February 5, Four Years Ago

We were finally, after much to-ing and fro-ing and bureacratic nonsense and confusion ready to leave Kareima (Gebel Barkal) for our excavation site.

Some of us, including me, went in the Land Cruiser.  Tom and one of the field directors and our Sudanese inspector went on the lorry with all our supplies.

And thus began a truly surreal and, in retrospect, hilarious experience.

So, the route from Kareima up to the 4th Cataract is over-desert and along rough tracks.  There is no pavement.  No signs.  No lights.  Nothing.  There are no villages until you get back near the river at the cataract.

We were barely out of the city of Kareima when one of the tires on the lorry went flat.  We hung around for a while and apparently they didn't have a tool they needed to fix the tire, so the driver called someone back in Kareima (hurray for cell phones) to send someone out with one.

It was decided that those of us in the Land Cruiser should go on ahead.  So, we did.

We arrived at the village where, the previous day, the directors had arranged to rent a house for us to live in only to find that we were no longer exactly welcome.  Apparently, the man we were supposed to rent the house from hadn't had permission from the omdeh (a sort of combination mayor/judge/community leader).  He did not want us to rent the house because he and the rest of the Manasir tribe were trying to negotiate a better resettlement deal with the Sudanese government and part of their strategy was refusing to cooperate with the archaeological teams trying to do salvage a survey ahead of the dam flooding the area. 
Fair enough.  Unfortunately the Land Cruiser occupants consisted of:
- the driver who spoke very little English and later turned out to be a sexual predator and speed addict
- One of the co-directors who spoke very little Arabic and that badly and who also has a really nasty colonialist streak.  We'll call him by the nickname the local workers we hired eventually started using for him:  Abu Hamar. 
- me who had never been to Sudan before and knew *maybe* 10 words of Arabic.  Also, I was in Sudan at that point mostly because no way was I going to wait at home while Tom was in freakin' Sudan, plus I hadn't been out to dig in 3 years.
- 3 other team members who had also never been to Sudan before and spoke no Arabic

So, one of the words I did know in Arabic at the time was the imperative for "leave" or "go away."  About 10 minutes into the um, I guess it was a conversation, but no one really knew what was going on, I start hearing the omdeh saying "Go away.  No, really, leave." 


That distracted me from my occupation at the time, which was trying to figure out if size and elaboration of sunglasses indicated social status among the men gathered there, especially as the omdeh was rocking some knock-off Chanel sunglasses with the interlocked "C's" where the ear pieces joined the frames.

There was much dithering from Abu Hamar.  There was an attempted strategy session with Sexual Predator Driver that went no where because of the language barrier combined with the general lack of having a clue.  Meanwhile, a larger crowd is growing and while no one looks super pissed, they also don't look terribly thrilled either.  It's getting dark.  We had hoped the lorry which had people who both spoke Arabic and had a clue in it would catch us up, but no.

So, finally I piped up and suggested we go back the way we came to the village where a team of Polish archaeologists is based.  There is no way the lorry can not pass that location (so we'll be able to stop them before they go to the house we are no longer renting) and maybe the Poles can help us out or at least give us a place to crash.  This wasn't an especially well-thought out plan on my part but mostly based on my goals of a) not pissing off people who outnumber us, some of whom might have guns or even pointed sticks; b) kind of wanting a cigarette but figuring then was not the time; c) seriously wondering if we would wind up all trying to sleep in the Land Cruiser with it parked exactly where it was while pretending we couldn't see the people outside if I didn't say anything.

Fortunately, Abu Hamar was sufficiently desperate at the time to accept even one of my lowly female ideas and not pick a fight and/or deliver a long, incomprehensible lecture barely tangentially related to the topic at hand that would manage to be offensive to everyone within hearing and provide absolutely no solution to the issue.   The fact that the Poles probably had alcohol undoubtedly helped my case.   We managed to establish that it was okay for us to leave some delicate equipment in the (not)rented house for the time being and headed back to hang with the Poles.

We fully expected to meet the lorry on the way back or find it already at the village where the Polish team is based. 

They weren't there.  It was dark.  Attempts to call mobiles failed.  I was super cheery after that.

The Polish team welcomed us very warmly, fed us dinner, and offered to let us sleep in an empty house they had rented for expansion of their team.  Great, except all our gear was on the lorry and it gets *cold* in the desert at night.  Abu Hamar said something about waiting up for the lorry to arrive.  I said I would too and was told that wouldn't be appropriate for some reason that was never articulated.  I pointed out that my husband was lost in the dark in the desert in the middle of nowhere and there was no way in hell I was going to sleep until I knew where he was so suck it.  Wisely, the subject was dropped.

Then the Polish team brought out the alcohol.  Alcohol is illegal in Sudan.  Punishment involves caning.  Nonetheless, the Polish team brought and purchased alcohol in Sudan.  Being generous hosts, they begin passing bottles.  I sipped politely and finally gave it a pass when the Eritrean cognac came out.

By this time it was about 10 or 11pm.  Abu Hamar showed no signs of flagging and the rest of us figured the Polish team would want some sleep before work the next day, so we headed off to the house we'd been offered hoping our departure would let our hosts go to bed if they wanted.  The others tried sleeping.  I sat up on a woven bed-frame in the courtyard and chain smoked while imagining all sorts of horrible things that might be happening to Tom and how on earth I was going to explain to his parents what had happened and how very much I wanted to punch someone, anyone really.  Also, it was freezing!

A little after midnight, we finally heard the sound of a diesel engine approaching.  I ran full pelt toward the sound only to be met at the door to the Polish house by Abu Hamar who told me, in what I imagine was intended as a conspiratorial tone, that he was "a little drunk."  I may or may not have managed a really sarcastic "no, really?" before running past him to jump on Tom.  Between the time I left to go be panicky and the time the lorry arrived, they'd managed to kill 2/3rd of a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, half the Eritrean cognac, and at least 2 liters of Sudanese moonshine that smelled and tasted like perfume.

We all piled back into the house.  People kept pouring tea glasses full of cognac and moonshine for Tom, which he shotgunned in the hope that would let him get to bed (he slept really well that night).  They apparently had their own comedy of errors out in the desert.

The guy sent with the tool they needed got his car either lost or stuck.  Then one of the helpers on the lorry thought he could find them and set out only to get lost.  So then everyone fanned out trying to find the lost kid as it was getting dark.  They eventually found him and he was fine.  Then they got the tire fixed and got under way and were shocked to see our Land Cruiser parked by the road.  Apparently it was a long, dusty trip in the back of the lorry and Tom and the other director spent most of it huddled together under a sleeping bag, eating some of our "emergency" supply of Pringles and some melons the driver gave them.

Fun times.
Eventually we had all exhcanged stories and consumed enough alcohol to satisfy everyone and headed off to try to get some sleep.  All our stuff was on the bottom layer of packing in the lorry, so we grabbed what we could to try to bundle up to sleep.  I didn't sleep at all because Tom kept stealing the sleeping bag we were sharing as a blanket, plus I couldn't stop the freezing cold air coming up through the woven bed frame. 

1 comment:

Our Heroine said...

Wow. That is way more exciting than anything I have ever done, much less my Feb 5, 2007. I'm glad you all were safe!