I left Khartoum early on Christmas morning. You wouldn’t think it was. Absolutely nothing slows in Khartoum. Unsurprising, but strange. Only a sandstone church, alone in a landscape of crescent minarets outside the bus window, was sheltering its flock from the morning sun. Connecting them in spirit to what consumes the place I call home this day. For my part, I had found my way to the dusty chaos of the bus station and on to a bus bound for Bagrawiya.
Lonely Planet’s Africa guide, incorrect on other matters Sudanese (like the currency having changed its name and been nationally reprinted two years ago), put the Bagrawiya ruins high on the list of Sudanese sights worth seeing. Lying north of Khartoum, on the way to the town of Atbara, they are a series of small pyramids clustered closely together, making for a rare photographic opportunity for someone wanting to treat themselves to something special for Christmas. The same someone who blithely assumed that there should obviously be a town nearby, or attached to the complex, where he could overnight on his general trek north to Wadi Halfa and Egypt.
Except, three hours into the bus ride and staring out at a barren, rocky moonscape, it was starting to become clear to said person that there is no town out here. No village. No small hamlet. No nothing. To highlight the point, a camel passed by the window. Lying dead in the rocks, staring at the passing bus. I swear to god I could not make this up if I tried.
I have brought no supplies, no tent, nothing except my daybag of electronic goodies and a backpack full of clothes, a wholly insufficient first aid kit and a stuffed toy pig
“Bagrawiya!”, the conductor pokes me, smiling, and terror sets in. Forget overnight. I would not last the day here. I have brought no supplies, no tent, nothing except my daybag of electronic goodies and a backpack full of clothes, a wholly insufficient first aid kit and a stuffed toy pig (who will be the subject of an entirely separate post on my return). Then heads turn to look outside the window and there, in the windswept desert, in the flat middle of sandy, rocky nothingness are a line of tall thin pyramids. Stretching out of the sand, like some real-life version of Ozymandias’ empire.
I am too busy panicking to remember my camera. All I can recall is being left behind as the bus roared off in Chisikesi, Zambia. Except this time it will be in the desert. And no Jesuit missionary will be coming to scoop me to safety. That electric cold feeling that you get when you are in real trouble passes through me, followed by the sickening onset of worry. I wonder how well I will be able to beg to be allowed to stay on the bus. Will I be understood? Screw my pride.
But the bus keeps going.
Bagrawiya passes into the distance behind us and I sit deathly quiet, watching the clock on the bus. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen. The bus slows to a stop. I prepare to throw every Arabic word I know at the conductor to let me stay. It’s not much.
But it’s just a security check, and the bus starts rolling on again. Twenty minutes. Fifty minutes. An hour. Nobody says a word and we just keep going. Nobody, besides me seems to have even entertained the utterly stupid thought of being able to get off at Bagrawiya. I am the last person on the bus to get on board with the we-are-going-to-Atbara vibe.
The man next to me looks over and asks “You are going where?”.
“Atbara”, I reply. And thank God quietly under my breath”.