The green and relaxing city of Wad Medani was the perfect place to rest after the long trip into the national park. Set on the Blue Nile, the city had an agreeable climate and was much cleaner compared to other Sudanese cities. I stayed in Continental Hotel which should not be mistaken for Intercontinental hotel chain 😉
Build by the British in colonial style, the hotel features a beautiful garden with tropical flowers, colourful birds, pigeons, free range chicken and a monkey. However, the toilet flush and shower plumbing was broken. It wouldn’t be Sudan if the hotel was perfect 😉
The next stop on my journey was a south-eastern city of Kassala. The bus to the city tested my patience. There are different operators on the route Medani to Kassala and I apparently made the wrong choice. It took almost three hours for the bus to fill and depart. Obviously, the bus needed fuel which seemed to be scarce that day and only the fourth station had some. With many people hopping on and off on the way and several check points, I reached the town at 6:30 pm, ten and a half hours after I left the hotel for a trip that was supposed to last five hours.
What I didn’t know was that the annual school championship was in town that week and the city was filled with the best students from schools all over Sudan competing in different subjects. Seven of nine hotels listed in Google and Osmand were fully booked. Only a shabby lokanda, the lowest category of accommodation in Sudan, had a dirty room with three beds with used bedlinen. When I saw the shared bathroom I truly hoped I’ll find another place. A little desperate, I directed the taxi driver to the last possible hotel from my list. They at least had a room with a clean floor and provided me fresh linen on request. The bathroom has not been cleaned for ages, but I was used to that by that point. Sudanese hotel staff seem to believe that bathrooms clean themselves.
Like other big cities in Sudan, Kassala is a meeting place of different tribes and cultures. What distinguishes Kasssla though is the presence of ethnic groups from Eastern Sudan. Women of this descent wear colourful robes and various types of jewellery: golden necklaces, bracelets, ear and nose rings. On the market in Kassala not only could one buy everything from food, clothes and tools but also observe how leather products, swords and jewellery are handcrafted. Kassala is famous for swords and knifes and those are sold everywhere. And the demand is high! Local men still wear a sword or a big knife when they walk in town.
In the hotel I met Martin, a German tourist from Jena, which is located only 120 km from my hometown, who told me about an interesting exhibition of the Eastern Sudanese tribes in town and I’ve decided to have a look. Soon after I entered, a man speaking English approched me and guided me through the exhibition providing some explanations. People made space for me so that I could see better or to take a photo, though I’ve never asked for that. They treated me better than one another, like everywhere in the country. I felt ashamed when I thought how people of African descent are usually treated in my home country.
Every tribe had their own traditional tent or hut where they presented a collection of handicraft and tools. A display of pictures showed how the people used to live 50 or 100 years ago. Several tribes used the opportunity to present difficult parts of their history. I was surprised to see pictures of the conflict in Nuba Mountains. Burned down villages, mistreated people on the verge of starvation and a dead child said to be killed by an air raid were shown next to pictures of the beautiful Nuba mountains landscape. I didn’t expect that indirectly accusing the Sudanese government of human rights violations in an ongoing conflict would be tolerated. Late afternoon, when the strenght of the sun reduced to a bearable level, some tribes performed their traditional dance.
The mosque of Khatmiya
The El-Said El-Hassan mosque in the village of Khatmyia close to Kassala presents an unforgettable view. The beautiful architecture and the setting on foot of the Taka mountains, huge granite rocks rounded by erosion, make it exceptional. It was damaged in 1885 and is currently not used for regular service, but for important ceremonies only. I was lucky to witness the celebration of the birthday of prophet Mohamed that lasted two weeks and peaked when several thousand people from Kassala and surrounding villages joined the evening prayer. I enjoyed the atmosphere and kindness of the people so much that I visited the mosque three times until the last day of celebrations.
As my Arabic encompasses roughly 20 words and most people didn’t speak much English, the communication was very limited unless I talked to a well-educated doctor or a businessman who is now selling car spare parts and who used to work for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. If a Sudanese was abroad then usually to Saudi Arabia or Egypt. A few have been to Ethiopia. No wonder that the list of the destinations is limited, with a Sudanese passport it is quite difficult to get a visa for many countries! Intrestingly, Sudan is one of a few countries that has welcomed Syrian refiugies and is readily issuing them Sudanese passports.
Sometimes I was asked if I’m Christian or Muslim. The fact that I’m not religious seemed to surprise most people but did not seem to change the tone of the conversation. The best comment was ‚Ahh, you’re like Arjen Robben, the player of Bayern Munich‘. Football could really build bridges 😉
By the time I left the mosque I must have shaken more than 100 hands and was treated to tea a dozen of times. It’s a hard job to be the only obvious foreigner in a country of curious and friendly people 😉
Kassala was my last stage in Sudan. I had just two days to leave the country before my 30-day tourist visa expired. In theory, it would be possible to extend it, but I was going to meet my wife in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. So I left Sudan, a country full of surprises and unbelievably hospitable, friendly people, with mixed feelings, wishing at the same time I could stay longer, but looking forward to the next stage of my journey.