This article was published in Khartoum's El Bab Magazine in October 2007.
On the banks of a river, in a country little known by
outsiders, stands an old railway station. Trees as old as the buildings line
the railway tracks, housing a colourful variety of birds. Hoopoes, Carmine Bee
Eaters, Sun Birds, Bronze Mannikins and Kingfishers to name but a few, chatter
and flitter about, busying themselves chasing insects and each other. The
surrounding farms are dotted with tall dark men in flowing white robes and
turbans, working the lands. Women in bright colours collect firewood. The
scorching sun glints off the impressive expanse of water, forcing all into the
protection of the shade in the heat of the day. Darkness falls and stars are
sprinkled across the never ending sky in their millions. The moon politely
rises late allowing an uninterrupted view of the other worlds that one only
catches a glimpse of under cover of night.
|At peace on the Nile|
The river is the Nile, stretching wide and supporting all life in the deserts of North East Africa. The country is Sudan, independent since 1956, with new found power and wealth since the discovery of oil 15 years ago. The railway station, built by the British, 280km north of Khartoum is Zei Dab, “Like Gold”. It has been my home for the last week.
Billy, our three horses and I, arrived one evening seeking refuge. Rahaal, our smallest horse had a nasty injury and needed to rest. We had run out of money and needed a place to stay while we organized more funds. We soon discovered that not only does Zei Dab live up to its name but that the people are more precious than diamonds.
The everyday people of Sudan are yet to be affected by the benefits of oil. They lead a simple life, working hard and looking after the most important thing to them – their families. They are kind and generous, welcoming us into their homes. At Zei Dab, we had the wonderful opportunity to get to know a number of people, all of whom are great ambassadors for their country. We feel privileged to call them our friends.
Haj Bechir is father not only to his four sons, but to all who work at the station away from their own families. Haj has worked for the Sudan Railways Corporation for 37 years. He tells colourful stories about his friends and his contagious laugh keeps us smiling all day! He feeds us four wholesome meals a day and ensures we are comfortable at all times. We are now a part of the Zei Dab family.
|Billy and Haj Bechir|
Mustafa, Adries, Jardin, Mohamed Allemine and Mohamed Ahmed, among others are the railway engineers. They ensure the tracks are in good working order and safe to travel on. Mohamed Allemine and Mohamed Ahmed are Haj’s sons and they work here to be near their father. Mustafa, an avid chef, takes us on culinary journeys explaining Sudanese cuisine. Adries, a quiet shy man from South Sudan, ensures we always have a cup of tea to hand. Jardin, a lucky man with cards, always wins while kindly passing on the cards he thinks we need!
|Railway engineers at work|
|Nali and Christy collecting Berseem (Lucerne)|