedition to Meroe in the North of Sudan, to visit the Pyramids, the Royal City and the 6th Cataract. There were 6 others in the group and so we decided to hire a small minibus & driver for the two day trip, at a cost of about 2000 SDG, which may not have been a bargain, but isn’t too bad when divided by 7.

We left at about 9am on Wednesday morning, and arrived at Meroe about 5 hours later, travelling at a much more sensible speed than I experienced on the public coach last term, when travelling to Port Sudan. The pyramids here in Sudan aren’t as large as the famous pyramids in Egypt, but they still look very impressive as they stand alone in the desert. Unlike tourist attractions in other parts of the world, the area has not been spoilt by developments, gifts shops and car parks. All that greeted us was a small entrance hut, where a lady initially asked for 20SDG per person (although we negotiated that down to 10SDG), and a group of local men standing on their camels trying desperately to get our attention. A camel ride around the pyramids may have been fun, but it would also have been expensive, so we were all decided to ignore the men and just explore on foot.

Incredibly, we were the only people on the entire site (no other tourists, no guides and no guards or policeman) and we could walk anywhere around or even in pyramids – although obviously climbing them is forbidden. Those pyramids which were open contained some amazing ancient carvings of the Pharaohs and, unlike the exterior of the pyramids, were in surprisingly good condition. If wondering why few of the Pyramids have their tops intact, it is not due to erosion or earthquake. Instead, a greedy Italian visited the site in the 19th century and thought the Pyramids contained treasure, so he thought he’d take a closer look – with a sledge hammer! Although, perhaps more surprising is to see that some of the damaged pyramids have since been restored using 20th century concrete! After battling the wind and sand in this exposed area of the desert for about an hour, we bought a few little souvenirs from some local traders who had set themselves up at the entrance, and then moved on to the Royal City of Meroe.

The Royal City is an archaeological site just across the road from the Pyramids, and whilst it may not be as impressive to look at, the site is perhaps more interesting, especially if you are lucky enough to find an English-speaking guide. Our guide explained that Meroe was the capital city of the Kush in the first millennium BC which, at the height of Kushite power, controlled a large part of what is now Sudan. In total, there is a lot to see on the site, including the foundations of the Royal City, a temple to Emperor Augustus, and a stone table used by the Kush to sacrifice young women. The Roman connection was slightly confusing, but I think there must have been Roman activity in the area (perhaps to suppress the aggressive Kush) despite this never being part of the Roman Empire. Please do comment if you know more about this. However, Meroe is still an active archaeological site and experts still visit every year to continue their excavations – so I am sure more discoveries will be made in the future!
After exploring the Royal City in the heat for a few hours, we decided to call it a day and spent the night in some decent accommodation at a roadside service area. The following morning, we set off early and drove south for a couple of hours in search of the Sixth Cataract. It was clear that our driver did not know exactly where it was, but after speaking to a local, we turned off the main highway and drove off-road for about an hour, through some very rural settlements, before eventually arriving at some sort of holiday resort, which seemed to double as a zoo. The land around this camp was all flooded, due to the rain and the height of the Nile. However, we still managed to get to the waters edge and organised a boat trip around the Sixth Cataract. In theory, the Cataracts are wide and shallow areas of the Nile, which often resemble fast-flowing rapids. However, at the moment, the Nile is so high it was difficult to distinguish this area from any other section of the Nile. This was a shame, but it was still possible to see some rocks protruding from the river, where the cataracts would normally be visible.

After an hour in the river, we returnedto the bus and drove back to Khartoum. Term re-starts on Monday, so the last few days of Eid have been spent preparing myslef for the eight consecutive weeks of teaching which now follow.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ramadan, an Iftar and Sudanese food!

After just two weeks of teaching, the first holiday of the new school year has arrived, and I now have a 10 day break from Friday to the following Suinday inclusive! This is to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, a holiday which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The week just finished has therefore been the last week of Ramadan and the last week of a shortened school timetable. Hopefully, it was also the last week of rain, as the flooded streets, overflowing drains and increased numbers of flies and mosquito’s has become increasingly annoying. It is surprising how just one or two hours of rain can turn minor roads into mud!

Last week the school held an Iftar for staff, which is the meal that breaks the fast at the end of each day during Ramadan (just as the sun sets). Unfortunately, the school’s Iftar was preceded by a rainstorm, after which walking to school seemed more like traversing the Somme! By the time I arrived the food had nearly all gone, although it didn’t rain again that night, so at least I stayed dry!

As fasting and food seems to be a theme this week, I thought I would also mention some traditional Sudanese dishes, which has not been included in any of my previous blogs, and which may have been served at the school Iftar (although I was too late to find out!).

The most well known dish in Sudan is fuul, which is essentially home made baked beans. I found the picture above on-line, which specifically shows Sudanese fuul (as opposed to Egyptian fuul). It may not look like anything to write home about, but fuul can be mixed with almost anything to add flavour and texture. Having said that, I tend to avoid fuul. I am not sure if it is officially the national dish but, outside of Ramadan, people can be seen eating fuul every day, often just sitting on the pavement just outside a corner shop.

Another popular dish is the sha’urma, which is the Sudanese equivalent of the donner kebab. It is made with strips of chicken or lamb, which is then rolled up in a wrap, with salad and sauce etc. There is a restaurant called Havana in the Riyad district of Khartoum, which makes especially good sha’urma and which I have been known to visit on the way back from my weekly shopping trips.

I’m hoping to add some more food related pictures to this weeks blog later, but the internet is very slow at the moment. So until next time – happy Eid!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Returning to real rain in Khartoum!

With the exception of the total blackout which affected Khartoum airport on the night of my flight home, I had a safe and uneventful flight home last May, and a relaxing summer back home enjoying the delights of the British weather.

I returned to Khartoum two weeks ago and intended to write my first blog last weekend. However, the internet has been much slower since I returned, to such an extent that even the most basic websites have not been loading on my laptop.  Of course, erratic internet connections are simply part of life in Sudan, but I woke this morning to find a good internet connection and so have managed to post this.

The main item of news worth reporting from Khartoum is it has rained – yes, real rain – and on more than one occasion!!! There was a proper thunderstorm about a week ago, following which many of the roads were flooded! I took a few photos, but only of floods in the minor roads, as there were too many people giving me dissaproving looks, when I took my camera out on the side of the main roads. The picture of the rain is taken from my balcony, and if you are wondering why the roof of the building opposite looks so odd, it's because it is still a building site.

Unfortunately, although the temperature did fall slightly whilst it was raining, it has not been as cool as the climate graph suggested (posted a few blogs ago). I’m sure temperatures are down slightly, but it is now very humid, which has been quite unpleasant and has made a few of my colleagues feel ill. I am sure the mosquito risk is higher now as well, but I brought some industrial strength mosquito repelent from the UK (Repel 100), which seems to keep then away - touch wood!

It is also worth noting that we are currently in the month of Ramadan. This means almost everyone is fasting during daylight hours, and many of the local shops are closed (or at least have more irregular opening hours). The school term started last weekend, albeit with a shorter school day, but many of the students do lack energy and focus in class, which is quite understandable. Some students are yet to return, but I am sure things will return to normality after the Eid holidays. You never know – the internet may even speed up!!