Last weekend I finally had the chance to get out of the city and do some sightseeing. We got up at the crack of dawn to depart for Wad Medani, only to find that the rest of our party would be arriving ‘Sudanese time’, i.e. 1.5 hours later than we had arranged. I have never quite got used to this lack of respect for punctual timing, and my blood boiled. At last we got going, and drove South through the barren outskirts of Khartoum, which consisted of wasteland littered with plastic bags occasionally broken up by factories producing everything from cars to tomato paste.
One breathes a sigh of relief when you first hear that you will be travelling on a tarmaced road. But this is a misjudgement. All the traffic that belongs on a 4-lane motorway is instead crammed onto a narrow A-road where there is barely any space to overtake. But this does not deter people, and they attempt horrifyingly dangerous moves anyway. More than once we found ourselves hurtling along at 80mph into the path of an oncoming lorry, which we had to expertly dodge at the last minute to avoid collision. I chose not to look as our Kenyan friend negotiated this hair-raising road, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that he knuckles were white.
The road followed the course of the Nile, and as we approached Medani the landscape began to look very rural and picturesque, which met my expectations of Gezira state. Luckily, we were riding with our friend Mohamed al Tayeb, a native of Medani , whose family we were planning to visit later that day. He gave us a running commentary, highlighting places and buildings of interest along the way. Entering the town, our first port of call was the University of Gezira, a luxuriously spacious campus with an abundance of green spaces, giving it a farm-like appearance. We felt quite at home. After a pick-me-up coffee we continued into town and drove along Medani’s Nile Street. Lined with grand buildings, this had clearly once been a very wealthy town. As there was previously only one tarmaced road in Sudan, which lead from Khartoum to Medani, it had been a trading centre and the gateway to the South. I was struck by how clean the streets were. We passed by a church that had been built by the British in 1930. We turned off onto some unfinished roads until we reached a blue gate and Mohamed told us to stop outside. We entered a charming one-story house, decorated in blue and yellow and a rustic style. Mohamed presented his family members to us one by one; his father, mother, aunt, sisters, brothers, cousins – the Sudanese have very large families. His mother served us fresh grapefruit juice and we sat around awkwardly in their living room until all pleasantries had been exchanged.
As our tour guide had planned a busy schedule, we were soon whisked us off and taken to a ‘garden’ nearby. I would describe it more as a wild orchard. Palm, mango, banana, guava and orange trees were thriving here thanks to an impressive irrigation system that fed them water from the Nile. There were towering ant hills twice the height of a man. Lizards and snakes scuttled and slithered away as they heard our footsteps, and we even spotted a hoopoe in the path before us. Mohamed’s cousins scrambled through the bushes looking for fresh fruit and came up with a dozen ripe guavas and juicy mangoes. We had brought with us a picnic of chicken and rice and chose shady a spot under an established mango tree to have our lunch and take a well-deserved rest.
The next stop was a sandy forest populated by hundreds of goats. The soft afternoon light filtered through the trees and made for a very ambient setting.Mohamed’s final hidden gem was a vast sandy beach along the Nile where the river ran calmly. Nearing the shore, we saw a group of young boys whooping and shrieking as they ran up to the water’s edge and dived in. They whooped and shrieked even more once they had spotted us. We paddled in the delightfully warm water then made a fire on which to heat the coals for the shisha. Here we remained until the sun had set and darkness had fallen around us. Mohamed also happened to be a talented singer, so he serenaded us with some Sudanese pop songs.
Driving at night was even more treacherous, but luckily I fell asleep and we made it back in one piece. Alhamdullilah!