The name of this post is meant to be ironic, as Khartoum is actually sadly lacking in night-time activities. After dark, the most popular option for locals is to visit a tea lady, or sita shay. These women have mobile businesses, consisting of a stove, a few coffee pots, jars of spices, coffee (jebana) and tea. For their guests, they have an array of mismatching plastic chairs and wire stools, often on their last legs. More than once, I have seen someone topple over backwards, shay in hand. The tea ladies can be found in any shaded nook or cranny of the city; and under every tree. I have even seen some making business on leafy roundabouts. My favourite location to enjoy this hot beverage is along the banks of the Nile, where seemingly hundreds of tea ladies are brewing drinks. On the menu is jebana, the strong and grainy Sudanese coffee that is jet black in colour and often laced with ginger or cardamom. It is an acquired taste, but I have grown ever more fond of it as the spicy flavour is very moreish. The tea selection includes karkaday, or hibiscus tea, which is pinky red in colour and has sweet, a floral fragrance. I have been told that it is good for soothing sore throats. They also serve black tea with mint (shay bi nana) or cinnamon (shay bi qirfa), and sometimes with milk (shay bi laban). All of these drinks will be served with at least 4 teaspoons of sugar in them, unless you specify that you will sweeten the drink yourself (sukr bala). Incidentally, many people in Sudan have toothy smiles and I fear more for my molars every day.
For the locals, Khartoum nightlife sort of ends there. Men will often sit smoking shisha together, but the women are indoors and nowhere to be seen. For expats, however, life is slightly more exciting. Khartoum has a wide range of restaurants, offering international or what is considered to be “Western” cuisine. Personally, I don’t see the appeal of paying a lot of money for food that doesn’t taste authentic, just for a taste of home. I suppose I haven’t been here long enough or experienced enough Middle Eastern cuisine yet. What I am more curious to try is African and Gulf cuisine; Khartoum also has Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian, Ethiopian and Indian restaurants. Some of these venues host live music nights, and I have even heard rumours of a karaoke night.
If you are in the right circles, you can enjoy fairly regular access to alcohol. Most of the embassies have an illegal stash smuggled in from their respective countries and whenever they hold an event, you can get your hands on a tipple. The British embassy hosts a weekly chess club, where members can buy drinks from the Pickwick bar on the premises. Very few that attend are genuine chess enthusiasts. The American embassy is notorious for their parties, the Germans for their beer and the French for their wine. Of course, I have failed to resist this temptation. As I had been prepared to come to a dry country and was looking forward to a detox, the availability and my lack of restraint is somewhat disappointing.