My friend Simon’s love of Africa in general is only eclipsed by his love of Sudan in particular. He just adores the place.
|Sudan: No third world disaster here|
Sudan has 4,725 kilometres of narrow-gauge, single-track railroads that serve the northern and central portions of the country. But, to put it frankly, travelling by train in Sudan can be erratic. And quite uncomfortable.
But Simon tells me that he loves an article by fellow Sudanophile Iain Marshall, written in 1990. So, about 15 years before the rest of the world started blogging.
Iain says: "The concept of transport is based on the principle of moving from A to B in Sudan. The comfort of the journey is of little importance. People overcome the hardships of such travel by a wonderful act of will. They simply ignore all the signs of pain and irritation. During the course of that journey I was treated regally by my fellow travellers. A handful of dates extended from the press of bodies; a house in a tiny Nubian village providing tea; countless offers of water from roadside houses.”
Iain also goes on to say: “The Sudanese proverb ‘Ar raffig gabl at tarig’ - travelling companions are more important than the journey itself - has rung resoundingly true on every trip I have ever made in Sudan.” Iain’s now made that 1990 essay into a blog.
Thousands of years ago, the area of north Sudan was extremely volcanic. And Simon was, one day, feeling pretty volcanic himself.
As I’m writing this I’m smiling because I saw Simon last night. Good timing because he was in London on a rare trip and we had a great catch-up with friends. He was in high spirits as he’d just been to his beloved Sudan. Of course we all reminded him of his story about the train…
On a moving Sudanese train, Simon opened the door to the loo on a speculative visit. A family was living in there. He really didn’t want to interrupt or ask them to move out - so that he could move his bowels. So he held on. Finally the train arrived in a station, where it was to remain for an indeterminate amount of time. That happens in Sudan.
It sat beside another train in the searing East African heat. That other train – a freight locomotive - had apparently been there for days. Days and days and days. With no toilet on the station, Simon was by now dancing around in agony and he had to grab this opportunity. He ran around the back of the second train, out of site; and pulled down his trousers. And just as relief started washing over his body, that second train started pulling out of the station, rather too astonishingly quickly for Sudanese rolling stock that had just been rusting on the rails for so long.
And so the passengers on Simon’s train got an eyeful. I bet even the family in the toilet turned their eyes away when they saw him perform the walk of shame across the tracks.
Simon’s got a whole series of stories about his Sudanese travels. For instance, when he had to remain in a plane on the runway during a sandstorm. When the storm had abated and the passengers got off, his Sudan Airways 737 had been stripped of its livery and was a perfect, beautiful, silver, the paint ripped off by the swirling sands of East Africa.
All I know is that Simon carries with him, wherever he goes, things that bung you up. He apparently used some this February in the north of Sudan. Although the communal loo had a great view of an ancient temple, Simon says: “I popped two Imodium to avoid ever having to go in that bog whilst staying there!”
And Simon only let me write all about him if I included this YouTube tribute to Sudan. No Third World disaster here. A lovely film with a strong message.