I’m sure that for someone who has never been outside of Europe and the USA, landing in Sudan will be like landing on Mars. Luckily, a friend of a friend from Iraq has been meeting me on a weekly basis to teach me some essential Arabic basics. This has been somewhat amusing for him, as he speaks old or “high” Arabic, and has been teaching me what he knows of the Egyptian dialect from films and TV shows back home. I discovered that he likes to talk – a lot – about his homeland and how the Western world differs from it. He thoroughly approves of my project and is keen to prepare me as well as possible. He also refuses to accept gifts and deems reciprocation unnecessary – perhaps this is my first experience of the infamous Middle Eastern generosity.
He has also giving me some insight into the teachings of Islam. I particularly respect his abstinence from over-consumption, based on the belief that men should “only eat enough to stand up”. Ramadan enforces this fundament, through the act of fasting. This is not only meant to cleanse and detox the body, but is also meant to remind people of the poor and starving among us. I think this is a beautiful concept and makes me want to learn a lot more about this stigmatized religion.
From what I have learnt of the history of Sudan so far, it is a former British colony that has been at war with itself ever since its independence, mainly due to religious clashes. South Sudan became an independent Republic dominated by Christianity in 2011 and separate from North Sudan, which is run by Islamic Fundamentalist or “Sharia” Law. President Al-Bashir, who’s been in power since 1989, has been convicted of crimes against humanity. At present, there is still conflict happening in Darfur as well as the South Kordofan state; along the border with South Sudan. The British, US and Australian Embassies all advise against any unnecessary travel to the country, although I have been told that they are prone to exaggeration to avoid liability. All of this does not make Sudan a top tourist destination, but I am convinced by what I have heard that it is a wonderful and misunderstood country.
I expect to at least come down with a stomach bug at some point, but that’s the least of my worries. Sudan is home to a variety of infectious diseases, including Dengue Fever, African Sleeping Sickness, Cerebral Malaria, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Hepatitis A & B, to name but a few. Thankfully, there are vaccinations against some of the deadliest diseases. But there is no vaccination against one of the largest epidemics there: malaria. Transmitted by the anopheles mosquito, malaria can be treated effectively if caught early on. I will be taking the antibiotic Doxycyline as a preventive measure, although I’ve heard that people have still gotten ill while taking it. A traveller’s blog that I came across online described malaria prophylaxes as “an umbrella in a storm”, and a Westerner’s immune system as comparable to that of an African child. African adults’ immune systems, on the other hand, are as strong as a horse’s. This sheds some light on the reason why so many tourists and travellers come down with illnesses when travelling in the Third World.