Sudan, Part 2: An Encounter with Fishermen of the Nile
— Sudan — 9 min read
9 - 11 June 2011
Sudan is one of those paradox countries, where the external, political image is in stark contrast to the everyday reality on the ground. The news would have us believe that it's a dangerous country, and whilst recognizing that there are dangerous parts of the country, such as the conflicts in the west and south, I heed more to the words of passing travelers who told me of safety and friendliness in the north. With this information in hand, I felt excited that I could wild camp again, having done it only once (in the White Desert) since crossing over from South America.
I enjoy wild camping because it makes me feel most like a nomad and puts me in easy reach of wonderful experiences. This next photostory tells of my encounter with some Sudanese fishermen along the Nile. I happened to pitch my tent next to their working camp and being such gracious hosts, they took me in and showed me their life.
About 190 kms (118 mi) south of Wadi Halfa is the small town of Abri. I had set off late in the afternoon and was looking for a place to camp for the night. My Tracks4Africa GPS map showed a campsite waypoint just past Abri, by the Nile.
There was no campsite here, but being a wonderful outcrop with a fantastic view of the Nile, I put my tent down and made home for the night. I usually setup camp before dark, but the heat of the day meant it was uncomfortable to stop riding before the sun went down.
Before I could take out my stove and start preparing some dinner, a young fisherman climbed up from the river bank and motioned for me to join them for food. My Arabic was still non-conversational, but the signs for food are universal. I walked down to the bank and found a wonderful little beach that the fishermen were using as a working camp. I jumped in for a bath in the Nile with all the privacy that dusk offers.
Two fishermen were manning the camp and this was their kitchen.
With a LED headlight, the younger of the two fishermen, Bedwa, was preparing a batter.
The batter was poured on the hot pan and it slowly baked into a thick, unleavened bread.
Having dinner with Bedwa and Fara at their fishing camp on the banks of the Sudanese Nile. The freshly-made bread was had with fish stew and eating is a communal affair here, just the way I like it. There wasn't much conversation, yet it was a wonderful meal. I bid them goodnight and thanked them in my basic Arabic for the meal.
I slept without the tarp on my tent to get as much air blowing through, but it was hot through most of the night, only getting slightly cool around 3 am. I was up at sunrise with the intention of getting going before it got too hot. However, after making some morning oatmeal, Bedwa came over and invited me down for morning tea.
With morning light, I could now see the camp in all its detail. It was a small beach that was sheltered by trees and felt cozy.
Bedwa and Fara were doing their rounds of rowing up the river, crossing it and laying down their net, then following it downstream for a bit before gathering up the net and its catch and rowing back up near the shore.
It's tough but honest work. They took turns with their fishing duties on their homemade felucca. Bedwa rowed this timed around and Fara cast the net. That plastic jerry can was used as the float for the net.
After an hour's worth of work, they caught a good five fish. Not sure of the variety.
At the end of each fishing round, it was time to sort through the net, mending any tears.
After spending the morning hours with Bedwa and Fara and observing their work, I wondered how the day would progress and was deciding whether to get moving or hang out some more with them. Pretty soon, this fiberglass boat with its outboard motor showed up and I met the boss of the operation, Saleh.
Saleh showing me the combined catch of his fishermen. There still wasn't much verbal communication, but I gathered that Saleh was the boss and he indicated for me to stay. Recognizing the wonderful opportunity I had, I made myself comfortable and let the day flow.
Everyone got down to their tasks and Saleh motioned for me to take a look at his outboard motor. It was firing poorly and he set about cleaning the spark plug. We took a test ride on the river and I enjoyed my first boating experience on the Nile (not counting the ferry).
Saleh's brother Waleed laying out his net in preparation for his round on the river.
By mid-morning, the middle of the river was flowing very quickly and made the fishermen's task of crossing it that much more difficult. The opposite bank is actually a huge island that the Nile flows around. I was told later that there are ruins among the palms with treasure hunters flying in to search for the gold bounty. The banks of the river are very steep and are indicative of the erosive power of this mighty river when it's in flood mode. After the rains in Ethiopia and Uganda, the Nile rises by a few meters before being stopped by the various dams along its length.
Saleh dishing out some water from his boat.
I sat myself on this mat and enjoyed the peace of being in a comfortable and safe location and most importantly, a shady spot along the banks of the Nile.
Where there're fishermen, there're birds looking for scrapes.
The first birdie was joined by his buddies and they combed the sands for something to eat.
This little birdie was looking down at some garbage and I felt guilty for being part of a species that easily dirties its surroundings without care for the fact that we share this planet with other life forms.
Bedwa and Fara rowing up the river at the end of another round. A river flows faster in the middle than compared to its edges, due to friction with the banks, and thus when rowing upstream, it's easiest to hug the shore.
Their homemade felucca made of beaten down oil drums and crude wooden posts for the oar masts. Fishing is already hard work, but their work is made harder with these crude tools.
After getting a few rounds in the coolness of the morning, Bedwa started preparing the first meal of the day. What else would fishermen eat besides fresh fish? He gutted them and threw the remains back in the river.
Other river creatures were quick to grab the remains of the gutted fish. Nothing goes to waste in nature's cycles. Waste and garbage are purely a human concept.
Bedwa, at 25, was the youngest among the fishermen there and he was tasked with food preparation. I guess all the others were tasked with this when they were young, too.
Leftover fish stew from the night before.
Baking some fresh bread and heating up water for tea.
The encounter shifted a dimension with the arrival of Mohammed Bashir in his shirt and jeans. He spoke English and asked me what I was doing here. After explaining my story, he said he was from Khartoum and was involved with buying the fish from these fishermen and taking it down to sell in the big city.
He spends a few days here, loading up his refrigerated truck with the fresh catch and then when full, heads back to the city.
Bedwa had a hefty catch of 30 kgs (66 lbs) already.
Mohammed's truck for transporting the fish back to Khartoum.
Bedwa inside the insulated truck with layers of frozen fish from previous days. The thick ice blocks keep the fish frozen until their arrival in the city, but I was amazed that all the ice didn't melt in this searing heat. Mohammed said all the fish freeze into one solid block and thus don't spoil.
A larger than normal fish that Bedwa caught yesterday.
Eating the first meal of the day of freshly-baked thick bread with fish stew. It's the same food for every meal at the fishermen's camp, but this is a working food; simple to prepare, low-cost and filling. The man with the trousers was a local government official and Mohammed explained that Saleh owns the license to fish this particular 6 km (3.7 mi) bend in the Nile. He then allows others to fish on his stretch of the river with payment to him being a cut of their daily catch.
Being a Friday, it was time to head into town for Friday Prayers at the local mosque. Everyone washed up and donned some fresh clothes.
We all went over to Saleh's house in the nearby village of Quikkah for a snack of sweet tea and sugary, fried bread snacks (like doughnuts). The tea was super sweet (two teaspoons of sugar in each little cup) but if felt refreshing for the intense heat of the afternoon. One can only drink so much water to hydrate in this dry heat and tea actually helps the body get hydrated, even though it's slightly caffeinated and diuretic. Coffee wouldn't work, as it's too strong of a diuretic and if these desert inhabitants have been drinking tea to hydrate, let me learn from them.
Saleh with two of his children, Magda and Hamoudi. Being the richest man in the village, I could see that he spoiled his kids with love and toys.
After a visit to the mosque, they gave me a little tour of the town of Abri. Colorful shop fronts on the main drag in Abri. Businesses were reopening after shutting down during the hottest part of the day. They still get their business hours in by staying open late into the relative cool of the night.
A cellphone tower in Abri, connecting this remote dwelling to the rest of the country and the world. Sudan's mobile network is very well established and their data rates are incredibly cheap. I was given a local SIM card from a traveler heading north and plugged that in to my phone and after topping up with some credit, I could get online and post a few updates. Places like this have skipped land lines and gone straight to mobile networks as they're cheaper to setup and provide better connectivity.
Waleed playing some pickup football on the streets of Abri.
We wandered over to the town hangout and had some tea and shisha. Yeah, I quickly realized that showing off my legs wasn't that appropriate, but it was so hot! Mohammed said I was excused as I was a visitor but I felt exposed in this land of Sharia Law.
Men at a nearby table playing a game with dominoes. It was highly energetic with lots of table slapping and bravado.
I spent five days in Quikkah and moved between the fishing camp and Saleh's house, taking things slow; reading, relaxing and washing clothes. These are the clothes that I wear regularly off the bike and they suit me in most situations. I have a few more t-shirts and base layers, but that's it. That little orange towel is a quick-dry towel from REI. It's all I need to dry up and it absorbs a lot of water. The clothes dried within an hour as the temperature peaked at 53 C (127 F) every afternoon.
Hanging out on the mat in the fishing camp and drinking lots of sweet tea made with water from the Nile. Everyone else there was drinking water from the Nile straight up, without even boiling it; a testament to the body's ability to adapt to its local bacteria and build a custom immune system. I was filtering the river water with my LifeSaver water bottle, which allows me to have sufficient clean water without having to buy it bottled from stores. In a place like Sudan, where I was drinking around 8 L (2.1 gal) of water per day, buying that much mineral water would become expensive and increase my contribution to plastic waste.
The kitchen at the fishing camp. We brought back supplies from Abri that consisted of onions for the fish stew, flour and oil for the bread, and tea, sugar and salt.
A fresh pot of fish stew boiling with onions and salt. Simple, tasty food.
Bedwa and another fisherman preparing bread for the meal to come. It was like a thick pancake and tasted excellent when warm.
The fire was taken off from under the pan as Bedwa poured on the batter and spread it out with his fingers.
Freshly-baked bread with fish stew.
Today's meal was a bit special as Saleh brought some extra items from home. There was fuul (fava beans), falafel and a thin variety of the usual thick bread. It tasted excellent; eating outside, next to the Nile, sharing it with these friends who absorbed me into their lives.
After all my travels, so far, I'm glad I can recognize when an interesting opportunity presents itself, like this stay with fishermen of the Nile. I was happy not to be riding on a schedule at this moment and enjoyed letting the trip materialize into this encounter. These kinds of experiences are present all around us. It's just up to us to slow down and become aware of our surroundings.