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February 2005

changes & everything remains the same

I'm actually too tired to write anything coherent but here goes.. I've been in Africa for almost 7 months now.  It's already time for me to start making plans for moving to my next post.  I've already talked to several people in Sydney regarding housing, training, security forms, what you can and can't bring. The planning for the move doesn't bother me really.  It's the feeling that I just got here and by the time you've gotten a handle on things like driving, restaurants, and places of interest you want to see, it's time to move on. 

If you're interested in joining the Foreign Service, prepare yourself for fast short term relationships, always missing the things you never brought with you, and hitting the ground running.  When I first got here I remember thinking, what is this going to be like.  Actually, my first thought was "why is it raining?". Then I wondered what it was going to be like. 

You could immediately tell things were not like you're use to at home.  When I got off the plane last August, I felt some of the tension I still feel to this day.  But it wasn't directed at me.  After being around the citizens of Khartoum and talking to people you hear the normal remarks about how things could be much better.  Most of the time you have to approach someone on the subjects that face Sudan.  Once you do, then people will talk.  They will tell you what they would like to see, who they support, and if they like a foreign leader.  I wondered why people put up with a governments treatment towards its people.  Here it's more of a hesitation due to retailation.  People will only go so far or otherwise they would be considered anti-GoS (Govt of Sudan).  Since I've been here there after been a couple public displays of the GoS clamping down on would-be coups.  Word leaks by someone looking to profit from a tip and the police are sent out.  I'm not a Political officer so I refrain from speculating too much. 

When I've gone out for a late night workout. I'll see a different view of the city after midnight.  Road blocks pop up at random locations.  Just last week I notice one I had to go through.  I carry my identification and our vehicles plates let it be known I'm a diplomat.  They wave me through with no questioning.  But it's still discerning to see it and you're reminded you're a guest of the host country. 

I haven't been treated poorly since I got here.  Occassionally I get a "Howaja" from a stranger calling me a foreigner. But in a more matter of fact way than could ever be construed as an insult.  But most of the time it's just curiousity and lots of stares.  I didn't notice it when I first arrived, since I was so busy trying to remember where I was in the city.  I still use landmarks over street names since it's easier to tell someone when they don't know their way around.  But now I've noticed, when driving in traffic, you'll see a bus full of people next to you and 1/2 of them are looking at you. I don't mind.  Since I'm probably a bit of a rarity with the other minority of expats running around the city.  When I was at the camel market Saturday, several people came up to me just to shake hands and welcome me to the market.  I never was approached for money.  Everyone was just curious to see what we were doing and asked to see what the pictures looked like that we were taking.  (Before I forget here's a word of advice. I've noticed any pictures I've taken of Sudanese during a sunny day come out with their faces hidden in shadow.  Joe, my neighbor, said he bought a flash for his high end digital camera just for that fact.  I've had to get people out of the sun to bring out any facial features in photos.  It's a shame since  a few great shots ended up in the recycle bin because of that.

(note: Since writing this I've talked with someone that just arrived.  She's an African-American.  She went to the camel market with us and several locals mistook her for Sudanese.  There were occassional comments on how she should be dressed in a burka or similar covering until people understood she was not Sudanese. It didn't escalate into anything but I think that was because several people were with her.  Something to keep in mind.)

camel market

Hearing about the camel market before, I decided to get a group together today and drive out to see what it was like. It started off with just me and Rob but as word of mouth got around we ended up with 9 people that wanted to go. Not bad for putting it together the day before. We left around 9 that morning and only had to go about 15km from inside the city. After driving through Khartoum and Omdurman we had to drive across wide expanses of dirt with homes of clay brick scattered everywhere. I noticed several donkey carts driven by young boys that were hauling barrels of water. The roads consisted of paths that previous vehicles had made. Eventually, we could see, off in the horizon, scores of camels and cattle. Groups of camels were separated by owner. It didn't look organized at first but as I looked around I could see each group consisted of any number from 2 to a dozen. We all walked with our driver out to the middle of the market and were met with cautious curiosity. Until then I had only seen a couple camels together at one time. Some of the camels had one leg tied up to keep them hobbled. The hoof would be tied to the upper leg so they stood on three legs with the fourth one always folded under their body. It was a sight to see as they move one group around since all the camels would leap in the air with the front leg and kick forward with the hind legs.

We started taking pictures with no problem from the traders. Some of them seemed only irritated that we were only there to take pictures and not interested in buying any. I didn't blame them. I'd feel the same way if someone came to my work and wanted to start photographing everything. After a few minutes the boys that were helping with the camels started wanting us to take their photos. I think I spent more time showing them the pictures than actually taking them. We didn't mind though and actually got comfortable talking to a lot of traders. Some spoke English and others Arabic. I got by with asking them how they were and if they like the pictures. They seemed to enjoy or at least put up with my broken Arabic.

Our driver spoke with one of the traders and was asked if any of us would like to sit on the camels. Having rode on one before I bowed out for anyone else to try it. But no one seemed willing to be the first so I accepted the invite and mounted the saddle. The traders went into great detail and examples of how to climb on the saddle. I had remembered before that you crossed your legs at the calves and was able to slide right on the saddle the right way. I got a round of smiles and handshakes as I did it, so I think they were slightly impressed. Several photos later, I gave up my turn for someone else.

Abdul was with us and picked up a nice camel saddle for $50. I spent most of my time trying to get a good shot of a shy young camel. Before we left I had an urge to juggle for them. We bought some small bags of seeds that worked great for juggling. Except when I tried to juggle five, they were just too light for the wind that was blowing. So I stuck with 3 and juggled for a bit. I got everyone involved by throwing the bags into the crowd that had formed around me. They learned quickly I wanted them to throw it back in and I would keep juggling. More photos again and then we said our 'Thank you's and 'Goodbye's. We ventured back into the city again and stopped at a ice cream shop on the way home. It belongs to the husband of one of our local staff. It was the real cream version not the european kind. I had a strawberry/banana cone. We stayed to eat them and people watch.  Then made our way back home for the day.

spare a pound?

News Feed from The Sudan Tribune: "Sudan is talking about changing the local currency the Dinar back to the Pound as legal tender. The dinar was adopted in the mid 1990's in an effort to put an Islamic face on the currency.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Arab and Muslim north shall have an Islamic-based monetary system and the mainly animist and Christian south, a Western system regulated by a central bank in the south.

Southerners rejected the dinar due to its perceived Islamic character and said they wanted a currency that reflects the country's cultural and historical diversities.

The dinar is equivalent to 100 Sudanese pounds and is officially pegged at 250 dinars to the dollar." =Sudan Tribune, Feb 19th, 2005

When I first arrived here, I noticed different places would price goods in pounds. This required a small amount of math to convert it from pounds to dinars. 100 pounds = 1 dinar. The hard part was converting dinars to US$. 250 dinars = $1 US. So in fact, 25000 pounds = $1 US. Still feels odd knowing a 6 pack of liter water is 90,000 pounds. Class what would that be in US$?

One_pound 10,000 of these. .
100sddinar94_2  . . make up 1 of these

Still want more? Ok, so to make it easier on the wallet (and sitting down). It's easier to carry mostly 1000 or 2000 dinar bills. I've tried carrying 500 dinar bills and it just wasn't efficient since by the time I paid for something I would have to go refill my wallet again.

Excuse me? Do you have 4 five hundreds for a 2,000?

khartoum faq

If you're going to live in Khartoum as an Expat, you might find the new link on my side bar helpful. I've combined several questions I once had, plus other questions people have asked me and put them into a FAQ. It's still being updated so feel free to shoot me an email with anything I'm missing. I'll continue to add more as I think of other things regarding consumbables and general living questions.

Khartoum Frequently Asked Questions


Due to working late into the Friday morning hours I was able to take the rest of the day off.  I was finally able to get to the American School to meet other expats for a pickup game of soccer.  Not being a skilled soccer player, I forewarned them I might need a bit of practice.  I think I surprised myself after scoring a goal during the first game.  However by the second game I could tell I was winded and needed to work some more on my cardio.  But with a few well placed water breaks for all, I was able to stick it out and enjoy the day.  It was nice to venture out and meet more folks than the same coworkers I live and work with.  I even got to see Tank, our old tortoise, who use to live at the townhouses.  He and his female companion had occupied the corner of the soccer field during the games.  Even with our playing through, it didn't distract him from his courting.  I think they're probably still there even after we left.