Flight from Nairobi to Khartoum takes about 3 hours of which about 80% is flying over Sudan’s teritory. Sudan is huge and as far as I know there are very weak or nonexistent road connections between different areas. In most of the cases the only travel possible is by air.
During my flight i met a man working for the World Food Programme who gave me a very useful induction on life in Sudan especially from the perspective of the humanitarian workers. Conditions they live, challenges, working and living with your collegues almost24/7, being away from home, family and loved ones, stressful work, insecurity, different food or actually lack of food, illnesses – all this becomes a part of their work and life. And then there is this important question – what makes people to do this, why to leave their comfort zone.. Though, in case of Sudan majority of humanitarian workers would actually be nationals, for whom this might be one of the few choices of employment.
My first impressions about Sudan by far exceeded my expectations. Before landing in this early evening i saw an endless area of lights and highways. Khartoum with its low architecture is spread across quite a large area and by consisting of kind of 3 cities it is a home for about 4-5 million people. It’s huge. The airport is practically in the middle of the city and therefore very convenient to access the city. When we were taking the Africa road on my way to the flat, i felt i could be in any European city. Of course, the next day I would realize that these are only bits and pieces of ‘development’ here and there, but it was still impressive to see how it is striving to develop. By now i have seen even greater contrasts than in Kenya: posh cars, rikshaws and donkeys are common types of transportation on the road and big residential buildings and shopping malls are next to the houses of very basic construction. There is a huge influx of investment from China, Turkey and Egypt which helps Sudan to develop its infrastructure, solve some of the unemployment problems (though, China prefers to send in their own people to implement their aid projects) and improve a bit the level of living.
Well, but the weather.. Mamma mia. On average it is between +32 to 40C during the day. As i spend most of the day in the office, i dont feel the heat so directly, though obviously it is only thanks to air conditioners in almost every single room, otherwise ability to work can be really affected.I am struggling to get used to having an air conditioner on during the night and mostly because of the noise. but it’s getting better. for this reason as well as casual power cuts, you can see generators everywhere. Office without generator here can create quite a big ‘disaster’.
And, when it comes to food, it gets even more challenging than in Kenya: seems like here people eat meat even more (i will remind you again – i am vegetarian) and they eat food with the right hand (help, i am left-handed and i keep forgetting that it matters which hand i use!). Though our office lunch luckily has been completely vegetarian so far (beans, bread, salad) so no complaints. But i am happy to find here more sweeeeeets. Yesterday we bought some Middle East sweets. dont know the names, but those which look like rolls of hair 🙂 mmmmm
But, yesterday completely out of blue sky came this opportunity to attend the Eritrean wedding. I felt kind of uncomfortable at the beginning as it to me would be a very family/close ones-focused event. However, this last event of this wedding celebration (apparently here according to tradition wedding has a series of different events over a period of time) is open to the communities from which the both families come from so anyone is welcome. At first we were given a food and drink and then we found a seat near to the central place in this huge decorated tent with a gold color throne for the bride and the groom. Eritrean women were wearing traditional clothes and had their hands and feet decorated with henna. Apparently henna paintings symbolized wealth and money. This wedding showed me a very pragmatic approach to the marriage. Family of groom had to pay to the family of bride and this money was recounted in front of everyone. i was wondering – but what about love? Groom during this ceremony looked quite bored and disinterested so we were even guessing if this is maybe an arranged wedding. However, as i learnt afterwards, organizing a wedding is really expensive and people may be spending a lot of money for this day even though they live in generally poor conditions. Here wedding is beyond just a ‘contract’ or ‘union’ betweent the two. it is about both extended families and their mutual acceptance of each other. In this event three of us – foreigners – became almost as a part of a ‘show’ as they at times where making photos of us more than of the couple. But i guess, it really must have felt equally special and interesting for them to have us around as for us taking part in this event.
Today i also learnt that due to bad weather (rain and storms) and some technical difficulties i will not be able to travel to Darfur visiting one of our field offices. Shame. Getting closer to what we are delivering and to whom would definitely give me a better understanding about the humanitarian work and all the complexities around. But, i will have then more time to spend with the staff here in Khartoum and, as we have been joking today, maybe attending few more weddings. 🙂 tonight we are going around to see if there is one we can check out 🙂