There is a lot of talk about the heat, here in Sudan. As I enter the office every morning, the security guard greeting me will ask me “keef el sakhana?” (how’s the heat?) with a smile that is part solidarity, part apology. It was sweet the first few days, but three weeks in, it’s getting tired. The same goes for the number of (extremely) sweet counterparts that I am meeting, each of which will not end a conversation with me without mentioning the heat. This carried me through the spectrum of graceful gratitude for their small talk about the weather, to wondering whether I was exhibiting some undesirable side effects of the heat and this is their polite way of excusing me (paranoia much?).
There are no two ways about it – Khartoum is hot! It’s hot and dry. I spent my first few days moisturizing my dried skin and soothing my itchy, dried out nose (and clean up whatever imagery that conjures up, there was no unseemly picking taking place, just a lot of incessant nose-blowing). It is sufficiently hot, even with air conditioning, that my hair is tied up and away from my neck for all but a few short periods during the day. It’s hot that, when I took too long to find water on my first walk out and about town, I could almost feel my body absorbing any hydrated cells, and felt I was dehydrating as quickly as litmus paper changes colour. Yes, it’s hot… but it was hot yesterday, hot today, and will probably be hot again tomorrow – can we stop talking about it and wrecking my attempts at tuning it out and getting on with my day?
There is really only one point in the day where the heat truly bothers me, physically moving me out of my spot, and that is during the afternoon when it chooses my exact corner of the office to beat against rather persistently. It’s a completely unfair fight where the air-conditioner and ceiling fan simply cannot abate its power despite their best efforts. As I try to withstand this lapping heat in the last hour or so of the workshift, I cannot help but silently hum the song; house of the rising (or afternoon-setting) sun, indeed.
This also always brings me back to thinking of the little compound that makes up our offices. A series of six villas, three on either side of a central driveway, which also leads off to a small tennis court/football field, swimming pool (I’ve only seen one, I’m told there’s another) and underground gym. Though this lends itself to much suspicion as to what sort of financial management would allow such premises, let me explain the situation as it was explained to me on my first day. We are apparently located in an affluent part of town, an area that used to consist of orchards leading up to the Nile (very close by), and was then sold off plot by plot to rich Sudanis who wanted to build lavish homes for themselves, and their families. Yes, that’s plural – it’s apparently common for fathers to build a mini-compound of villas or apartments to be inhabited by himself and each of his sons. When I was told this of our office complex, I jumped to the mistaken conclusion that it was a one-off type of construction. That was, until I walked around some structures in the neighbourhood. I was passing this one gate to the driveway of a three storey building, which seemed like semi-detached houses, and had taken many strides before I started wondering why there were no other gates along this long wall. My question was soon answered at the other end of the wall, when I found the entrance gate and the sign “Ahmad Moussa & Sons Residence”. I did not even have time to giggle at this company-name-type format to the houses before I came upon another one and another, and I wondered how these fathers had succeeded in persuading their sons to live next door when the owner of our office complex had clearly failed – we were the villas’ first inhabitants. There is many a day when I walk through the re-divisioned office-villas and wonder how they were meant to be lived in… and wonder, as well, who would have occupied my hot corner in the sun, we might have had a few stories to share.