“Inshallah we help you,” Assad kept repeating in the morning when I arrived early to what was now a bus-filled, people-crowded terminal.
Mohammed was nowhere in sight and my predictions of his unwantingness to help turned out to be right. When Mazin appeared I asked him to translate to Assad that if he can’t assist with a ticket, could I please get a lift to the border.
But the kid struggled to understand the word ‘border’ and in the end I thanked him, grabbed my packs and stormed off into the desert.
I was pissed off. My packs were heavy, I was drenched in sweat and there wasn’t a single car on the road. I asked directions for the border not knowing how far it was and began to hike. I stopped for some water stored and cooled in clay pots and continued on. I must have hiked 4 Ks in sweltering heat before the police pick-up picked me up.
“Mas’ir?” I asked. Egypt?
“Tfa’del,” grinned the officer. Please.
I hopped in the tray thankful for the wind that dried my shirt within five minutes. The ride was almost an hour through the desert.
Jesus, they really know how to put a border out in the middle of nowhere.
The Goustol border crossing between Sudan and Egypt was one of the most complex borders I’ve ever crossed. Every border I’d been through I’d get stamped out of one country, stamped into the next and off I went. A matter of half an hour.
Oh here is where the fun begins.
“Salam al-yekum,” I cheerfully greeted an officer. “Where do I get stamped?”
He directed me to a window. I placed my gear down and whipped out my passport. Sudan is the first country out of the 19 I’ve been too in the last three years that I’ve had to walk around with my passport on me at all times. It’s quite annoying but I’d grown accustomed to it after 11 days in the desert nation.
At the window I greeted the officers in the caravan office and waved my passport. The officer pointed to the next window.
At the window was a photocopy machine. A voice behind me spoke up. “Where are you going?”
I turned around to the tall Sudanese in a striped purple shirt. “Mas’ir.”
“Go through there,” he pointed at the door in perfect English. “You are not Sudanese. You don’t have to pay an exit fee.”
An exit fee? Mo was right. I mean, I wouldn’t have to pay an exit fee but the locals did.
I was directed into a large hall packed with people and luggage strewn all over the tiled floors, Arabic thrown around at every volume. It was as though chaos was leaning against the wall, watching it’s handy work unfold.
I was taken to a counter where I filled out an exit card. The tall striped purple shirt gentlemen appeared again, like some guardian angel. He translated some of the Arabic the customs folk were throwing at me. I was then directed to another counter where another card was filled out for me and my passport was finally stamped. I then headed to the door when an officer blocked my way.
“Where you go?”
“Mas’ir.” I think it’s pretty obvious if I was heading in that direction.
“Where is your bus ticket?”
Bus ticket? “I don’t do buses.”
As I began the long process of trying to explain how I travel, the officer simply blinked with a blank look on his face. As soon as I said, “Car,” he asked for papers.
“No, I don’t have a car.”
“In this heat? No, I get lifts on trucks –”
“Ah, you truck driver.”
I blinked. Do I look like a fuckin’ truck driver?
“You kadari?” The officer, with raised eyebrows, pointed to his legs and walked on the spot.
Sure. “Aiwa, kadari.”
Sigh. “Nothing is impossible. Can I please get to Egypt?”
“Go over there. Check luggage.”
I looked over where a hundred people where shoving their luggage forcefully onto the counter where one, single, sunglass-wearing customs official walked up and down, grinning like Pablo Escobar, feeling bags and placing little blue stickers on them.
I turned to the officer that was seated on the beach. According to his shoulders, he seemed to have some sort of rank. “One guy?” I said. “Wahad?”
I shook my head in disbelief. This had to be some sort of movie. I moved in, trying to be polite when a guy cut in front of me.
Seeing how all pleasantries went out the window I followed suit and shoved his bags aside. “There’s a line, habibi,” I said without smiling and pushed in. Everyone who had luggage on the counter had their bags open. I’ll be an elephant’s testicle if I’m about to unpack my gear. I opened my small pack. The officer came by and felt up my guitar case.
He touched my large pack. “Clothes,” I indicated my T-shirt.
He almost touched my small pack (watch it) before placing the tiny blue stickers on each bag. Breathing a sigh of relief I then headed for the door.
“Go there,” an officer pointed to a small office. “Search.”
“I was just searched.”
He touched his pants pockets. “Search.”
Ah, body search. I headed over and was searched with the lightest of touches on my pockets. I could smuggle an elephant across this border if this was the level of security. I got a tiny blue sticker on my passport and finally – I think – made it to the door.
“Thank you visit Sudan,” said the officer at the door I had tried to go through three times.
I stepped into the baking sun and saw a couple of buses parked and as I looked around a bit lost, the same officer from the first window came to me.
“Where is your bus ticket?”
Did we not just go through this? I repeated my mime. He called over another officer.
Was this some sort of Just For Gags special?
I repeated the mime and even though he didn’t seem too convinced he made a few calls to get an officer to unlock the gate for me.
“Shukran,” I said. “Sudan kiff tam’am.” Sudan is great.
I was sad to leave this desert land. Yes, it was unbearably hot and I had almost broken down this morning but my good friend, The Universe, as usual, had crossed my path with the right people.
Even if they struggled to understand my concept.