[Editor's Note: These letters were written by the author while on a year-long trip to the Sudan, from her native Detroit. They have been edited slightly for readability.
Note: Ahmed is the author's husband. Siddege, Mohamed and Shayma are the author's three wonderful kids. It bears mentioning that the author is white, of German/Irish stock.
These letters were written one year ago, in the fall of 2003, before the genocide in Darfur broke out.]
How is everyone? We are finally at our own house in Rosiers City. It seems to have taken forever to get here. In Khartoum, we stayed with Ahmed's brother, Omar, for two-and-a-half days. It was miserable.
It was 100 degrees in the shade and there were tons of flies. It was just like you see Africa on TV. There were flies landing all over us, on our faces, etc. They were there from morning til night. At night they would go away, but they'd be there to greet us, bright and early. Everyone acted like they didn't notice. We would eat in a circle on the floor, and the bugs were part of the circle. I kept making jokes about it, but Mohamed was really on the verge of a meltdown. He was crying and basically refused to eat the whole two days. The only thing he would eat were these dry biscuits that came in wrapped packages.
Omar's family is very nice. He has a wife and five daughters. The oldest daughter is named Mayada. She was very friendly and attentive to me, buying me drinks, stuff like that. She speaks a little English, too. Ahmed told me that she is interested in marrying Siddege when they get older. As is the custom, she is serving the potential mother-in-law to get on my good side. She also sat and watched the boys play soccer with a group of local boys. Mayada kept cheering and giggling at Siddege. She asked me if he's smart at school. I told Siddege what she had said, and he told me to tell her that he farts a lot at night and that he picks his nose, too.
What a catch my son is! [Editor's note: here the author has drawn a smiley face that I refuse to try and represent as a colon and parenthesis.]
The trip to Rosiers was supposed to take eight to ten hours, but it took us seventeen hours. We rode in a truck that I would describe as an army cargo truck. It carried all of our luggage, an air conditioner, TV and stove. It also fit all of us.
When we left Khartoum, it was 102 degrees, so we were dying in the back of the truck. It was open, so the sun was right on us. We were melting. They also have ridiculous military checkpoints every ten to twenty miles. The roads are horrible. We were bumping and bouncing all over the place. I had horrible diarrhea, so when I had to go, we just stopped. I went out in a field hoping no snakes or scorpions would bite me on the butt.
At night, the temperature dropped to 54. It also got colder the farther South we went. We couldn't sleep because the truck was so bumpy. It started to rain, which was just the icing on the cake. Again, Mohamed had the worst time. He kept crying and yelling at me and Ahmed.
There are stands at the side of the road where people stop and buy food. You can get bananas, watermelons, oranges and more exotic fruits. You can also buy something called "fool," which is fava beans cooked with feta cheese, then topped with salt and olive oil. There are also stands that have a hanging, butchered lamb. You make your order, they cut the lamb and barbecue it right in front of you.
The reason our trip took so long is because the roads are closed. Also, there are no rules. A bus will drive next to a donkey cart, which is behind a moped, which is behind what they call a rickshaw. It's a three-wheeled car that the kids love. It has two wheels in back, and one in front. They are small taxis that can hold only two people. The owners have them all painted in different colors and decorated with stickers and various nicknames. The driver of our truck would see someone he knew going in the other direction and he would stop on the road to say hello and ask about his family and chat for a few minutes. These factors combined to make it a seventeen hour trip to Rosiers City.
To be continued . . .
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson