Friday, January 30, 2009

On the Road in Sudan

As you've all noticed, my blog has been a bit lacking lately. It's because: A - I'm so busy and B - I just don't know what to write about much of the time. My life here has lost much of its wonder. I've got satellite TV and air-conditioning; I eat museli, yogurt & fruit for breakfast and make shrimp curries for dinner; I play soccer a few times a week; and spend most of my work-time on my computer, and not in the field. So for all intents and purposes, it's not much different than my life in Canada - in fact sometimes better. But I've managed to scrape together a few stories, all having something to do with traveling.

I get internet here through a little thing about double the size of a flash disk that I stick in my USB drive. It connects to the mobile phone network and where ever I go, I get internet. So I can take my laptop and little USB thing to any coffee shop or friend's house in Khartoum and have internet! Sometimes I use it while I'm waiting at the airport, for example. It's like super wireless. Better than anything I've seen in North America. It's amazing that in the midst of all the underdevelopment here in Sudan, this sort of advanced technological feat exists.The other day, we were coming home from a press conference and the traffic was horrendous. So, as we were stuck in the jam, I pulled out my laptop, typed up my story and sent it in! As we drove along, I checked my e-mail, visited a few websites, and conversed back and forth with editors in South Africa. The efficiency and success of it all amazed me ...

Of course all good things come to an end. And efficiency and success in Sudan are certainly good things. Today, I went to the market with the reporters from Reuters and Agence France Presse, two of the world's largest news wires. Andrew, the Reuters reporter, always complained about the car. The windows, for example, don't roll down. They just down. We got to the market, parked in the sun, and walked around for a few hours. When we got back, we expected the car to be a sauna. We got in, turned it on - and low and behold - the air conditioning did not work. Imagine being in 40+ degree weather, in a car that had been sitting in the sun for hours, with no air conditioning and windows that don't roll down. We drove home in a mad rush, sweat dripping off our faces, and Guillaume, the AFP reporter, barely breathing! Every now and then, he or I would open our doors and drive with the door open, just to make sure we made it home alive. What an adventure that was. Andrew suspects the wires melted together or something...

I end my travel section on an upbeat. I was taking a cab home the other day. I knew it should cost about 7 pounds (about $3). The cabbies always start at 10, but you should be able to negotiate down to 7. Lately, they've been sticking to their price though. (The Sudanese are much less willing to negotiate than other Africans I've met. In Senegal, I could spend half an hour negotiating with someone over 50 cents, and eventually we'd come to some agreement. You pretend to walk away, they call you back, etc. etc. It's a silly game, I know, but here's it's too far in the other extreme. Sometimes they say 10, you say no 7, and they say no, and just drive away. They don't even try to convince you. I still haven't figured out whether they're just not business savy or whether the Senegalese were just so desperate they would take whatever money they could get). In any case, so the taxi insisted on 10, and I refused and he drove away. The next one I pulled over saw this. He tried for 8 but accepted 7 quite easily. I got in and he said 'How much did the other cabbie ask you for?' I said 10. And he said something to the effect of 'Well if 7's all you've got then I can't not accept it, now can I?' I thought it was the sweetest thing ever ... I think he also said that meters were evil ... haha

On a non-travel note, I went to a restaurant today called Carnivore, named after the same restaurant in Kenya. Basically, it's an all-you-can-eat meat place. The waiter comes by with chicken, beef, lamb, crocodile, ostridge, camel, etc. and keeps coming around (dim sum style) until you can't take anymore. Today there was no camel, but I did try the crocodile. It tasted fishy but thicker and chewier. Interesting, but not quite something I'd eat everyday. Anyways, if you're ever in Nairobi, go to Carnivore restaurant - quite the experience.

Sorry for the randomness of this posting.



Hi Hela,

I'm very interested in your USB cellular Internet key. As you may remember, I'm going to Southern Sudan in two weeks and will need to guarantee access to the net. Can you please let me know the details of this technology: brand name, price, where you bought it, cell companies that offer this service, etc.

looking forward to more.


Heba said...

They are everywhere and the main way people in Sudan get internet, so I wouldnt' worry about finding them. Though I don't know if they work in the south. Both Sudani and Zain (cell phone networks) sell them. You can buy them at any of their stores - just ask someone. At Sudani, the gadget itself is 200 Sudanese pounds, and the subscription depends on how many months you purchase (3 months is 288 pounds). Check with someone in the south if they use them there, and good luck!