Heron on the Nile
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  Heron on the Nile Preamble Tue 12 Oct 2004  

Well I have just completed my first week in Khartoum. It has been most extraordinary although probably not for any interesting reasons.

I arrived in the early hours of Tuesday morning. On the short journey into town there were at least five security checkpoints. Each stopping the vehicle, checking the driver's ID and then waving us on. With little other traffic we passed through Khartoum centre and across the White Nile to Omdurman quite quickly.

The place where I am living, "my house" is on the corner of two dirt roads frequented by donkeys as often as Indian style three-wheeler "tuk tuks" and box Toyotas. It has a moat of rotting rubbish, which would be risky if there was half a chance of coming home drunk, and a resident tea lady. On ground level there are various businesses including a café and a computer shop.

I am on the first floor, sharing a spacious apartment with two other British volunteer teachers; Eleanor 21 and Neil 34, both arrived here about six weeks ahead of me. They are friendly and generously share food, friends and lesson plans. We have our own rooms and share a lounge, two bathrooms with plumbing that works; the kitchen even has a gas cooker. It is a bit "studenty" with Sellotape marks on the walls where posters have been, anonymous things in the fridge and un-emptied ashtrays on the living room table; but it is nice not living alone I guess. I have moved into the biggest room; I still cannot see why either of the others had not taken it. I have arranged my bed, cupboard, and work table how I like them and I reckon I still have room for a pool table. I am sure I shall have an enviable assortment of decorative tat from the market before too long.

I have had a succession of meetings, outings and social engagements. It has been fun, all of it. I shadowed Neil for a day, as we are likely to share the same timetable. Our first class was 8am and after we got home at about 5pm we reckon we had a continual stream of visitors for a further five hours. Everyone knows where the khawajas (white people) live and it is very obvious to anyone in the vicinity if our lights are on. Actually it has been a pleasure but I can imagine that sometimes it will be necessary to find my own space.

I will not go on and on at this point. Save to say I went on an "end of term" students' picnic where some of us braved a beautifully refreshing swim in the White Nile. The land looked such a thin sliver between the broad river and the even greater African sky. It felt really good to be back in Africa after my disappointing visit to Ecuador the fortnight before. The other intense experience was visiting a "shanty town" just outside Khartoum, defiantly occupied by displaced black Africans (mostly Christian) from the south. There were cheerful scenes of children flying plastic-bag kites, and playing swing ball with bamboo cane and ball made from rags, and an endearing "home made" school of mud sheds and approximate windows. Sadly there were also elegant, ornate doorways surrounded by piles of rubble where once there were people's homes. The authorities seem to be systematically trying to move them on by bull-dozer.

All this and no mention of Ramadan, still, that will be something to write about another time.

I now have a local phone number which should be good for SMS but as yet not really tested.