Monday, 2 July 2012

Like Gold

This article was published in Khartoum's El Bab Magazine in October 2007.

Like Gold

At peace on the Nile
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. 

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
Allahadine, a young man, works hard alongside Haj. Like all Sudanese, he enjoys playing cards, so we while away the time, playing together. Smoking a sheesha and constantly cracking jokes, his face is always lit up in a bright white smile! He is very interested in our journey and our horses.

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
Every morning and evening, Billy and I take his horse Ennahali down the tracks to Farmer Mohamed Ahmed’s farm. Farmer Mohamed Ahmed is a small man, face full of laughter lines with strong hands hardened by years of work. Yet another generous man, he cuts big bunches of his Berseem crop to feed our horses. Every day he tells us more about his farming methods. We don’t always understand but he never gives up on us! Though small, his vigorous personality shines out larger than life.
Nali and Christy collecting Berseem (Lucerne)
 Whilst riding our three horses, Chami, Ennahali and Rahaal from the most northern point of Africa to the most southern point, Billy and I have had precious moments where we are given the chance to gain an insight into others’ lives. Africa is full of beautiful people and we look forward to meeting more of them. Here at Zei Dab, we enjoy the simple life, the special people and our memories of our time here will be treasured like gold.

Christy Henchie

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