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A wealth of hospitality in a Sudanese village

Extracted from Tom’s excellent book Janapar: love on a bike.

Midday in the Sahara. There’s no-one to be seen. I push my bike amongst the outlying buildings. All is silence. A small boy darts from nowhere and makes a snatch at my trailer’s tattered flag. I yell at him, he yells something back into the bright heat and darts away again – gone. I hear the squeal and clang of a metal door and follow the sound, emerging from between the low houses and courtyards and onto what I guess is the main street; a slightly wider piece of desert between the mud-walled compounds. So this is a Nubian village. It is hot and sunny; eerily quiet. Obviously. Who’d be outside in this weather? Village in south sudan Padding towards a doorway across the street, I almost walk into the young man who steps out as I approach. If he’s surprised to bump into a grimy sunburned tramp wandering through his village, he hides it very well. More faces peer out from what I can now see is a little shop; men in purest white, women colourfully wrapped, stepping outside to meet me, all smiling broadly. This smile seems to be something of a permanent feature of the Nubians. With some exaggerated miming I explain that I am ill, desperate, and looking for a place to rest. Immediate hilarity ensues and the entire village springs into life. Calls to action bounce down the street like squash balls: suddenly there are people everywhere. I’m ushered through a gate into one of the nearby compounds. Enclosed by a thick high wall of Nile mud, robust as concrete in the heat of the desert, the house I find inside is big and spacious. Little distinction is made between indoors and out – windows, doorways and arches have been carved from the dry walls, some areas roofed with palm-branch lattices, and the entire structure is painted in white, yellow and blue, appealingly simple in appearance. The young man introduces his three colleagues: civil engineers from faraway Khartoum, working on the new road. They will be my hosts, he says, for as long as I remain in need of a place to stay. I’m shown to a spare bed, where I sit quietly and think, left for a moment to my own devices. I have been asked for no money in return for this hospitality. Yet the place is not a wealthy one; whatever my personal budget and notions of frugality, there’s little doubt that I have come here bearing the riches of kings. Should I offer something by way of thanks? Or would doing so strip away that human altruism that has brought such joy to my journey? Before I can find an answer to that question, my hosts return, and I am whisked off on a tour of the area. The village sits beside a stripe of fertile land that reaches down to the banks of the Nile, criss-crossed with irrigation channels, dotted with stands of tall date palms and cultivated with wheat and beans. The little fields are fed by rusty diesel-powered pumps that are occasionally fired up to fill the channels with river water. Next come the house visits; I am a source of curiosity in Wawa, and I’m passed from family to family for the rest of the afternoon. At the end of the day I find myself sharing a communal hang-out in the village centre with a handful of men. The TV is on, beaming images of crisis from around the world into this tiny dwelling in the desert. The day after I’d received my visa to enter Sudan from the country’s embassy back in Cairo, the international community had issued an arrest warrant for Omar Al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, over the small issue of several hundred thousand deaths and the displacement of two-and-a-half million of his own people. This was merely the latest set of figures to give the illusion that Sudan’s eternal conflicts were somehow quantifiable. The following day, all visas were off. I could call myself lucky to have got that green sticker, if it weren’t grotesque to mention good fortune at all in the light of the events that led to such a decree. And I think of none of this, because I’m sitting in the cool shade, drinking tea and laughing with strangers. And the sun sinks below the skyline in the ravaged, war-torn, peaceful and hospitable country of Sudan. Extracted from Tom’s excellent book Janapar: love on a bike. This vivid account of a long-distance bikeride has also been made into a film. Buy both or just check out his website for some travel inspiration.  Pictures courtesy of shutterstock.

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