Just Ask for Magzoub

January 1, 2016 – We left Wadi Halfa very early in the morning. I got on the bus to find our seats while Oyv loaded our packs. I say ‘find’ our seats because I could not read the Arabic numbers (or anything else) on our tickets so I had to ask around onboard.

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And I quickly discovered that most of the other passengers could of course read the tickets….but not the numbers written our way (1, 2, 3…) over the seats. So we all jumped around and changed seats a few times. As we pulled onto the road all hell broke loose amongst the passengers still standing in the aisles, who clearly felt somebody was in their rightful spot. A lot of shouting followed – good-natured ribbing or rabid fury, I really couldn’t tell. Arabic confuses me. Eventually the driver pulled over and became embroiled in the fight. He screamed something which I imagine went like this:

If you all don’t knock it off right now, I’m turning this bus around and we’re going home!” The standing passengers grumbled and we swung back onto the road.

Continuing my Beginner’s Guide to Sudan, allow me to share another tip:

  1. Mobile Entertainment. The bus driver always plays recordings of the Koran from the speakers over every seat. If anyone doesn’t want to listen to this, they play a shrieky music video on their phone aloud for us all to enjoy. If their friends on either side want to listen to different music – no problem! They’ll each turn the volume up full.

We were heading for Abri, a small village we’d read about. Our advance preparation extended to checking in our guidebook that there was one hotel here, a ‘grim and grimy establishment’. But never fear, the book went on to say. If we don’t want to stay there, we can simply go to the market and ‘…just ask for Magzoub. He can help you.’

So we got off the bus when the driver shouted ‘Abri!’. We’d made friends during this long trip from Egypt with two local guys who could speak English and they got off with us to make sure we were ok. They looked doubtfully around at the distant mudbrick buildings and the battered minivans waiting by the side of the road.

Concerned Friend: “Do you guys know somebody here?”
Us: “Nope.”
Concerned Friend (growing visibly more concerned): “Is there even a hotel?”
Us (cheerfully): “Oh yeah, but we’ll just find Magzoub.”

Our friends rushed off to buy us tea and then organized us into one of the minivans bound for the village. They got back on their bus and it sped off out of sight, leaving us alone in the dust with the minivans and drivers in quite literally, the middle of nowhere.

The minivan drivers conversed amongst themselves for a while and we heard Magzoub’s name. So I assume the conversation went something like this:

First Driver (puffing on cigarette and drinking tea): “What the hell will we do with these two white idiots?”
Second Driver (smoking and tying bundle of onions onto roof of bus): “I know. Let’s call Magzoub. Allah Ackbar.”

And sure enough, we didn’t have to find Magzoub because he found us. As we banged along into town in the minivan, the driver handed me his phone and I found myself speaking with the famous man, arranging to meet him at a teahouse in the village.

Magzoub starting running a lovely little Nubian-style guesthouse overlooking the Nile a couple of years ago, as travelers started to trickle into Sudan on the overland route.

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We took the opportunity to relax there, and also to do laundry again.

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Magzoub turned out to be a fabulous and gracious host. He invited us to his home for lunch on the first day.

And the next day, he and wife had us over again – to make pizza.

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The best thing about staying with Magzoub was the insight we gained into local life here, by hanging out at his home, drinking tea, and talking about a wide range of topics including religion, marriage and family, our cultural differences, Sudan’s political issues, and a fair bit of local village gossip too.

When we weren’t gossiping and eating pizza with Magzoub, we were out exploring sleepy little Abri, drinking tea and talking to local people who came up to us in the streets to say hello and welcome and in many cases ask us to take their photo.

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And wherever we go, we are never far from the Nile, flowing through our trip and threading our destinations together like a beautiful green ribbon.

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We hired a motorboat and went to Sai Island.

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But we thought better of swimming, although Magzoub had enthusiastically encouraged us to ‘shower in the Nile’.

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So if you ever find yourself in Abri, remember: just ask for Magzoub. And don’t go swimming.


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