Tuesday, June 12, 2012


My first encounter with Sudan came in the form of a lovable sounding phenomenon: ‘haboob’.  I can assure you that nobody in Khartoum was referring to it in loving or endearing tones, but whoever thought of calling this phenomenon of a ‘soft’, continuous sand-carrying wind something as cute as ‘haboob’ knew that newcomers would not be able to utter the name without following it with a comical smile.  Good on them, because shortly after encountering haboob, it becomes a central nuisance to your daily life.

Haboob made an appearance before I even got here – it was active the night I was flying in and there were some concerns that the flight might not be able to land, or possibly be delayed.  If a 3am flight is delayed does that mean it’s arriving late or early? Doesn’t the ‘late clock’ reset at dawn?  But I digress.  The plane landed safely, and I decided that too much of nothing was being made of this haboob… until I got to the guest house.  This seemingly mild-mannered wind has sneaky ways, literally.  The moment you enter any room, you sense that something else is already there, and you find it as soon as you touch anything: the thinnest film of orange sand – oneverything!  Slighter than Gulf desert sand, but more tangible than dust, it immediately colours the soles of your feet, and wraps itself around the toilet seat, wash basin, cups and utensils, and practically anything else exposed to light.  But it’s still haboob, so I smile, wipe the surface and carry on.  The locals have developed many a trick to deal with haboob, I’ll try to learn them quickly.

In the meantime, I’ve been implementing a few of my tricks to settle in.  My familiar pillow, sheets, towels, soaps, etc. everything was quickly unpacked and put in place, with the additional cozy accommodation being provided by a dear friend’s home.  This is so much better than any prior move, but it still took me a couple of days to gain my bearings and settle in.  I assign one part of that to the early hour arrival on the first day, and I can’t but acknowledge that the last piece fell into place when I finally obtained my very own local phone chip.  I was utterly restless for two days, got the chip, made two phone calls – just two calls – and that’s it, I was settled.  When did we (I) get so spoiled by technology?  Those two days without a local phone felt like an eternity, and I felt completely suspended out of time and place.  How did this happen?  When I went to university for the first time many (many) years ago, my only certain form of contact was a landline somewhere in the vicinity of what would be my room, and I took great care to register and share that number as appropriate. Now, we travel half way across the world without paying much attention to our points of contact, we hold on to our cell phone and its roaming capacities like a lifeline, and we feel abandoned and lost without the full use of those services – either roaming or from a freshly acquired local cell.  As if that weren’t enough, I have now developed an additional dependency on internet access through my phone.  You may share such a dependency with me, and if you do, I invite you in joining me in this exercise: go to a mirror, look yourself squarely in the eyes and say “Seriously??!”

If you’re wondering what this has to do with a short travel note about Sudan, it is because I have spent this, my first day off in the city, in the cooled comfort of this flat and the familiar company of my internet world.  I promise to head out tomorrow and I’m sure I’ll have more to share then, and it will, no doubt, be hot!

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