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Pole to Pole

Day 70: Khartoum

Omdurman, Sudan 
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Life in Omdurman: the start of another felucca.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe absence of any form of tourism in the Sudan results in many small pleasures, one of which is to be able to watch the extraordinary skills of the felucca-builders beside the Nile without having to buy model boats or 'I Have Seen . . .' T-shirts. A thick trunk of mahogany is hoisted by as many as ten men onto a frame about six feet off the ground. Then two men, one on top and one underneath, saw down through the trunk until it falls neatly apart into four planks. Apart from the back-breaking work involved in sawing manually through mahogany in conditions of extreme heat, the two men are shaping and curving the wood as they cut through it, making precise calculations without benefit of any instruments except their own eyes. What comes out at the end of this remarkable toil are boards perfectly fashioned to the shape of the hull. They can build a felucca from mahogany stump to sailing vessel in forty-five days.

Our meeting with the Eritrean transport contacts is set for the afternoon, back across the Nile, in Khartoum itself.

A neat modern villa is the incongruous headquarters of the EPLF - the Eritrean People's Liberation Front - and also of Ayusha Travel, an organization set up to capitalize on the experience gained driving to and from northern Ethiopia during the thirty-year war which ended with the overthrow of Colonel Mengistu only four months previously. On the walls of the bungalow are murals depicting idealized freedom fighters - women armed to the teeth, about to hurl grenades, tribal warriors brandishing spears, and the skulls of enemy dead grinning grotesquely. Hassan Kika shows me into his office. He is a soft-spoken, quietly authoritative man. It's much easier to think of him as a transport manager than a freedom fighter, though he does have things like bomb fragments on his desk and talks of the '10,000 martyrs' who died fighting for Eritrea against Ethiopian dictatorship.
Omdurman, Sudan 
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Life in Omdurman: the start of another felucca.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 70
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Khartoum
  • Book page no: 151

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