It’s interesting how the country that’s portrayed to be a dangerous and troubled place by the media in the West can end up being the most hospitable and friendly place we’ve visited after driving almost 20,000km through Africa. But that’s exactly what Sudan is – a place where people’s generosity is among like nothing else we’ve encountered.
We crossed the border to Sudan from Ethiopia in the evening, but couldn’t get all of the necessary stamps in order, since many of the officials were gone for the day. So we camped out in the border town of Gallabat with the intention of sorting out the paperwork the following morning.
The next day, once all of the paperwork was straightened out, we started the ~600km journey towards Khartoum, the capital. After all of the difficulties we’ve encountered in getting here along with the general impression we’ve had of Sudan from the media, the drive started off cautiously – we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.
Pretty soon, however, it started to feel very similar to most of the other countries we’ve passed through – same potholed road, same animals by the roadside (except that sheep got replaced by camels). People and villages that would pop up every so often. The only things that changed were the frequent police checkpoints. They were peppered around every 50-100km or so, where we’d get stopped, asked for our passports and nationality, and where we were going. Oddly enough, it always ended with a smile, a handshake, and wishes for a good journey. Never did we get any issues – regardless of whether we stated we were American or Russian.
We were zooming on our way, able to get Wilma to her maximum cruising speed of 80km per hour. About 5 hours into the trip, she started to sputter and decided to come to a stop.
After not being able to start her up again, we started our usual routine of looking for things that could have gone haywire, but shortly realized that… well, we were simply out of gas.
Generally, with 2 extra fuel tanks, we carry about 230 liters of petrol after a full fill up which gives a range of up to 1,200km. However, sometimes, the quality of the roads or the terrain increase our fuel consumption, so we went through all of our fuel a bit faster than expected.
At that point, we just passed yet another police checkpoint, so Tolik decided to walk back a few hundred meters to them to inquire where we could get petrol nearby.
The officer at the checkpoint couldn’t quite figure out what we wanted, so he simply flagged down the next passing truck and asked the driver to assist us.
The driver, Omar, understood the jist of the issue quickly, picked up Tolik, and turned around to head in the direction of the nearest village. It was just a kilometer or two away, so they got there within matter of minutes. Once at the village, Omar quickly found a guy that was selling petrol out of a barrel. He asked the guy to sell us a couple of liters.
The seller agreed, but seeing Tolik, named a price that was about double the normal one. When Omar heard that, he wouldn’t stand for it: “How can you charge them that,” Omar asked. “If you were in America and needed gas, would you want somebody else to overcharge you because you’re a foreigner?. Omar continued, “In this case, just sell the gas to me. As one Muslim to another, you cannot charge me more than a fair price.”
That did the trick. Omar got 4 liters at a regular price and paid the seller on our behalf. Later at the car, when we offered to pay him back, he refused to accept the money.
With petrol in hand, they headed back to the car. We poured it in and switched the ignition. It took a few attempts, but once fuel started flowing, Wilma started right up.
Omar showed to us that the closest gas station with petrol was still around 150km away, we decided to head back to the village to get another 30 liters to travel the distance.
We all went back and, after getting the gas, Omar invited all of us to step into the shade and drink some tea and coffee. In Sudan, like in many other Middle Eastern countries, hot tea is consumed in copious amounts throughout the day – regardless of how warm it is outside. Oddly enough, it goes down well even in 50c degree temperature!
They got all of us some cold drinks, tea and coffee and we spent the following half an hour just relaxing and chatting with with each other. When the time came to pay, we figured that Omar would try to pay for us again, and since we already felt indebted for his help, we decided to beat him to the punch. Tolik and Dasha started to look through their pockets to get a few small bills to pay for the beverages.
Somehow, the act of rummaging through loose change, pocket lint, and other miscellaneous objects gave off the impression that we were short on cash (not too far away from the truth). Omar caught sight of that, so as we started walking towards the car, he caught up with us and asked “if we needed money?”. At first, we thought that we misunderstood him because nobody has ever asked us that before. It was generally always the other way around.
But a moment later, he reached into his pocket and took out 40 Sudanese pounds out of a small stash of bills (equivalent to about $15 USD). He passed it into Tolik’s palm and closed his hand, money inside. A bit confused, we tried to explain that we were good on money and weren’t on our last pennies. But he he refused to take that excuse and simply continued to insist that that we take it. After about 5 minutes of arguing, we realized that we wouldn’t win this battle so we accepted – still amazed at what just happened.
As we parted, Omar gave us his phone number and told to call if we have any trouble or issues in Sudan. Then we went our separate ways.
This short incident was the perfect introduction to Sudan and the extreme hospitality of its people. We continued to experience that sort of thing over the coming days when numerous folks share their food, time and assistance with us – never asking for anything in return.