View of Amon's temple from Jebel Barkal
For the first time in a long time, I miss Sudan (not the ruins above which I've never even seen, but just the place itself and its essence - excuse the nostalgia).
It occured to me the other day that I hadn't been to Sudan in 8 years. The last time I was there was for Eman's wedding, where my sister Sayda and I were bridesmaid's (I spent the month before beavering away making the dresses - I always did love a project). We busied ourselves the days prior to the 'main event' in the Al Magboul house helping with the preparations; the house had that special atmosphere you get in Sudan before a wedding, hundreds of people coming in and out, the smell of insence, henna, gold, cooking for the multitudes on a 'kanoon' (a type of charcoal stove made from recycled tins) in the yard. We also went on some great trips down the Nile, where Auntie Celia prepared some amazing barbequed seafood dishes on the boat. Happy days.
Apart from practical reasons and the fact that I frequently get to see my Sudanese relatives in Cairo, one of the main reasons I haven't been back is because I feel it might have gone from bad to worse. When I was living there 10 years ago, I could already see an enormous change with respect to when I had lived there as a child; the country (or at least the government) was now verging on scarily religious, the summers were even hotter (global warming?), the country seemed somehow poorer - the streets were teeming with refugees (I can only imagine that these people who wandered the streets like lost souls came from somewhere even worse than Sudan - poor things), some foods and traditions from my childhood already seemed to be dieing out; traditional drinks like Karkadeh (hibiscus juice) and Abre (I can only desribe this as juice with delicious paper floating in it - yes really) were being replaced by imported tins of Tang. And I worry that if I go back now I will be even more different from how I remember. One of the saddest things is that my grandmother (and her house - which was an extension of her) are no longer there. For me, that big depressing house was in some ways the essence of everything I remember fondly about Sudan; maybe I'm exagerrating, but it sometimes seemed like the epicentre of Omdurman life with it's constant traffic of people, a staff of 7 who seemed to do very little most of the time, the non-stop stream of amazing food coming out for the kitchen made by my grandmother who loved to cook, but not to chop, so she'd get the maids to do all the prepping, peeling and chopping of the food, whilst she got to do the fun bit - the stirring and the tasting, and of course the credit :-) (this is just what I'd do if I had staff) My grandma died a year ago, and with her I feel many traditions and customs that I associate so much with Sudan.
One place I'd like to see the next time I'm in Sudan is Dongola, the town where my dad's 'Danagla' family came to Khartoum from 2 generations ago. What I wasn't aware of until recently is that there is an old Dongola and a new Dongola. New Dongola (around 80km downstream from its old namesake) appears to be a relatively new town (1811) built to replace the original Dongola. Old Dongola was apparently an important city in medieval Christian Nubia (the capital of Makuria - I just love the way that name sounds - Makuria!) which was destroyed by the muslim Mameluks (Slave soldiers - possibly Egyptian in this case - 'owned' by the Ottomans). Sorry, I'm starting to sound like a history book...
I think that Old Dongola is now little more than a pile of rubble - and like anywhere in Sudan, very hard to get to. But from the images above, Old Dongola, along with other ruins of cities along the Nile are definitely on my 'to-do' list.