I have no reason to visit Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. I could stick ever so slightly closer to the coast of what has become the Red Sea in my absence by visiting Kassala. The Sudanese authorities have a reason for me to visit Khartoum though. I must register since I’m an alien, obtain a photography permit, and possibly require collection of a travel permit.
My hopes for a speedy entrance into Khartoum are dashed by a coach rooted to the spot for 2 hours. The woman next to me, elegantly dressed in red and gold sari, offers me some salted seeds that taste exactly like popcorn.
The road is mostly straight, unlike Ethiopia. The trees thin out. Its single lane all the way, meaning lots of slow overtaking moves. On the outskirts of Khartoum I move onto a minibus to get to the centre. It breaks down. I’m walked what feels like miles onto another, the conductor is given instructions to drop me off at Al-sharif al-hindi St.
We pass Al-sharif al-hindi St. I’m eventually dropped off at the Spanish embassy. A security guard looking like ‘Jesus the Arab’ only in brown security guard uniform rather than white gown helps me out. There are lots of ‘you know, al-sharif al-hindi St, round the corner from the …’ type talk in Arabic. Nevermind getting to the registration office before it closes at 3, this became a race to find a room before sunset. It glowed halfway down the sky, like a winter’s afternoon in England. The conversation went around in circles:
“Al-sharif al-hindi St, by the…”
“What embassy do you want?”
“I don’t want an embassy” I say, watching the sun sink. “I want al-sharif al-hindi street, for a hotel. I’m lost. All I know is I’m in Khartoum.”
“You’re in Bahri” says Jesus. That’s the separate city of North Khartoum.
“Its just around the corner from the…”
What feels like several weeks later we get somewhere. Jesus says:
“Can I ask you a question?” From the seriousness with which he asks I’m expecting an invitation to his sister’s wedding. “Have you got money, then you could hire a taxi.”
The driver escorts me to the hotel steps before departing without another word. What was supposed to be a 4 hour hop lasted longer than a working day. If everyday in Sudan is as hard as that, I’m sunk.