Landing in the 108-degree heat of Khartoum was an adjustment from the weeks of cool and wet days of Ethiopia. My hotel room had no windows to the outside, they only opened into the hallway that connected more concrete rooms with the same wooden green doors and tiled floors.
The only reprieve is a ceiling fan, which provided constant hot air movement. In my room were three beds, so each night I had new roommates: businessmen, teachers and students all passed through during my stay in Khartoum.
It is evening, and time for bed. I hold my green sarong; (a thin soft cloth from Bali I carry as a back up towel, blanket and mobile dressing room), under the tap to dampen it. Once back on my bed, I lay the damp cloth over my body and use the constant breeze of the ceiling fan for evaporation. This creates a cooling effect just long enough for me to fall asleep.
Sudan is physically the largest country in Africa. It is also large in its complexity of culture and society.
Walking down a street I approach a woman sitting outside a downtown shop selling skullcaps; the hats worn by men of the Islamic faith. The white hats are stacked in a half circle. We exchange smiles; I make hand gestures to signal that my head is large, so she digs into one of her bags to find one that fits. We bargain a little and a deal is struck.
Inside the shop an older man waves me in to talk; he introduces himself as Mohamed.
“That woman you just bought the hat from is selling illegally. If you wait here long enough, the police will come and she will throw her things into a bag to flee. If she is caught, they will take all of her hats and fine her. It’s a shame, because she is just trying to find a way to make a living, to feed her children as a single mother,” says Mohamed.
We exchange the same series of questions that repeat themselves everywhere you go.
“Until the 1980s I was a meteorologist,” Mohamed says. “I was trained in the Soviet Union. Others were trained in America. It was a good job. Once this current regime took over, I was done. Now I run this small shop.
“I have a friend I went to school with in the government; he has a position of high power.
“My friend asked me, ‘Mohamed would you like a home?’ I told him I have no money. He says to me, ‘I will give you the land and then I will arrange for you to receive many bags of cement, these you can sell for money.’
“I told him no, that is not the way to run a government. He got angry with me and said I wasn’t a good Muslim.
“Being a good Muslim has nothing to do with having a good government,” Mohamed replies. “You judge a religion by the amount of love and goodness it brings into the world, not by how many bags of cement it will give you.
“The Government uses Islam to gather power through corruption, fear and intimidation. This in turn is used to control the people. Many of us are just waiting for these days to pass.”
Mohamed then pauses for a second, saying with a chuckle, “and it’s probably true; I’m not a good Muslim.”