sudan: bush camping across the nubian desert
My journey continued south from Egypt, into a country that few westerners have seen firsthand: the United Nations only recently lifted their harsh sanctions on the Sudan. These sanctions had originally been imposed in the mid-1990s on charges of human rights violations, religious persecution, and allegations of harbouring terrorism. Having been sheltered from foreigners and tourists for so long, the Sudanese people spring forth with friendly, welcoming, and classic examples of Arab hospitality. Not for a moment would I feel as if I were in danger or at risk. Northern Sudan is dominated by the Nubian Desert, an eastern region of the vast Sahara. The arid climate is extremely harsh, with temperatures hovering around 40°C during the day, and barely dipping below 30°C at night. Lying on a sleeping bag in your tent at night, you can feel the heat emanating from the ground. The region pictured here was once the centre of power in the Kingdom of Kush: what remains are the ancient ruins of Meroë, the Kushitic capital between 300 BC and 300 AD. The site contains over two hundred Nubian-style pyramids, which are a fraction of the size of the Great Pyramids of Giza. The journey from the Egyptian border to the Sudan's capital Khartoum takes four very long driving days, and Meroë was one of several stops on the route. Today it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the odd tour group and random traveler stopping by to fulfill their curiosities. Every Friday at Sheikh Hamad al-Nil Mosque in Omdurman, Sufi dervishes perform an age-old ritual called dhikr. As incense drifts through the air, the participants pray, dance, and chant themselves into a trance-like state while reciting Allah's name, which they believe allows them to connect directly to God. The mosque bears the name of 19th century Sufi leader Sheikh Hamad al-Nil, whose tomb lies in the mosque's necropolis. Most attendees wear the traditional white jalabiya (long dress), but elders wear more colourful garments ranging from green and yellow to more elaborate printed costumes, and necklaces of prayer beads.