North-west of Khartoum center lies the district of Omdurman that hosts most of Khartoum’s sights: the Mahdi’s Tomb, the Khalida’s House, Sudan’s largest Souk and the ultimate highlight of any visit to Khartoum, the Dancing Dervishes who gather every Friday at the Tomb of Skeikh Hamed al Nil set in the middle of a Sufi cemetery.
Once a week sellers, buyers and of course lots of camels gather at the Camel market of Muehjle. One of the places I was very eager to see in Sudan, but to go there after only a few hours of sleep was not really appealing. Kelly and I were dead tired, our flight had arrived at 2am and we had planned to spend the day leisurely in Khartoum. Besides US 60 for a car plus driver seemed a lot. Well, we were so glad we did it, it was such a great experience. The camels are bread in Darfur and are walked all the way up to Khartoum where they are sold and put on trucks to be finally sold and slaughtered in Egypt. In former days the camels walked all the way to their deaths, which took them 24 days.
George, the owner of Hotel Acropolis, got us tickets to the party at the Germany Embassy for US60. It will always be remembered as the best New Year’s Party. The “Who is Who” of Khartoum was present, diplomats, businesspeople from all corners of the world as well as lots of Sudanese.
How we got the idea to visit the SOS children’s village? The mother of a student of mine told me about it. A quick mail to the German organization and we were all set. Kelly and I were received by the director of the village, Mr Abdel Kareem, a very charismatic, kind man and Lena the assistant of the national director.
Khartoum – the very name makes most people’s phantasies go wild, since so little is known about the capital of Sudan. Well, there is actually a lot to explore if you take your time and we certainly did. The confluence of the Blue and White Nile is probably the most famous sight in Khartoum. Unfortunately, most visitors simply drive across the bridge and look down, since the closest place to the watch the two rivers merge is officially closed, Mogran Family Park. There used to be a fairy-wheel that provided a superb view, but it has been dismantled years ago, like all the other rides. That would not keep Kelly and me from going there anyway, what we discovered was the most bizarre place.
My handicaps were plenty – my very poor French, travelling on my own, hardly any other tourists to exchange information with and the absence of a public transport system in Benin.
Benin lacks pubic transport to an extent I didn’t think was possible, it just doesn’t exist, Not even taxis. When Beninoises speak of taxis they talk about run-down cars that pick up people as they go, but it is not a taxi you have to your own, unless you pay for all the seats. For longer trips the taxis often don’t leave unless they are filled to the rim, with a roof full of cargo.
Roch, a resident of Puerto Novo participated in a teachers’ exchange program in Vienna years ago. Only days before departing for Benin I learned about this through my friend Linde Magg, who hosted Roch during his day in Vienna. He answered my mail immediately and met me already on my first day in Cotonou. Quickly it was decided that I would welcome the New Year with his extended family in Puerto Novo.
New Year’s Eve was rather quiet. Roch’s adult children had invited friends from Nigeria and hung around the house before leaving for a club. But January 1 was an unparalleled life time experience.
A nasty grey sky was the first thing I spotted when opening the curtains on my very first morning in Cotonou. Was it going to rain any minute? A quick check of the weather app said „low visibility due to dust“. Eventually it sank in, Harmattan season. This wind bis lowing from the Sahara across West Africa between December and March fills the air with thick dust. The horizon is greyish white, a photographer’s nightmare. A kind of blue skies would sometimes reappear late afternoon.
A small path separates the two villages of Camata and Shakaloke. Why they never merged? Two different clans reside there, explained Monsieur Bash, who works for Conetre e Protégé Nature. This local NGO supports villagers with all kinds of projects, like collecting rainwater, a school was built, the value of herbal medicine is kept alive and the occasional tourists in the area is shown these achievements.
A privilege that I had more or less to myself, in the four days around Dassa I did not see a single tourists.
Forget New York, the true and real yellow fleet calls Cotonou its home. Streets are buzzing with young men on motorbikes, wearing bright yellow vests, registration number printed on the back. Even before I arrived I Benin I was determined to explore places by zemidjan, or simply zem, as they are called. Since Cotonou, nor any other town in Benin, provide urban public transport that is your choice. Half a Euro is a trip to most places around town. Despite the zigg-zagging through traffic, using sidewalks as escape routes during traffic jam, I was never really afraid. The only downside, zem drivers don’t provide helmets for their passengers like they do in Rwanda.