Yemen Stories and Tips

The Sudan

It was probably the British who named it The Sudan, and when I visited there briefly we were told repeatedly that the article is essential. Sounds British to me.

My visit was brief, indeed. The country, the largest in Africa, seems to have a permanent civil war in progress but since the fighting was far to the south of the Red Sea, we were safe from war but not necessarily bandits who roamed freely. So our ship moored at the newer Port Sudan and we were put aboard a bus bound for the old port of Suakin about 20 miles away. This was the original port, but silting closed it several years ago and the new port was built.

Suakin was built mostly of rose-colored coral. Some was used simply as rubble in the thick walls while other coral remained exposed. When Suakin was abandoned, it began falling in on itself, partly from lack of maintenance, but also from the salt in the coral corroding its way through the stucco. The end result was crumbling walls with doors made of stone or wood still standing, along with chimney walls. It is very picturesque and very sad. For centuries the old port city had a dual purpose: it was the port city for pilgrims going from Africa to Mecca, a short distance across the Red Sea. But it was also the port of choice for slaves being sold into the ruling families of the Ottoman Empire.

We were treated to an exhibition of male dancers whose specialty was leaping straight up, and some performed duels with wicked looking swords. For safety we were kept close to the bus that was in the middle of the ruined town, and when we went back to Port Sudan to board the ship again, we were told to stay on the bus no matter what; an American woman had been killed recently while walking through the market.

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