Tag Archives: Khartoum

My Bint el Sudan story in Brownbook

My story about Bint el Sudan’s factory in Kano, Nigeria, with great pix by photographer Khalil Halilu, is in the January-February 2015 issue of Brownbook magazine. Brownbookbintcover290Brownbook is an urban guide to the Middle East, based in Dubai, U.A.E. (2019 update: The magazine has since closed)

For more information about Bint el Sudan, see the following:

* Surprise in the Souk

* Memories of Bint el Sudan

* 36 bottles of Bint el Sudan

* The history of Bint el Sudan (on Perfume Projects’ website)

From Darfur to Salt Lake City

I had just boarded the ferry at Horseshoe Bay in Canada when my cellphone rang.

The line crackled and it took a while to realize who it was.

“Is that you, Mohammed*?

“Yes! I am here! I am so happy – everyone is so kind.”

“Where are you?”

I learned he was finally in Salt Lake City in the western U.S. It was the end of five long years in limbo in Turkey, desperately waiting to find a country that would take him in.

I first met Mohammed in the dusty desert capital of Khartoum in Sudan. It was 2007, and I was teaching English there. He was one of my more advanced students, always working hard to improve his English.

I left Sudan and the school later that year but kept in touch with Mohammed by email and Facebook. He completed his studies at Sudan University of Science & Technology, but had a difficult time in Khartoum and his time in Darfur before that is his story to tell, not mine.

The next thing I knew, it was 2008 and he’d fled to Turkey as an asylum seeker. Two years later, he received formal recognition as a refugee. However, Turkey only gives temporary asylum to refugees from non-European Union countries. So, like many others, Mohammed was stuck waiting for another country to take him in.

I tried to get him accepted by Canada, but had no luck with the United Nations refugee agency in Vancouver. In the end, it was the U.S. that accepted him.

Last week, five long years after he fled Sudan, Mohammed arrived in the United States to begin his new life.

Welcome to North America, Mohammed, and may your future be bright.

*NOTE: Mohammed is not his real name

[Posted by Alison Bate on Sept. 29, 2013]

Sufi dancers in Omdurman

Pix Sufi dancers in Omdurman,

Sufi dancers in Omdurman, 2011 (Picture: Alison Bate)

 

 

Pix Sufi dancers in Omdurman, Sudan

Sufi dancers in Omdurman, Sudan (Pix: Alison Bate)

It seemed an indelicate way to arrive at a religious ceremony. We bumped in, out and around gravestones set in desert scrub, before pulling up in the minivan in front of a huge circle of men in white robes.

The pounding beat got louder as we walked to the edges of the circle and saw what they were all watching: green, red and leopard-clothed mystics swirling and dancing in a hypnotic fashion in the middle of the circle.

Their faces told the story: blissful is the only way to describe it. The bumpy ride forgotten, all things forgotten but the compelling dancing, chanting and smiling faces.

It was Friday evening in Omdurman and I’d never seen the Sufi dancers before, despite living in Sudan for five months in 2007. At the time it seemed too touristy, and a long way to go on my one day off a week. Big mistake. Continue reading

Sudan suffers separation pains

Pix ofPix of Khartoum taken from Omdurman

The old and the new: view of Khartoum from Omdurman (Pix: Alison Bate).

By Alison Bate

The capital of Sudan feels a little lost and empty these days.

The distinctive Dinkas – the impossibly tall, thin Southerners – and their fellow compatriots have mostly left Khartoum for their new homeland and the deadline for the rest to leave is just months away.

After April 9, 2012, any southerners remaining will become stateless or, if they are lucky, have to get work visas like other foreigners.

The new country of South Sudan, born on the 9th of July, has taken with it the biggest chunk of Sudan’s oil revenues and Khartoum seems totally unprepared for the loss of all that money.

It will have to find new ways to make an income and meanwhile the residents of Khartoum and its sister cities of Omdurman and Khartoum North are hurting as prices shoot upward.

“Everybody want to leave Sudan. Why you come to Sudan from Canada?” asked one resident, only half-joking.

The price of a sheep shot up to between 400 and 700 Sudanese Pounds (SP) for the Haj earlier this year – the religious occasion when every family buys a sheep.

Translating this into US dollars is not even easy, as there’s a huge gap between the official exchange rate and what you can get on the black market. Continue reading

10 travel tips for Sudan

Kassala resident near the Gash river

Kassala resident near the Gash river (Pix: Alison Bate)

1. Take lots of US dollars in cash, in fact everything you’ll need, as none of your western ATMs or credit cards will be accepted.

2. Change money on the black market, not in banks or official exchanges. As of Dec.1, 2011 you’ll get about 4.2 Sudanese pounds to $1 US on the black market, compared with only about 2.75 SP to the dollar officially.
To change money in downtown Khartoum, the moneychangers’ area is near the Al Kabir mosque, on the northeast side, where they also sell cellphones, ones that likely fell off the back of a truck. Just wander along and you’ll hear plenty of murmurings of: “Change dollars?”

3. If you are travel light or backpacking, don’t bother with a big towel (you’ll dry quickly without one) or lots of soap, toothpaste etc (all readily available and cheap).

4. If you like reading, bring a few books or your e-Reader as pickings are pretty slim for English books, and more likely of the deadly “Elements Of English Grammar” kind.

5. If you want to meet up with local people, everyone uses a cellphone in Sudan and they’re really useful. A cheap cellphone is about $10 US, then pick up a Zain SIM card for about 5 SP ($1.25 US) and a 10 SP top-up card (about $2.50). Continue reading

Khartoum at dawn

I ‘ve just arrived in Khartoum after a four-year gap, and this morning between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., it was pretty magical.

Pix Khartoum shepherds

Khartoum shepherds feed their flock in the early morning

After a sleepless, jetlagged night, I went up to the rooftop of the Bougainvilla Guest House, where I’m staying.

It was still dark, the moon and stars were out, and a cool breeze swept across the patio. Four or five mosques started competing with each other, and the mullahs’ prayers bounced all around the darkened city.

I stayed up there until the skies began to lighten, and the sun landed on the concrete buildings below and little birds with fanned tails flitted around the dirt streets. Khartoum by day is a hot and dusty city, so it was neat to see it this way.

No one in the city seemed in a hurry to wake up. A donkey cart and driver ambled across the dirt square below, and the air smelled of burnt sand. I wandered along one of the streets, where a few sleepy people were heading to work.

And after breakfast I’ll have all the fun of sorting out registering with the police and getting a SIM card.

(Posted Sat. Nov.19, 2011 by Alison Bate)

Surprise in Omdurman Souk

Pix Bint el Sudan

Three bottles of Bint el Sudan

By Alison Bate

It was my last day in Khartoum, the dusty desert capital of Sudan. I lay spread-eagled on my bed, trying to keep as cool as possible, and planning the day ahead.

I’ll visit Omdurman Souk, I decided, follow on my grandfather’s trail. After all, it was thanks to Grampy and his “expert nose” that I was in Africa at all.

Pix perfume bottle

The original Bint oil perfume (non-alcoholic)

Omdurman is Khartoum’s sister city, and I first heard the name from my globetrotting grandfather. It was on one of his trips that the perfume Bint El Sudan was born, after a meeting with Omdurman merchants. It quickly became the best-selling non-alcoholic perfume in the world.

Eric Burgess, known in the style of the times as E.E. Burgess Esq., was a traveling perfume salesman for W.J. Bush & Co. of Hackney, East London.

His mission? To sniff out new markets for exotic perfumes. Like his father before him, Eric Burgess started at the company as a youngster and stayed with Bush for 50 years. It was a family tradition: his grandfather and great-grandfather also traded in chemicals of some kind. And as an export manager and buyer, he travelled all over Africa, the Middle East and Europe, often in very remote areas.

“He lived at a time when you could have real adventures,” his younger daughter Elizabeth – my Mum – recalled.

As a young child, she remembers him flying in a small plane over their garden in Kent, waving a large white hankie out the window as he headed across the English Channel on yet another long trip. Continue reading

Bint el Sudan, my grandfather. . .and me

My grandfather E.E.Burgess, left, and another W.J. Bush agent in Africa

On a trip that took me to Africa, I found my grandfather’s lasting legacy—the continent’s signature scent—in a market in Sudan.

This story “The Bint Formula” was published in the December 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest Canada magazine.

For more information about Bint el Sudan, see the following:

* Surprise in the Souk

* Memories of Bint el Sudan

* 36 bottles of Bint el Sudan

* The history of Bint el Sudan (on Perfume Projects’ website)

* Where to buy Bint el Sudan in North America