I’m in a hot little internet café up some very narrow stairs, so narrow I had to squeeze sideways to get up here, helped marginally by a wobbly rail.
The internet in Sudan is sometimes very good and sometimes very bad and slow. The connection keeps dropping, and I’ve just managed to switch out of Arabic and change the direction of type. But the owner, one of many Eritreans living here in East Sudan, has very kindly just lent me his portable, with an mDSL internet stick…much faster.
I went to look at the striking Taka Mountains yesterday, but as is the way in Sudan, never quite made it, sidetracked by friendly people at the street cafes.
I’m in a cute little town next to the mountains called Kassala, a long, eight-hour bus ride east of Khartoum. The bare mountains that rise up suddenly out of the desert pull you toward them automatically. I was heading there when I saw a store selling all kinds of luscious desserts. So I bought a Sudanese baklava, which you order by weight (so I couldn’t just get one), and sat down to eat them.
This town is very close to the border with Eritrea and Ethiopia, and there are many people from those countries living here, bringing their coffee customs. Many fled here as a safe haven during war in their countries.
I was admiring the coffee, which comes in a tiny individual Turkish-style coffee pot with what looks like dried grass coming out the top, when a lone tourist joined me. Victor, a young Swiss guy backpacking around Sudan, has come down through Egypt and is now on his way to Ethiopia.
“You want coffee?” they asked Victor, bringing out just one coffee cup. I was seething. The men had been chatting happily with me, but once a man joined me, I ceased to exist. I understand it is the culture – not polite to talk to a woman when there’s a man with her – but it was still annoying. Victor must have picked up on my vibes, as after drinking two cups, he offered me some.
It was dynamite: very strong and tasted almost like Irish whisky..I learned later they put ginger in it, which gives it the strong, smooth taste. And the grass? It is used to filter the coffee.
Victor and I were then invited for supper by a Sudanese guy who lives in the U.S. some of the time and has a very posh villa in Kassala. We learned a lot about the history of the region, about when it was occupied by the Italians, and more recently, the fighting just over the border in Eritrea.
I’ve also eaten at a local restaurant, but must admit I wasn’t brave enough to try the “Lamb Fright” or “Barbecue Problem” in the English menu. However, I did have some really neat shish kebab and fresh orange juice.
And maybe I’ll make it to the mountains tomorrow.
Posted Tuesday Nov. 29, 2011 by Alison Bate