My transit visa was good for two weeks and the ferry from northern Sudan to Egypt left once a week on Wednesdays.
So I waited in Shihedi, Ethiopia, on the border with Sudan in a cheap hotel for my Wednesday to arrive. Actually it was the most expensive hotel in town; I decided to treat myself during the remaining days of my stay in the country … - $6 a night.
Half asleep I felt something run across the top of my legs at the foot of the bed. I jumped up. Grabbing my flashlight, I found two beady eyes staring back at me from the corner of the room.
“A rat,” I said out loud to myself, followed by, “I hate rats.”
I grabbed my walking stick and proceeded to chase after him in the small room. As I waved the stick around like a mad man, the rat dashed underneath the bed and into darkness. I swear if rats could laugh, he was rolling in joy, as I attempted to scare him into another room.
It was 3 a.m. and of course there was no one to complain to. I lighted a candle hoping it would keep my furry friend at bay long enough to fall back asleep, as I waited for my 6 a.m. bus to rescue me.
I knew little about Sudan before entering, except what has been learned recently about the peace process in the south, the crises in Darfur, and that in 1998 President Clinton once directed an air-strike on a factory that was suspected of producing biological weapons for terrorists.
Not feeling scared, I just felt uncertainty about entering Sudan. I was aware Islamic law and fundamentalists rule the north of Sudan, so I didn’t want to do anything that might cause problems for myself. Years of civil war, unrest and political problems left many questions in my mind as to what I might find.
After changing the last of my Ethiopian money into Sudanese pounds, I began walking down the dirt street that serves as the border crossing. The temperature had been rising steadily for the last few days, as the elevation dropped from the Ethiopian highlands. Sweat was rolling down the sides of my cheeks as I trudged between immigration offices across no-man’s land with my heavy backpack.
Crossing the border was like crossing an invisible line where people speak and dress differently from one side to the other.
Walking into the Sudan immigration office, the officer in charge asked, “Where are you from?”
“America,” I replied.
He stopped what he was doing, looked up, flashed a huge smile and said, “I love America,” followed by, “can you help me get there? Life here is not good, but in America there is chance for a good life.”
I smile, not wanting to upset the man who was in charge of my entry, and respond with the Arabic word, “inshallah,” which translates into God willing.
A larger smile appeared on his face.
After lots of stamping papers and other formalities he handed back my passport, and said, “I extended your transit visa to one month. You can go anywhere but Darfur. Welcome to Sudan!”