Water Water Everywhere

Written on 20 September (by Kirsten)… at Khartoum airport before getting on a plane to Cairo

Ever been so soaked, so wet and muddy, that it no longer matters how much muddier and wetter you get? Well today (and its only 5am) has been hilarious. I am cold and wet and muddy and my white shirt is somehow streaky blue from my wet blue bag bleeding onto it but I do think the whole situation rather funny. What people must have thought of this crazy Khoweja (foreigner), I don’t know!

Today I was meant to (am still meant to) catch a flight from Khartoum to Cairo for my first R&R (rest and relaxation, or recuperation, or something like that). The travel agent forgot to issue my ticket (for yesterday) so instead I got a flight at 6am, meaning I was meant to be at the airport between 3 and 4 am. No UNDP driver available (not that they would have been able to get to me anyway) so my incredibly kind friend Mary showed me the directions to the airport (only 20 minute walk and pretty simple directions) and I set my alarm for 3am. I was woken at 2 by a loud bang as the door slammed shut, wind knocked the building, and thunder crashed outside. At first I thought this was a huge sandstorm picking up items and slamming them into the building and I saw palm trees being whipped furiously, but then rain started to pelt down. Out of the window lightening was filling the sky and trees were being blown onto power lines. Sparks were flying and a tree a few hundred meters away burst into flame, subsided, then more sparks and more flame and then subsided again and there were crackles and sparks in a number of areas I could see from my vantage point, the 9th floor of the highest building in this direction. Then the electricity went, and thank heavens so did the electrical sparks and fire, as rain pummeled and shook the building and came in under windows in bedrooms and kitchen and bathroom. By this stage my kind hosts were up and we watched the gods madness from windows on three sides. I was hoping it would stop soon as there was no way I could walk in that! By 3.30 it had settled, no more noise, so I decided to venture outside. I put a plastic bag over the top of my backpack, and put my computer in another, locked the door behind me, slid the key under the door, and braved the madness.

The wind had stopped and it was barely raining. But the road? What road? The muddy pot – holey bumpy road out the front of my friend Mary’s place was a calf-deep pond. I rolled up my tracksuit pants, turned on my torch (thank god for a torch! No electricity even if there had been decent street lighting!), and started wading through plastic bags and bottles and goodness knows what, stepping on bits of sidewalk where possible. I got to the next road and at this stage it was getting deeper. I rolled my tracksuit pants up to my knees (there was no one about and Khartoum would just have to deal with seeing my legs) and waded across the road, trying to find what I hoped would be a footpath. And then I took another step and was suddenly in water up to my waist. My back pack, my hand bag, my CLOTH COMPUTER BAG (that’s not good for computers!!) were all in the drink. I hauled myself out of the ditch not noticing the graze on my left ankle, leg and knee sweating away in the dark and wondering if I had also killed my torch. Well the torch came back to life (strap come adrift) and I pulled myself back to the area of the road where water was only knee deep.

A few more metres and it was only calf deep, at which stage I remembered the problem of ultra comfy tracksuit pants. They get wet and they get LOOOOONG. And don’t like being rolled up. So I was tripping in the mud over my wet and heavy tracksuit pants trying to roll them up and hold them up and hold a torch and my back pack still on my back and computer bag (was the computer alive?) and my handbag (soggy ticket, money, book, was my phone alive??). I made my way slowly to the next slightly wider and more traveled road. A kindly boab out the front of the world bank building advised me to try the middle of the road as the first car gamely and slowly made its way past me. The road became more paved, less flooded and a couple of slow cars appeared. I stumbled and fought with those drippy long muddy tracksuit pants until I got the main road to the airport, Africa St, and saw cars and a footpath! At this time I had decide the whole situation was hilarious. A wet Khoweja woman with multiple bags and hair everywhere and wet foggy glasses and scarf askew in a white (and now semi see-through) shirt with blue streaks from my wet blue bag, clutching my trousers trying to keep from tripping with a torch dangling from one hand, and laughing. Such a pity no one else was there to also laugh at me! Would have been such fun to share. About ten minutes later I could see what I thought looked vaguely like an airport and turned off the main road. Then it started to rain again. I was at the “bugger it who cares” stage by this time, although my fear and hope for my computer remained, so I sped up a little. Got to the car park and was advised this was not THE airport but I believe he was telling me it was the cargo airport or something like that. So I followed the direction towards the real airport.

On the way I managed to snag my tracksuit pants in a piece of metal sticking out of the drain and fell twice, although not right into the still ankle-deep river that was once a road. I slipped my way up the steps into the airport and joined a queue of slightly less bedraggled people going through the scanner. As I waited in the queue to check in I debated finding a bathroom to change but realized the floor of the airport was also ankle deep in water so that might be even scarier. I rescued a dry pair of trousers from the top of my bag in case I found somewhere. The lady who searched me before the waiting lounge let me use the room where she searches the women for a quick change, so at least I now had dry trousers (although the bottoms of these were soon wet too). And then I found the driest spot I could and sat and hauled open my computer to discover its wetsuit material case was saturated, but , humd”allah, it still worked!!! And hence am writing this.

Post script…

The man next to me in the line to get on the plane kindly told me I looked terrible and couldn’t possibly get on the plane like that. He then tried to change his seat to sit next to me and received a less than welcoming response. My t-shirt was still damp when I arrived in Cairo (the poor man sitting next to me — I cant have smelled too sweet) but I was sooooo happy to arrive. And the funny thing was that this bedraggled day ended completely the opposite… a call from my former flat-mate who was staying at the Four Seasons and invited me to waffles on her balcony on the 30th floor overlooking the Nile and pyramids, then to lie in the sun by the pool to eat ice blocks… at which stage my entire waterlogged adventure seemed wonderfully far away and even more hilarious. Will taking r & r always be this much of an effort?

4 thoughts on “Water Water Everywhere

  1. That sounds like lots of fun! Just like Mumbai in the wet season. I didn’t know there was torrential rain in Darfur. All I could think of during your story was a power line coming down in the water near you. I can’t believe you were trudging through flood water up to your waist in a war torn country at 4 am with a wet torch. Seems a little extreme… I hope you had words with the travel agent. lol.


  2. Yowzah! Are these the kinds of adventures to which I have to look forward? Maybe I can also help you chill out once you’re in Cairo. Still think you’re crazy…but in a good way 😉

  3. Dear Kirsten ! How i miss the times in Cairo!! It seems your having pretty good times in Darfur too ;)! Here i am in simple and plain Prishtina, Kosovo where the most exciting thing do is to go for a thai massage…Cheers!!

  4. Hi Kirsten, I am a friend of the Salmon family from Dulwich days.You may remember me?

    My attempt at a solution for the thousands of refugees worldwide is to encourage NASA to build some domed cities for them. These would come in handy at times of national or global disaster, and for now they could provide a comfortable place for refugees – who would have to share if there were a disaster.

    Nasa could use the exercise to try out possibilities for space colonisation. The cities could belong to the UN so the refugees could then be UN citizens instead of stateless.

    If it sounds plausible there are more details on http:/hillcities.wikispaces.com/


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