Thursday, December 01, 2005

I'm in Khartoum for the weekend, and things have changed a lot since my last visit.

To begin with, the World Food Programme, which runs the HAS (Humanitarian Air Services, aka my favourite airline), has started charging us aid workers $100 for the pleasure of sitting on the 8-hr flight to Khartoum (it should be 2 hrs, but most of the time the planes stop in at least three other places to pick up more it's more like a bus than an airplane). WFP has been nagging the donors for more funding, but it seems not enough of them have come through - and now the aid agencies have got to fork over the cash for the flights themselves. Ouch.

In the city itself, I can't believe the amount of construction going on - there are now so many restaurants that people have stopped referring to them as "the Turkish", "the Indian" or "the Italian". They have real names now.

There is even a coffee shop ("Solitaire") - more like Starbucks than Sudan, with a real espresso machine, pastries, panini, and - brace yourself - WIFI. It's bizarre to step off the dusty streets of Khartoum into this little bubble where aid workers and well-heeled Sudanese teenagers are hunched over their laptops, sipping lattes and occasionally glancing up to check out Carson Daly on MTV on the huge flat-screen TV hanging from the wall.

Ozone, the new bakery on Coca-Cola round-about (a well-known Khartoum landmark - there's a huge replica of a coke bottle in the middle of the road), is just as impressive. As soon as you step through its gleaming doors, you're hit by the tantalising smells of fresh ciabatta, French baguettes, and whole-meal rolls. There are Italian ice creams, fresh juices, specialty coffees and Black Forest gateaux. The cakes are like something out of a Viennese novel.

What amazed me most though was something I found on the shelves of the Amarat shopping centre last night: condoms. While I've always loved Amarat for its Swiss chocolates, Nutri-Grain bars and bottled Starbucks frappucinos (yes, really), I'm distinctly impressed to suddenly see a full range of lubricated, ribbed, even flavoured condoms lined up near the counter. This is certainly not the Khartoum I know.

I'm intrigued. Let's see what else the weekend brings.


At , Blogger Dave said...

Sleepless...You're doing an incredible service by communicating your experiences to the uninformed masses here in the US. Thank you. I think about the crises in Sudan daily, wondering what to do, how to help. Your blog will no doubt inspire people to act. Keep us posted.
dave in detroit

At , Blogger Ruby said...

Checking in with you gives a different kind of reality check to my day.

I know I'm not getting on a plane to fly halfway around the world, but how can we help?

At , Blogger Sarah Mackenzie said...

I am a big fan of Nicholas Kristof, but it's one thing to read his articles, (which by the way I can't now as it is a pay site) and quite another to hear about it from the eyes and ears of someone there day to day. You write really well and I will follow your blog with interest.

I am full of admiration for people like you who get up off their tushies and do something real to help. Good luck. Enjoy your latte :)

At , Blogger Aaron X said...

Great blog, I'd like to hear more of your personal interactions with refugees, and some of their day-to-day life experiences, things that will make these people real for me.

The press provides us with lots of numbers and dry accounts of what's happening there. But people need to hear personal stories for them to be able to develop genuine empathy and be able to relate to the people of the Sudan.

Keep up the good work, we'll be watching.

Thanks to Shay and Booker Rising ( for highlighting your blog. I notice you don't provide an e-mail contact address. If you need an anonymous encrypted e-mail to protect your identity, try (



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