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Pole to Pole

Day 65: Wadi Halfa to Atbara

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAt some point in the night I wake feeling as if I have a rock lodged in my throat. Swallowing is piercingly painful, and only partly relieved by a swig from my water bottle. I'm relieved to find that I'm not the only one suffering. The cause is fine sand blowing off the desert and inhaled in sleep. There is dust over everything in the compartment, and only our precious bottled water to wash with.

At 6.30 a.m. Nigel, who must have been born on wall-bars, is already up on the roof filming the sunrise. Fraser is also up there and I know I shall have to join them. The train never moves at more than a steady forty-five m.p.h. but the scramble onto the top requires an act of faith in the shifting, creaking fittings between the coaches. There are about twenty people riding on our coach, and the atmosphere is friendly. Ali Hassan is young, maybe eighteen or nineteen, travelling to Khartoum to study civil engineering. He seems surprised that people in England cannot ride on the top of trains. I explain about bridges.

We talk about the state of the country. He is optimistic. There is no famine any more and the civil war in the south is less severe than it was. I ask him if it is a religious struggle between the Muslims of the north (comprising about seventy per cent of the country) and the Christians and non-Muslims of the south. He says it is political. Garang, the leader of the rebels, wants to be prime minister, and if he would only content himself with a position in the existing government the war could be over. The Sudanese need no friends, he adds, they will solve their own problems.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 65
  • Country/sea: Sudan
  • Place: Wadi Halfa
  • Book page no: 142

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