Several years ago I was flying to Ethiopia when over the loud speaker the captain told us we were making an unscheduled stop in Khartoum, Sudan. Needless to say this made the entire plane go silent. Eerily so.
If you have ever read the book or have seen the documentary of The Lost Boys of Sudan you know that this was a place where you did not want to stop…ever…for any reason. Murder, Mayhem and Mob Rule immediately came to mind as did a certain Iran hostage crisis in the late 1970’s. I wondered just how much my husband would pay to get me back should the need arise. The figure I arrived at was not reassuring.
As the Khartoum came into view the first thing I noticed was that the entire area, as far as the eye could see, looked like it was covered in a sticky inescapable dark brown mud. It’s a color you wouldn’t be caught dead in. The second thing noted was the number of mosques that dotted the city. They were tall and regal against the desert landscape. But what really caught my attention were the guns and missile launchers that lined the runways. They were big and they were plentiful. Not something one usually sees alongside a runway. What were we doing here anyway?
As we were taxiing a very tense stewardess made an announcement that went something like this:
“Ladies and gentlemen there will be no picture taking while in Khartoum (too late in my case) You will stay in your seats while we are on the ground and no one may use the restroom at this time. Please refrain from making sudden movements and loud noises. We are here to let a UN representative disembark.”
The taste of fear welled up on my tongue…its flavor somewhat salty and bitter.This was hardly the greeting I had expected when arriving (unexpectedly) in a foreign country. Where were the peanuts? Where were the lei’s? Where was the old man playing the oud to make visitors feel welcome? All we could see were armed soldiers prowling around everywhere with numerous UN planes remained parked in their berths.
After about 20 minutes of ear splitting quiet, we were told we would be leaving momentarily…and then sat on the tarmac for another 15 minutes. Then we shoved off leaving Khartoum and all its mysteries behind.
While this “side adventure” was interesting to say the least, what I will always remember about this trip it was the only country I have ever visited but never got to see.