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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