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 people...so 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.