Thursday, August 03, 2006

Over the River and Through the . . . Flocks of Goats

Dad's been bringing us books to read from his work's library down in Juba. Last week he also brought a book somebody had lent him: Chew On This, which seems to be a childrens' version of Fast Food Nation. I haven't read FFN, but I just finished Chew On This, and it left me feeling all superior, because Sudan doesn't have any western fast-food chains in it. I was thinking how lucky (?) we are to have lived in 2 different countries that were so recently embroiled in civil war that no McDonald's restaurants have dared start up. Bosnia had its share of imitators, though, including one restaurant with a pirated Burger King sign.

Yesterday after hippotherapy, we went to Tuti Island, which is this little chunk of land in the middle of the Nile. There's a ferry service for people who want to cross to the island, but we (being khawaja, or white foreigners) didn't know the schedule or price. So we just walked up to the dock, which was actually a dirt slope down to the edge of the river, and some enterprising young men with an empty boat offered to take us across for about $2. Great!

Once on the island, we refused several rickshaw rides, thinking that we were being way overcharged. (We never know if people are quoting prices in pounds, which is the old Sudanese currency, or dinar, which is the new money. 10,000 could mean $40, if they're talking dinar, or only $4, if they mean pounds.) Instead, we walked a little ways into the town, which was very small in scale and absolutely silent, except for the occasional rickshaw trundling by. It reminded me some neighborhoods built entirely of mud that we drove through on our day in Omdurman, because the buildings were all 7-10 feet tall, and above that, it was just sky. We found some shade to eat our lunch in, and we were quickly surrounded by schoolboys ages 6-11, who tested out all their English on us. (Good morneeng! Hao arr you?) We tested out a whole bunch of our Arabic on them, too, in very fractured sentences, and gave them chocolate chip cookies. It was pretty fun. Then the women of a nearby house came out and talked to us a little bit, too. Obviously, khawaja are a rarity on Tuti Island. The women told us the name of the tip of the island, where we wanted to go. Then we started walking again, this time with a guard of honor (the schoolboys). When we got tired and expressed an interest in catching a rickshaw, our friends watched until they saw an empty one go by, and then yelled expressively at it until it stopped. In the end, we had to get two (rickshaws are very small -- they typically have only 3 wheels), and were very glad we had, because the ride to the end of the island was long and incredibly serpentine. While in town, we stayed on dirt tracks that were only a few inches wider than the rickshaw itself, and once we met a donkey cart coming the other way and had to back down a side alley. All the town tracks were closely walled by mud houses, so you couldn't see anything around you except for the path ahead of you. Then we would make these right-angled turns, and lose complete sight of the track we'd been on. And when we left town, we passed flocks of goats and crossed little dirt bridges over ditches. It was pretty exciting, and the babies loved it. I thought it should be made into a video game (albeit one for those of a relatively gentle nature), with designing your own funky rickshaw decorations (spikes on the hubcaps and fluffy carpet on the dashboard are common), then finding your way through the maze of the city while avoiding hazards like huge potholes and enemy donkey cart drivers.

One schoolboy accompanied us into our rickshaw and sat up front with the driver. They chatted together and occasionally tried to make Eleanor laugh, but when we got to the edge of town, the driver stopped the rickshaw and told the boy to get off. We didn't understand the Arabic, but it was clear the boy was saying, "Oh, come on, lemme stay just a little while, I wanna watch the foreigners . . ." and the driver was fending him off. In the end the boy hopped off resignedly and we all leaned out to wave and yell, "Ma'a salaama!"

There was another ferry service at the other end of the island, and this time we arrived in time to catch the regular boat, with maybe 15 other commuters on it. We found out that the charge is 9 cents apiece, and Eleanor was free. But hey, I guess those enterprising young men on the other side of the island need our money more than we do.

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