Part 1 of my journey through Sudan left off with me getting all the paperwork done to be legally allowed to transit through the country.
Meanwhile my travel companion has fallen ill – a combination of the heat, lack of sleep and a bug he caught somewhere between Kenya and Ethiopia.
So I venture downtown on my own.
As mentioned above, I had had my doubts about Sudan. Not only Darfur and the conflict in the South but stories about how women were disregarded in the country, arrested for as little as wearing pants, rang my alarm bells. My ambition to complete my adventure without flying and the lack of safer alternative routes in the region, however, led me here. My travel companion was to serve as my guard.
But now I am on my own. And the more I walk the streets of Downtown Khartoum the more I fall for the country. No one is rude or disrespectful. Everyone is open. Men are keeping a respectful distance. Women want to strike up a conversation.
I find a little falafel place near the Ethnographic Museum. The museum itself is not very spectacular: a few rooms, scarcely labeled exhibits; I’ve seen it all within less than half an hour. But in the garden there is a pergola. It provides shade to the people from the surrounding offices who meet here for lunch. A woman approaches me, introduces herself as a journalist, eager to know more about what brought me here.
After my sandwich is finished I move on to the bridge where the Blue and the White Nile unite, and then to the Sudan National Museum.
I am wearing a tunic, long pants, and most of the time a scarf is loosely wrapped around my head. This look is to protect me from the harsh African sun as much as from unwanted attention.
As I wander the National Museum grounds with its exhibition of ancient temples saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, an ice-cold coke in my hand, a group of girls stops me. They look like the girls I see walking around the Kreuzberg district in Berlin: they wear pink; and they wear jeans; some wear tight head scarves, others don’t. We exchange small talk: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘This is a very nice museum.’ Some of them speak a surprisingly good English. Then a tall girl with a pink head scarf asks straight up: ‘So we were wondering: Are you Muslim?’
‘No.’ I smile.
‘Then why are you covering your hair?’
I know that Khartoum is not Sudan and that a little girl is not Omar al-Bashir or the Islamic Council. Still, from this moment on I am wearing my cover only to protect me from the sun.
In part 3 it’s time to leave Khartoum and head for the desert.