20 days later, I seem to be relaxing well into my new role as a khawaja in Sudan. After recovering from the initial shock of my new found celebrity, I soon discovered that having people smile ecstatically at you and greet you with enthusiasm as you walk down the street is not entirely unpleasant. Bradt’s Sudan Travel Guide describes it as “an overwhelmingly positive experience”, which I may be beginning to get on board with. Of course, such attention is undeserved and simply a bi-product of what you represent: wealth, glamour and a Western presence in a developing country; to some, perhaps even hope.
What’s more, I have even found ways to get around the dress code: I have ascertained that wearing a headscarf is not strictly necessary, as khawajas are allowed to bend the rules a little. This is a relief as in this costume I felt a bit of a fraud, masquerading as a Muslim. Where it is generally looked down upon for women to smoke, I have also recently been served a shisha pipe. We had a game of pool at a cafe the other day, and from the way the waiters observed us I am sure that they had never seen a woman play pool (or perhaps partake in any sport) before.
Otherwise, I have begun to master the art of getting around on private and public transport. I can barter with the Amjad drivers, and usually know how much the journey should cost. Amjads are microbuses which seat about 6 people, often have loose seats and never seatbelts (apparently it is an insult to the driver to wear a seatbelt). Rickshaws (or “tuc tucs”, in other cultures) are cheaper but the bumpy, put-put-ing ride has been known to make me bring up my breakfast. They also feel relatively unsafe, due to the possibility of falling out of the open sides when making a hard turn to dodge a donkey cart. Buses are the cheapest form of transport – less than one guinee a ride, but they are truly an art form. There are no official bus stops, so you must rely on local knowledge of which street corner people gather at to wait for the bus. You must then wait as 5 full buses pass you by, before one slows down and the conductor yells the destination, such as “Bahribahribahri”, out of the door. Women are not allowed to stand up on buses, so unless there is a free seat you cannot get on. Once on the bus, the conductor will click his fingers at you, and depending on where you are sitting, will collect your fee or this will be passed down the bus to him. To halt the bus, one must use a unique combination of hissing “Kssksskss” and finger clicking. So far, I have only got to know a couple of routes, but am still perhaps disproportionately proud of myself.