Sudan - Night Train
Mon 15 Dec
Not knowing how long I would have to wait beside the road I thought I would start early to avoid the scorching heat of the late morning. In fact I had only been there 20mins when a minibus came along; I was in the northern town of Atbara within an hour and half.
Although I'd bought a train ticket from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa, the plan was to board at Atbara and avoid the first nine hours of the 32-hour journey. I got various estimates of when it was expected, the earliest was 1600 so I left my luggage at the station and wandered back into town. Of course by 1600, 1700, and 1800 there was no sign of the train but I was ready and feeling rather relaxed. Better to be early and idle than anxiously trying to get transport back from the desert. It finally came at 1820, which was in fact quite irrelevant. What I should have been asking all day was what time would it leave. Not surprisingly my compartment was reported to be full. Confident that I had a ticket I put my bags in the rack and suggested we could look at each other's tickets when everyone was back. Luckily the "chancer" went without a fuss.
My "railway family" were very friendly and considerate. In fact, I remembered talking to some of them in the ticket queue several days before. One was a Muslim businessman who had done the journey often. Then there were three southerners (Christians), one of who was taking his brother's cute three-year-old daughter to Cairo to join her parents. We would be spending at least the next 22 hours together in a cell approximately 2m square and I immediately realised I had mistakenly expected a sleeper (which it most certainly was not).
The rolling stock appeared to date back to the 1950s. The first class carriages had seven compartments each sitting six with a sliding door and a window. Along one side of the compartments was a corridor, also with windows. The window openings had metal shutters and sliding glass so we could vary the amounts of light, dust and breeze. At each end of the corridor was a toilet, remarkably clean and with running water. The restaurant car was serving food and drinks throughout the day and into the evening. At times it was more pleasant to sit there as you could see more scenery through an open carriage, write at a table and make a cold Pepsi last an hour. The only drawback was that I seemed to be fair game for anyone and everyone to practice their English, tediously with the same familiar questions. It did become fun though when I got the previous enquirer to answer for me and suggested he forfeited his "kofia" (Muslim hat) if or when he got it wrong.
When it came to sleeping we somehow managed. One put sheets of newspaper down on the floor, and slept there, another slept in the corridor outside the compartment. The first night was very dusty and I was glad I'd removed my contact lenses. In the night, about 0130 we stopped for about an hour, apparently some poor lady had given birth.
Sudan - Night Train