Khartoum #3 - Stolen Money and a Wedding
Jun 12, 2005
The last place that I was able to take out money was in Addis Abba. One day in Khartoum, I count my money to see how I'm doing financially. When I count it, I notice that a bunch of money is missing. Somewhere between Addis Ababa and Khartoum $200 had disappeared. I suspect that it must have happened while I was walking through the town of Galabat, the last town in Ethiopia, in search of a shower. That's one of the few times that I left my room unlocked. Alas... border towns are always a bit shady. But they did their job well -- they only took some of the money so that it wouldn't be noticed until I was long gone and far away.
Sudan is one of the very worst countries to have money stolen. Almost anywhere else in the world, you can just go to the ATM and get some more cash. But Sudan is under an international blockade, and supposedly there are no ATMs, and no other way of getting cash.
Fortunately, I'm an eternal optimist. I chose to see this not as a bad thing, but instead as an exciting adventure. What are my options ahead? I simply don't acknowledge any of the possible bad ones. For me, there are just two choices. Either, I manage to achieve the impossible and get cash in Sudan, proving the naysayers wrong. Or, I just rely on the Sudanese hospitality, hitchhiking and staying in people's homes all of the way up to Aswan, Egypt -- that would be a great adventure.
First I investigate rumors of ATMs in Khartoum. They're apparently at a place called the "Afra Mall". After a half-day of searching, I finally hitch a ride from a guy who has heard of it. He drops me off in front of a nice, new, flashy mall.
The mall is an entertaining experience. It's the nicest place that I've seen since the Sheraton in Addis Ababa. Wealthy expats sit in expensive cafes, but I don't have much in common with them. Instead I find myself talking to, and the hero of the mall staff, most of whom are from Ethiopia. They're happy to see me wearing an "Ethiopia" t-shirt, and then absolutely delighted to find that I also speak some Amharic. I think that I shook hands with half of the employees of the mall, before I found the ATMs.
Indeed there are ATMs in Sudan, but they did me no good. They did not recognize my card. Who knows? Maybe it's just an American thing and other Nationalities can get money out of these ATMs, but I was still stuck in Sudan without enough cash to escape.
The next stop was the US embassy. At the embassy, I learned that it's relatively straightforward and easy to have money transferred to Sudan. You just have to have someone Western Union money to the state department under your name, and then you can pick it up at the embassy two hours later. The only problem is that it's already Thursday afternoon, and I won't be able to get the money until Monday morning. I guess that I'm stuck in hot, dull, Khartoum for a bit longer.
While I was waiting to learn about the cash transfer, I met an American Sudanese man who was getting married to a Sudanese woman and was trying to arrange visas for his new wife, and his mother.
I had trouble getting a visa to enter Sudan. It took me six weeks of patience in Addis Ababa. But it's even harder for a citizen of Sudan to get an American visa. It's impossible for Sudanese people to apply for an American visa from within their own country. They are forced to travel to Cairo, and only to Cairo, where they are allowed to apply for an American visa.
My new Sudanese-American friend was begging them to let him arrange a visa for his elderly mother in Khartoum, or even in Jeddah Saudi Arabia rather than busy smoggy Cairo. But to his dismay the embassy insisted that he'd have to drag her up to Cairo if she wanted an American visa. With resignation, he agreed, as he was given no other choice.
We talked about his problems and mine, and then he invites me to his wedding the following day, leaving me with detailed instructions in Arabic to find it.
The next day I head off for the wedding. I'm told that it starts at 6:30 pm, and unfortunately I don't manage to get out of my hotel until 6 pm. I grab a minibus in the right direction, and after 15 minutes I'm dropped off. Maybe I'll make it on-time.
I walk for a while, constantly asking everyone I see for directions showing them the Arabic instructions. Slowly it becomes clear that I'm nowhere close to the wedding. Then, a small white car screeches to a halt beside me. Four well-dressed women are inside. They motion for me to get in and after I pack in beside them they giggle and roll up the windows so that no one can see us. I think that they're just amused to hang out with and talk to a foreign man. They drop me off, hopefully much closer to where I'm supposed to be. I walk in circles for another half an hour, soaking in the sweat and dust, until I finally find a tent. It's the wedding! I'm over an hour late, and maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I find that I'm the very first guest there. I'm taken in as a member of the family.
They send me into the house to take a shower, and the groom loans me a button down shirt so I can look a bit more appropriate for the event. The family tells me a bit more about the process for the marriage - it's been more than a year of negotiations and such, and this is the very last day. Then I sit down and talk with the old men who were the first to arrive until more and more people start rolling in.
The party itself was good fun. One hundred men in white djellaba's sat on one side of the party. One hundred women in colored dresses and headscarves sat on the other side of the party. In the middle, a mixed crowd of about 12 people, including me and the groom, are dancing. A band provides the music, with two video cameras with bright spotlights recording the action, and a computer AV setup adds to the scene replaying scenes from the party with added digital effects. I just met the groom and somehow I'm right in the center of the activity at his wedding.
Things wind down around midnight, and the groom insists upon finding me a ride home. Then he's downright insulted when I try to return the shirt that he loaned me. That's Sudanese hospitality.
On Monday, I head back to the US embassy to get my cash. After a short wait, I'm given a guest badge and escorted past the first security check into the actual offices of the embassy. The nice lady who takes me upstairs lectures me about being in Sudan, telling me that I shouldn't be there, and giving anecdotal horror stories of people who have been arrested as spies - there's nothing we'll be able to do for you she tells me. But it's quick and easy to get the cash once we reach the cashier. I sign a form in duplicate, and he hands over the money that my parents had sent via Western Union.
Now it's time to start heading north.
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
Your adventurous spirit never ceases to amaze me, Adam. A wedding in Sudan?! :)
Barce - Jun 14, 2007
that was a great sentence to start your journal entry with. :D The wedding sounds fun.
Poot - Jul 11, 2007
bloody hell. no ATM's in sudan....