The is the first guest post on A Little Adrift and it couldn’t be a better way kick it off. Dave and Deb, perhaps better known as ThePlanetD.com, have a lot of respect heaped their way from me for their biking adventure across the length of Africa in the Tour d’Afrique. They haven’t stopped there and have taken part in adventure travels all over the globe and are only going to add to those adventures next month as they leave Canada and their day jobs behind and plan to travel for the foreseeable future.
They leave in less than a month and were so kind to write up this moving guest post about an over-night stop in the Sudan on their bike trip across Africa. Even when they’re not summiting mountain peaks their travels are always unique; I’m sure you’ll agree after reading Deb’s inspiring account of the small town of Wadi Halfa and the people she met.
An Unexpected Stop in Wadi Halfa, Sudan
Famine, war, drought and suffering, that is what comes to mind when people hear the word Sudan. It has been prominent in the news over the past few years.; the war in Darfur is a devastating genocide that has caused thousands of deaths and casualties in the country.
George Clooney and Mia Farrow are advocates for ending the war and they have brought attention to the situation through media. I admire a celebrity who takes up a cause. In today’s day and age, many people won’t take notice unless Angelina Jolie’s face is linked to the issue. I am not saying everyone, but many. So to the people like Angelina, George and Mia, I applaud you for doing great good with your fame and fortune.
We visited The Sudan in 2008. I didn’t know what to expect. I had only seen videos on CNN of a desert country with very little infrastructure and people wrapped in headscarves and white linen.
It did not take long to fall in love with the Sudan though. We had taken the ferry from Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa across Lake Nasser. While stepping off of the ship, I immediately felt a change in the energy. There weren’t any roads or crazy traffic and there weren’t crowds of people surrounding us as we waited at customs.
We had entered a land that few have visited and that even fewer think about. We were cycling through Africa from Cairo to Cape Town and we had entered the unknown, one of the least visited countries on the planet.
Originally, we were simply going to camp overnight and leave at the crack of dawn to head south. Now however, plans had changed. Our support vehicles were delayed at the border and we had to stay in Wadi Halfa for another day. Nobody stays here. It is a run down, dusty border town that travelers exit as quickly as they can.
And that is where the tragedy lies.
On our first morning there, Dave and I sat down at a coffee shop for a tea. A man named Abdulla Ahmed joined us. He greeted us with a warm smile and asked us to eat with him. The bowls of spiced beans and pitas kept coming along with sweet tea. He talked to us about life as he scooped spoonfuls of sugar into our small glasses.
He was a man filled with wisdom and sadness. He told us about the history of his village and how it used to be the most green and lush city in all of the Sudan until Egypt built the Aswan Dam. The Dam flooded the old city of Wadi Halfa and 50,000 000 people were displaced. Today its residents are slowly coming back and it now has a population of 15,000 people. Abdulla used to be a professor in Khartoum, but he has returned to his place of birth and is hoping that it will eventually thrive again.
If you visit the town hall, you see photographs of a happier time. Palm Trees lined the streets and grass grew. Now it is very barren. Erosion and loss of nutrients in the soil have made for a very dry land indeed.
We talked for two hours and then when we offered to pay, he would not let us. He said that it was good luck to meet us and he enjoyed talking with us. He had very little, but was so open to sharing. I will never forget him; A proud man with a dignity that I rarely see in people. His eyes were complex, his clothes were impeccably white and he commanded attention.
This was an image that I saw throughout our time in the Sudan. Everyone had a quiet dignity as they waved to us as we passed. They were always smiling and were so very generous. They may not have been able to speak our language; they may not have even understood why these crazy foreigners were riding in spandex through the desert. But whenever they saw us, they beckoned us to stop to say hello.
We never saw the conflict that plagues the Sudanese people. We saw a warm and friendly people that talked to us about peace. We saw villages frozen in time and we saw families and communities living their lives as they have done for centuries. The only thing that we experienced in the Sudan was kindness and curiosity. It is a shame to see yet another country that the world is forgetting.
I am a strong believer that tourism can save a land. If people come and a country thrives, what is the need to fight? If the international community takes notice then change really can happen.
I am not an advocate and I am not political. I don’t claim to know the intricate details of peacekeeping and global issues. All I can write about is my own experience and from what I understood from the people that I met in the Sudan, they would like more visitors to come to their country. They are proud of their country and would love to show it off.
I am saddened, however, whenever I think of Abdulla. He came to visit us at our camp later that evening after we shared breakfast. We were taking part in a cycling race and our trucks had arrived. The next few days were going to be brutal and we had to change our tires and tune our bikes to handle the deep desert sands.
The sun was going down and we had very little time to talk. I saw the hurt in his eyes. I wanted to give him the time that he deserved and repay him for his hospitality and yet, I could not. He left and tears came to my eyes. Why didn’t I just forget about the tires? I could throw on my headlamp later and finish. Instead I continued to work and I will have to live with that regret.
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