Riaan Mansur circumnavigated Africa by bike in some 340 days. He was back on November25,2005.In Sudan Dia Media Center gave him a pat on the back & got him also sponsored by Capo & Coca Cola of DAL Group.The first Person to circumnavigate the entire African Continent.
Summary In this day & age of the 21st century one would think that all credible world first explorations have been done… but they haven’t. The past twelve years, Riaan Manser has re-written the definition of tenacity & become the epitome of courage & determination.
Manser rose to prominence on becoming the first person to cycle around the perimeter of Africa. For over twenty four months, alone & unaided, he pedaled a staggering 37,000 km through 34 countries, some of which rank as the most dangerous countries on Earth. Manser’s achievement earned him the title “OutThere Adventurer of the Year 2006” & his book, “Around Africa on my Bicycle”, became a bestseller.
In July 2009, Manser set another world first when he became the first person to circumnavigate Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, by kayak – also alone & unaided. This colossal journey, which saw him paddle 5000km in eleven months.
March 2011 saw Riaan begin his next challenge. This time he took on mystical Iceland & her arctic waters with a handicapped partner who has mild cerebral palsy. “Around Iceland on Inspiration” saw the two paddle 2300km to circumnavigate Iceland in adouble sea-kayak over a five month period. AFRICA TO NORTH AMERICA Riaan has always vowed that he would never expose his girlfriend of 14 years, Vasti, to the dangers of his world; but now the dynamic couple made history by taking on the vast waters of the Atlantic. Alone & unaided they endured a three months & two weeks crossing from Agadir, Morocco & landed in Miami, Florida on the 7th of May. Their final destination, the Statue of Liberty in New York. Not only did they make history by being the only people to have rowed from mainland Africa to mainland North America, but Vasti also became the only woman from the African continent to have rowed across any of the world’s oceans.
AROUND AFRICA ON MY BICYCLE Riaan Manser 2007 website: www.riaanmanser.com
“THIRST AND FRUSTRATION IN THE SUDANESE DESERT”
(Chapter about Sudan from page 472 to page 500, out of35 chapters in 705 pages.)
The beard would not be denied. He burst into an anti-American tirade, spattering me with saliva, then ran out after me when I left the shop to shove a handful of pictures in my face depicting a variety of dismembered and beheaded corpses. ‘This will happen to you!’ he shouted. ‘Before you leave our country, this will happen to you, you filthy American!’ He was literally foaming at the mouth by this time. Just then a bus came past and I jumped on it. Undeterred, he ran next to it for about 100 meters, haranguing the other passengers in Arabic, while I sat there with my stomach cramping with horror as I remembered some of the pictures.
Wadi Halfa was deserted when we landed. I decided to; make dash off the ferry ahead of the others to snap up the first available transport out of there – the day was almost gone, and I didn’t want to waste what was left. It was very close to Christmas, and a multitude of delays in Gabon the year before had taught me to avoid holidays when applying for anything, or you were likely to end up waiting for the right person to get back from leave. According to my ‘Lonely Planet ‘ guide there was a train service to Atabara with a connection to Khartoum, and I reckoned that if I could get there before Christmas Day I would be able at least to submit my application to the Eritrean embassy before it closed.
At first it seemed that my frantic dash had been for nothing, since it turned out that the train wouldn’t be leaving for two days, but then it paid off when I found myself at the front of the queue to get a mud-walled hotel room. It was nothing to write home about, but the twice-weekly ferry’s passengers quickly soak up what accommodation there is. Next in the queue were the Japanese man and had been travelling separately and had met on the ferry. The man, Akira, was an experienced cyclist, although I didn’t think he was properly equipped, since he had a racer-style bike with drop handlebars and thin-tyred 26-inch wheels. The woman, Sakurako, was on a lone tour down to Ethiopia via Egypt. This struck me as being a somewhat hazardous trek for a lone woman, but she scoffed at the mere thought of her being unable to protect herself. Akira planned to reach South Africa in about three months, and it would have been nice to team up with him for the home stretch, but he was set on following the conventional tourist cycle-route, whereas mine lay eastwards through Eritrea and Djiboutii towards Somalia, a place he wanted to steer clear of, for which I couldn’t blame him. I would just have to hope that I could link up with someone south of Somalia.
In the Sudan all tourists have to get a travel permit within three days of arrival, buy Sakurako and I decided to travel to Khartoum before getting ours because the price of $25 we were quoted at Wadi Halfa was suspiciously high (we were wrong, incidentally). Our tickets were pretty extortionate, too, considering that each of the train’s carriages consisted of little more than a holey metal frame with broken windows through which large quantities of desert dust constantly blew in. Our fellow-passengers lolled around, obviously used to all this, but Sakurako and I were very uncomfortable. Fortunately she had a couple of surgical masks, like the ones people wore when the deadly flu strain had hit Asia, and these helped to keep most of the dust out of our lungs.
From time to time I went to the back of the train to see if my bicycle was still in one piece. This entailed running the gauntlet between groups of men who had gathered there to do some dedicated drinking and were sometimes distinctly aggressive towards me – mainly, I think, because they were upset at a stranger catching them in the act of boozing a good Muslim was not supposed to do. As if all this was not bad enough, our plans took a serious knock as a result of what can only be described as an act of God. One of the passengers died, and – unbelievable as this might sound – the train stopped at the next village so that burial preparations could be started and the necessary prayers offered up by the imam at the local mosque. This cost us six hours’ travelling time, with the result that when we finally chugged into Atbara on the evening of 24 December the connecting train was long gone.
Sakurako and I spent a memorable (for all the wrong reasons) Christmas Eve on the freezing concrete floor of
the railway station in a sort of tent which I constructed by leaning my bicycle against the wall and lashing my plastic tarpaulin to it. The only good thing about this humble abode was that we got a free Christmas present next morning, in the shape of a early awakening by a goods train that rumbled in and set the whole platform vibrating. To my surprise the goods train was emblazoned with the remains of what appeared to be the old South African Railways badge, and later on I was told that once up on a time, apartheid or no apartheid, the South African government had built up a very efficient rail service for the Sudan.
Our most urgent requirement was to get our travel permits at the local police station and the find some other transport to Khartoum, since the next passenger train would not be leaving for 10 days. However getting the permits proved impossible because the police station was closed for Christmas Day and Boxing Day – rather odd, seeing that the Sudan was a staunchly Muslim country. No doubt this was a distant hangover from the pre-independence times … a holiday is a holiday, after all. My main feeling was one of frustration. How was I ever going to make it home? It was ridiculous situation. The townspeople we spoke to about this warned us that the police had been known to arrest tourists without travel permits, yet they had made it impossible to get the permits. In any case, who had ever heard of police stations closing down on public holidays? But that was our problem, and it was quite a serious one. Travelling through the Sudan, especially the way we were doing it, was a tricky business because it was an unstable county – more unstable, in fact than any place I had encountered since leaving West Africa. To get to Eritrea, my next stop, I would have to go through some potentially sticky places.
Travel permits were a vital necessity in a country as war-jittery as the Sudan. But it was obvious that Sakurako and I were not going to get anywhere in Atbara within the three-day grace period, so e managed to buy tickets for a bus leaving for Khartoum on Boxing Day. We arrived in the early hours of 27 December, found ourselves a cheap hotel and later that day finally got our permits. Obtaining them was simple: you paid your cash and were given the permit without so much as a question about where you intended to travel. This seemed rather illogical, considering the insistence on getting the permits in the first place; actually it wasn’t, because unbeknown to us they were for Khartoum and its suburbs only. It was all too reminiscent of my experiences in Mauritania, and I began to feel uneasy. I was also suddenly bereft of enthusiasm, which was not like me at all. I should have been excited at the prospect of arriving at the confluence of the fabled Blue and White Niles, and chatting to the locals about the situation in their country (at that time Darfur had dominated discussions in the world’s humanitarian community for at least a year). But I just couldn’t work up any eagerness. Looking back, it is clear that I was suffering from a sort of battle fatigue after well over a year of working my way through more problems, dangers, hardships and general vicissitudes than most people would face in an entire lifetime. The human spirit is a vastly dynamic and powerful thing, but it is not a bottomless well, and I had drunk very deeply from it in my long journey along Africa’s coast.
Khartoum itself was not an impressive place. In the city centre there were uninteresting high-rise flat complexes, but elsewhere the architecture was what one could call /Arab traditional’, so that you didn’t know whether it was old or new. The dust was universal, though. Technology did not seem abundant, with everything operating manually, and the airport was potentially life-threatening because it had no safety zone around it, so that it was slap bang in the middle of housing developments and industrial areas. Where else would you have aero planes landing literally inside a city? My spirits got a wonderful boost when I went to the South African Embassy to make my number and met the second-in-charge, Mr. Ebrahim Edries. My shabby treatment at the hands of his Cairo opposite number was still fresh in my memory, but Ebrahim proved to be a different kettle of fish altogether. He and his staffers were extremely helpful, even though they were up to their ears in work because President Thabo Mbeki was flying into Khartoum that very evening, preparatory to signing a peace treaty in Nairobi. In fact, Ebrahim made my day by asking me to meet with President Mbeki if this could be arranged, something I really wanted to do …clearly Khartoum had more in store for me than I had expected! Naturally I agreed, and Ebrahim put me on stand-by because Mr. Mbeki was on a very tight schedule because of his date in Kenya. The forthcoming meeting excited much interest among the locals with whom I discussed it. One of them (Who told me to call him ‘Mr. Moon’ because his Arabic name was so difficult to pronounce). Very smart in a khaki safari suit and ivory-handled walking stick, asked me to convey his personal thanks to Mr. Mbeki for his efforts in bringing peace to the country. I promised to do just that, and also prepared my own tale about how his portrait had literally saved my bacon in Liberia.
Alas. The much-anticipated meeting never came off. I got squeezed out of Mr. Mbeki’s tight schedule, thanks to the unexpected delays which are virtually part of the itinerary in that part of the world, not to mention the nd-of-
year holiday season. Mr. Mbeki was a conspicuous exception to the general holiday fever, incidentally, as he made clear at a press conference when a journalist asked whether he would be doing anything special for new year’s Night. His reply was that New Year was just another day for him, and that as president he could not confine himself to dates on a calendar. But this particular New Year’s Day, Mr. Mbeki, was something special for the Sudanese people. A number plate reading NO FOOD FOR LAZY MAN would have been a suitable gift for him, I thought. In between all this excitement Sakurako and I, sticking together as a team, roamed around Khartoum, tracking down the embassies at which we needed to apply for visas. Both of us needed them for Ethiopia, but I also had to get ones for Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. Once again Christian holidays kept getting in our way in this Muslim city. But we kept going, frequently getting lost among the featureless flat complexes in the city centre (well, I kept getting lost, a situation Sakurako didn’t fail to comment on. ‘you go so far, so long, around all of Africa, by yourself’, she would say in her clipped Japanese accent, ‘and now I ask where is hotel and you get lost every day? This is crazy! My ego was slightly rattled, but I had to admit that she had a point).
Lost or not, we usually ended up passing the best fruit-juice restaurant in town. Although almost every fruit shop sold cold pureed juice, which really helped to flush away the layers of dust that had built up in our throats during the day, this one had a bigger variety than the others and also offered various sweet porridge-type meals. A tasty staple item was ‘fool’, fava beans with olive oil, tomatoes, onions, chillies and grated eggs, sprinkled with goats’ cheese. This mixture was usually mashed a bit with the side of a Coke bottle and served with hunks of dry bread which doubled as the diner’s eating utensils. No doubt the affluent ate all sorts of other Sudanese dishes, but what I could afford was fool, and I ate it every day, and I ate it every day, and enjoyed it. The only problem I had with it was with the table manners, so to speak, of the locals who sat alongside me on the ground outside the shack from which the food was served. These characters espoused the wide-open-mouth eating technique, and the squishing, slapping and slobbering was awful to listen to, not to mention terrible to see. There was absolutely no reason for this disgusting way of eating. If the food had been tough or hard to break apart, it might have been excusable, but soft little beans and bread? I kept my peace, however, because interfering in an entrenched cultural usage is a waste of time. Aaaaagh, international dining etiquette could be a thorny path! The other roadside entrepreneurs I patronized on a regular basis were the jebena (coffee) ladies, who sold coffee milled, brewed and strained directly into tiny little shot glass-type china cups. The coffee was good, cheap and helpful in creating more opportunities for me to practice my ever-improving Arabic.
My daily encounters with the fool-eaters were nothing serious, of course, but I was a bit shaken by something infinitely more sinister. One day I went to a roadside supermarket near the embassy to get a cool drink. The staff knew me from previous visits and, as usual, gave me a friendly reception. This day, though, there was a stranger present, dressed entirely in Western fashion but sporting a very long beard and very short-cropped hair, who wanted to know where I came from. I told him I was a South African, to which he replied: ‘ I know you are American. I can see and smell you are American.’ I tried to lighten the tone of what was obviously about to turn into a very heavy conversation, but the beard would not be denied. He burst into an anti-American tirade, spattering me with saliva, and then ran out after me when I left the shop to shove a handful of pictures in my face depicting a variety of dismembered and beheaded corpses. ‘This will happen to you!’ he shouted. ‘Before you leave our country, this will happen to you, you filthy American!’ He was literally foaming at the mouth by this time. Just then a bus came past and I jumped on it. Undeterred, he ran next to it for about 100 meters, haranguing the other passengers in Arabic , while I sat there with my stomach cramping with horror as I remembered some of the pictures, hoping that he wouldn’t succeed in working anyone up.
That wasn’t the last of it. I encountered him three more times before leaving Khartoum, and each time he followed me to whichever place I was going to drink tea, the rant on and on about America’s iniquities while handing his horrible photographs around. If this had been South Africa I would have dealt with him, but I wasn’t going to try anything in a foreign and repressive country like the Sudan. His efforts weren’t successful: one shopkeeper came out to chase him away, but otherwise all he achieved was to provide some amusement for other locals. Just how out of touch I had got with events elsewhere in the world was brought home to me when I happened to catch a news broadcast on a small TV in the Eritrean embassy’s foyer and found out for the first time about the great Asian tsunami disaster that had taken place four days earlier. When I asked the others present what it was all about they were as surprised as I was that I knew nothing about this huge disaster in which hundreds of thousands of people had died. I mourned for the dead and felt ashamed that I had been so wrapped up in my own little world, so far out of touch with reality.
Of all the wonderful people I had dealings with in Khartoum, pride of place must go to the incredible Paul Azzo, whom I met quite by accident. Paul was a one-of-a-kind man if ever there was one. A Lebanese citizen but a Sudanese businessman, to use his own description, he was 70 years old but looked much younger and packed an unbelievable amount of vigour, intelligence, humour and passion for life into his diminutive frame. He had been knighted by the Italian government for services rendered and when I met him was furiously busy on his latest challenging task, compiling the first-ever Sudanese business directory.
Paul did so much for me out of the pure goodness of his heart that it is difficult to describe how much it meant to me. After a meal or two – which invariably stretched out into hours of conversation – he had me sized up. He knew exactly who I was, what I was trying to do and how seriously I needed financial help (a ‘pat on the back’, as he put it). Being Paul, he then started doing something about it. He persuaded me to stay on for another week, moved out of his office bedroom to a friend’s home so that I would have a place to sleep and gave me pocket money along with instructions to ‘discover’ Khartoum while he negotiated with various of his business friends. Some of them were South Africans, and two in particular, one from Capo Dairy and the other from Coca-Cola, were of immense help. Capo Dairy and the other from Coca-Cola, were of immense help. Capo Dairy and Coca-cola were among the biggest business enterprises in the country, and hooking up with such heavyweights really smoothed my path. Peter Meiring, the man from Capo, gave me some financial sponsorship, while another Pieter from Coca-Cola expedited the issue of a travel permit for the coastal areas, then arranged for me to fly to port Sudan, from where his area manager would arrange transport northwards to the vicinity of the spot at which the Egyptian soldiers had turned me back. without Pieter’s intervention I would have spent a week just getting the permit, never mind the time and money I would have expended getting back to where I’d been.
Peter was a great guy and we discovered we had a couple of things in common. As a young boy he had lived just two streets away from where my current house was, and we had played for the same rugby club, although at different times. He had played many games with famous Springboks like Calla Scholtz and had become quite renowned himself (he showed me newspaper clippings in which he was nicknamed ‘Boy George’ because of the long hair he wore at the time). Among the things Peter helped me to ‘discover’ was one of the most interesting sights in Khartoum, the ruins of the Shifa Pharmaceutical factory which was blown up in August 19998 by American missiles launched from a submarine in the Red Sea, 600 km away, because it was believed to have been a chemical-weapons factory sponsored by Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Quaeda terrorist organization. I marveled at the accuracy of the missiles, which had flattened the rugby field-sized building without even damaging the fences around it. Peter said that the United States government had now agreed to pay compensation to the owners of the factory. I looked at the wrecked factory, which had once employed 300 people, and decided that it was the end-result of a mixture of factors: mutual arrogance, the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and Osama Bin Laden’s very strong ties to the Sudan, where some of his family still lived, Still, the more I see of America’s aggressive involvements with some foreign countries the more I understand how the laymen there can build up serious resentment, so that all the good things the Americans do are negated by their diplomatic disasters.
The South African Embassy’s 2005 New Year bash, which Sakurako and I attended at Ebrahim’s invitation, was a truly memorable one for a variety of reasons. The party was to take place at one of the staff residences, the main guests being Mrs. Mbeki (the President was still in Kenya) and the Deputy Minister of Energy and Mineral Affairs, Lulu Xingwana, who was there to see about strengthening economic ties with the region. As it turned out, Mrs. Mbeki could not make it because she got stuck in such horrendously gridlocked traffic that her trip was finally abandoned. This was just as well, because the party soon became pretty wild, thanks to a delegation of South African businessmen and women who let their hair down with a vengeance. The Deputy Minister resisted with admirable dignity a number of attempts to draw her into the ever more uninhibited revels on the dance-floor; another guest who kept his shirt on and his gentlemanly persona intact was the eloquent Mr. Phillip Malebe, who took the time to quiz me very thoroughly about why I had undertaken my trek and why I didn’t value my life enough. I laid it out to him in all the necessary detail so that he could understand exactly what was motivating me, and I obviously succeeded, because when I finally dried up he took me to one side and asked: ‘Do you need some help? I mean, would you appreciate some support from my side?’ and without even waiting for my reply took out his wallet and gave me$200 – completely unaware, like so many of my earlier benefactors, of what a great thing he was doing for me. It is at moments like this that one sees how much people want to connect with each other and offer their help. Then it was midnight. The clock struck the hour, we all congratulated one another in the usual way, and Ebrahim came to me with a very special New Year’s gift. Would I like to telephone Vasti? I didn’t have to think about it twice, and next moment he was on the telephone and dialing. The call went through instantly, and I was talking to vasti. It was a wonderful moment, and without warning the tears began to well up in my eyes. Ebrahim saw them when he came closer to check if I had got through, and he put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a gentle hug and a smile before going back to the crowd so that I could be alone with vasti and my emotion. That simple gesture was the final proof that I was not alone on this trip, that many people did care. A couple of days later Ebrahim provided further proof of his caring spirit, although a singularly unorthodox one with an unintentionally humorous ending, and I hope he will not mind if I tell the story here. On a visit to his office we fell to discussing the right way to use a long drop, and Ebrahim decided that I had not mastered the technique of the essential crouch. Naturally – and down he went in spite of a bad knee t show me exactly how to attain the position of greatest stability. Then a small disaster struck: his bad knee went on strike and I had to help him up again. This elicited a couple of bad jokes from me which Ebrahim, needless to say, fielded with professional aplomb In the mean time Paul Azzo was still going out of his way to support me in my usual visa hassles – I am convinced that I reminded him of his sons, who were a little older than me, so that he was as proud of my efforts as he would have been of theirs, and just as determined to see that I succeeded at what I was doing. Having grown up without a real father figure I am inclined to be drawn to displays of affection, and I think he realized this. Paul’s guidance and support also gave me something else which was just as important, although it was invisible to everyone except myself: a sort of stability which enabled me to handle my mounting frustration with bureaucratic systems bogged down in red tape and the general holiday spirit. Among other things he arranged some media interviews. One was with a team from the national TV station, in the course of which the producer had me scoop up and drink a couple of mouthfuls of brown river water because there was a Sudanese saying that if you drank from the Nile you would always return to it. The other was with newspaper journalists at the Sudnese Olympic team offices. To my surprise I was besieged on arrival by bystanders, but it turned out that they had mistaken me for an Italian soccer player who had just been signed by the city’s biggest team. Mischievous devil that he was, Paul made no attempt to deny it, just smiled and kept pushing me through the crowd.
Then it was time to head for the border, the poorer for the theft of my new cell phone which the Ericsson people had donated as a replacement for my old one. I left it at the local internet café, realized what I had done and was back within 10 minutes, by which time either the café’s manager or the only other customer had pocketed it. Ebrahim and his wife, Nachua, had me over for a farewell dinner, and then I was ready for the flight to Port Sudan that Pieter had arranged for me. My travel plan was simple (in theory anyway, although I knew that actually carrying it out might prove a little more difficult). Once I reached Port Sudan I would head north wards till I was more or less opposite the point at which the Egyptians had turned me back. From there I would cycle south-eastwards as though I had just crossed the border, in the direction of Eritrea, Djibouti and finally Somalia. Pieter’s area manager, Ahmed, collected me at Port Sudan when I finally emerged after the obligatory search through my baggage and then spent three days negotiating with the local military commander to get me on to a truck that was headed for the border, since I didn’t have a military permit to travel anywhere in the frontier area. I ground my teeth more than once at this delay. Would this sort of time-wasting ever end? All I wanted was to be allowed to hit the road for the trip southwards. My time was not totally wasted, however.
In Khartoum a South African businessman who supplied the Mustad brand of fish-hooks to a general dealer in the port had suggested that I contact his client when I got there. I did just that, to my great benefit, because this fellow stocked a wide range of bicycle spares and attachments. I told him I needed a new bicycle computer and also a seat cover, and he made me a present of both, along with a siren and a headlight. The siren and headlight didn’t last the distance, but the cover of mock leopard-skin is still on my bike. It is now tattered and torn by hard use, but that’s where it will stay as a constant reminder of the kind merchant of Port Sudan. And although I have no need of hooks right now, Mustad will be the only brand I’ll buy if my situation changes. I also had some … well, interesting … brushes with the local cuisine. Ahmed and his friends stood me to a meal called ‘maraara’, which consisted of raw beef or camel liver, cut into little cubes which were embedded inside chunks of onion and flavoured with chillies. I found that the little portions slid down the throat like oysters; the liver was tasteless, of course, but the chillies and onions made up for that. I also had dealings with a self –confessed ‘naughty Muslim’ who liked to meet with his friends and get slightly plastered on bootleg liquor distilled from dates in the local township. I tasted this stuff, an innocuous-looking clear liquid whose fumes made my eyes water – and that was before I’d drunk any! I managed one sip and then politely but firmly turned down further hits from this home-made weapon of mass destruction. Needless to say, drinking this jungle juice was strictly a no-no in a deep-dyed conservative Muslim country like the Sudan, and he told me that 10 years earlier he had been caught red-lipped, so to speak, and flogged at the local police station. Nevertheless, he added, everyone drank, even the policemen who arrested the drinkers. Eventually the north-bound lorry rumbled out of Port Sudan with my bike and myself tucked in between various greasy metal wasn’t the most comfortable trip to Halaib, my destination. It wasn’t the most comfortable trip to I had undertaken, but I didn’t complain because I was taking no chances on being sent back. About 15 hours later we arrived at Halaib, an untidy sprawl of tents, shacks and wandering livestock which looked as if it didn’t belong in the expanse of white desert sand. Some soldiers come over to the driver as soon as they spotted me. He explained that the commanding officer at port Sudan had given permission for him to bring me along, but they weren’t having any of this and told me to get going southwards right away. I was happy to comply and in no time at all I was pumping at the pedals on my way to Somalia. But not for long. I was passing through a nameless little settlement consisting of shacks and one brick building when a soldier in a creased and dirty uniform flagged me down in a very aggressive fashion. I handed him the travel permit that the commanding officer in Port Sudan S had given me, but he just shook his head and demanded my passport. I gave it to him and he shook his head again and told me to unpack all my belongings. This was going too far and I deluged him with polite but insistent questions. Who was he? Why was he harassing me like this? His reaction was to shout: ‘ I know you white South Africans. I know how you are. Don’t think I am stupid. I am not stupid. I know the law and I will lock you up for two weeks before I must tell anyone. I will show you, white man! Man, did this guy have a serious chip on both his shoulders! But I didn’t have the time to sit down and work through his issues with him, so I suggested that he call his superior in Port Sudan, and while he was at it, the South African Embassy in Khartoum as well, so that they could tell him what sort of man he had arrested. All this, mind you, with a smile and a jovial manner which I was far from feeling. ‘We have no phones here,’ he replied’ this is Nubian country. No telephones. You South Africans are disrespectful and arrogant. You better be careful.’ But I could sense that he was softening, and after a while he also began to smile and said that I was lucky that he was in a good mood, otherwise he would not have been so forgiving. Then, of all things, he apologized for threatening me, explaining that he had thought I was being disrespectful. I nodded continuously and thanked him, and after an hour of this senseless exchange I was out of his office and back on the road, furious at yet another experience of Sudanese officials’ inability to deal with foreigners. This guy had created the whole scenario, convincing himself that I was a racist to justify what he must have known was a completely unjustified action. I thanked my lucky stars that at least he could speak some English; I might have found myself being accosted by some officious gun-wielding official who couldn’t understand a word of what I was saying. The desert was flat and had tracks I could follow to back to Port Sudan, so I made good time in the next three days – days of absolutely awesome scenery and sleeping under the desert sky at night. I also met some of the best people in the Sudan. The first night I had found refuge from the onshore wind in an outcrop of scorpion-in-fested volcanic rocks, but on the second night the village policeman at a little place called Mohammed Qol, about 150 km north of Port Sudan, gave me his outdoor metal bed for me to sleep on. Mohammed Qol wasn’t much to look at, but its population had a distinctly exotic air. All the males, including the policeman, sported bushy haircuts which strongly resembled the 1970s-vintage ‘afro’, and most of them carried large broadswords of mediaeval pattern which were dashingly slung over their shoulders in decorated scabbards. The only person who could speak English was, I discovered, also the first inhabitant to go to university. He was in his second year of business studies at the University of Khartoum, he told me, and added that it was popular among South African Muslims who wanted to further their religious education. The villagers invited me to stay on for a few days and go fishing with them. I would have loved to, but I couldn’t. Before I left the student enlightened me as to the afros and swords. The haircuts were regarded as ‘cool’, he explained, and the swords were for protection against desert lions and the ever-present hyenas. Personally I thought the whole package- massive afro and equally massive sword – was pretty cool. That day I had a very tough ride. The tracks were very sandy now, forcing me to leave them and find harder ground. This was a strictly relative term: ‘hard ground’ in this context meant places where there was a crust about an inch thick on the surface of the loose sand. If I maintained enough momentum could ride in patches like this: the problem was that following the crusty patches meant I was slowly moving away from the tyre-tracks that pointed the way to Port Sudan. Every hour or so I would spot a truck going north or south, from which I could gauge how far I had wandered away from the formal route – a real ‘beaten track’ In every sense of the word – but then there was a gap of a couple of hours during which no vehicles passed, and I began to worry, because I was very tired and I was running out of water. Where was i? My compass could give me the general direction in which I was heading, but what I needed soon was proof of other life, and some more water. By midday I had no water left at all, and I knew that within a few more hours I would be so dehydrated that I might die. I recalled seeing dead camels sprawled at the roadside earlier; what chance did I have if even these ultimate desert survivors couldn’t hack it? This was it, I concluded. I had taken one chance too many, and now I had run out of lives like a bankrupt cat facing death number 10. With surprising calm, considering the circumstances, I decided that the only logical thing I could do was film my own obituary while I still had the strength, to thank the people who had believed in me and, more importantly, people who didn’t deserve to be hurt because I died doing stupid things like cycling through war zones and tackling deserts without enough water! The recording would also serve to wrap up my story to some degree if it truly was going to end here in the Nubian desert. I spoke my piece into the camera in a surprisingly jovial manner, considering I was about to snuff it. Man, what a strange thing to have to do, I remember thinking. It should be noted that I didn’t do this in a defeatist frame of mind. I had no intention of sitting in the desert and waiting for death. I planned to keep moving in as near to a south-easterly direction as I could manage, 50 meters east for every 100 meters south, going as far as I could. I set off at a steady 15km/h, careful not to over-exert myself and eating the dry powder in two of my sachets of game energy drink as I went. It didn’t help my thirst, of course, but I calculated that at least the vitamins and carbohydrates in the powder would provide some sustenance. I don’t know whether that happened, but the grape-flavoured powder certainly turned my teeth purple. Then after two hours came deliverance of a sort. Far away, near the horizon, I saw a dust-cloud slowly approaching. A vehicle! I knew I had a small window of opportunity, because in that part of the world trucks couldn’t travel at more than 50km/h at most, so I dropped my bike and started to run along an intersecting course with my two empty water-bottles. I was a bit delirious by now, so that no matter how far I ran it felt as if I had not moved more than about 100 meters from my bike. But there was no time to worry about that now; this might well be my last throw in what was literally a game of life and death. So I just kept going, waving my arms every 20 steps or so in the desperate hope that the people in the truck would spot me. And they did! the truck turned off the track – a risky business, since it was clearly overloaded with passengers and cargo – and came up to me. The driver and passengers helped me as far as they could, but the haul was meager because the only water they had was brown-red in colour, with a pungent smell of diesel fuel to it. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe is as diesel that tasted a bit like water. I thanked them and started trudging back along the trail of footprints back to my bicycle, feeling despondent after my chances of surviving the day had actually got worse. I decided to film myself sipping this water, but I didn’t actually drink much of it, although I knew that if things got really serious I would consume the lot with a second thought. Fortunately I didn’t have to. Towards sundown I managed to flag down a van travelling southwards; the occupants were horrified when they saw the ‘water’ I had got from the truck and gave me two unopened bottles mineral water, one of which I drank down almost immediately. That was the last vehicle of any kind I saw till the next day, but it had probably saved my life. My last day of travel through the desert was the easiest, with occasional patches of clay over which I made good time. One of the highlights was a massive coincidence when the multiport representative for Sudan – who had actually been ill when I attempted to veset him in Khartoum – drove past me on his way to a local fishing spot with his family. As flabbergasted as I was, he stocked me up with a plastic bag of large and juicy mangoes which, in my present dehydrated state, were positively addictive. The surviving mangoes gave me a bit of a problem at one place, where the tracks turned into a cat’s cradle because passing drivers had had to find their own routes up and over some huge, very soft surfaced dunes. The dunes slowed me down to about kilometer an hour. I persevered, however, although not knowing how much more of these impossible conditions lay ahead – or whether I would be able to see it through – was pure mental torture. While going up one exceptionally big dune my bicycle kept heading in a different direction to where I wanted to go, and the two of us toppled over time after time, the mangoes rolling out of the bag. After about the twentieth fall I called a temporary halt, righted my bike and sat on the crossbar so that we were holding each other erect, then grabbed the nearest mango. I tore the peel off with my teeth and got stuck into it. It was like ambrosia; the flesh was firm but ultra-juicy and slipped effortlessly down my throat. My duneside rehydration didn’t do my appearance any good, however, as I discovered later. A mango is a messy fruit to eat in the best of circumstances, and these definitely were less than ideal. Excess juice ran down my neck to mingle with my plentiful coating of dust, and little bits of flesh which escaped my mouth tracked down and found refuge in my bread. Not that I would have cared if I could have seen myself in a mirror, though; I was far beyond worrying about the social niceties. I was still engrossed in mangling my second mango when a Land Cruiser with tinted windows came flying over the top of the dune, not 20 meters from me. My only reaction was to sink my face into the mango again. The Land Cruiser went past, the occupants obviously having failed to see me, but then it slowed drastically – a big risk in such soft sand – made a U-turn and pulled up right next to me. I was so far gone that I stayed propped up against the bike, paying no attention to anything except the mango. It wasn’t till the electrically operated window on one side started whining open that I broke out of my thirst – induced trance and saw there were three people inside. The one sitting in the back, who was obviously some sort of big shot, started asking me all the usual questions. Was I all right? Where was I from? Where was I was going? I don’t blame him, because this was the real Riaan-the-Explorer he was speaking to, not the cleaned-up version who attended meetings with VIPs. I was sunburnt to a crisp and covered in sand, juice running down my brows, propped up against my overloaded bike against the enormous dune as if I had been there for years. The big shot turned out to be the governor of Port Sudan himself, and he couldn’t have been nicer once he had satisfied his official and personal curiosity about the bedraggled pilgrim he had run across. He was heading north and would be away for four days, he said, but I was welcome to stay over at his house when I reached Port Sudan. I expressed my very sincere gratitude at this bolt-of-from-the-blue hospitality and took down his address, although I knew that I would be staying with Ahmed for just one day before heading south again. The second highlight of this extraordinary day was a lunch to be remembered at a village whose name I have forgotten. I had been somewhat cynical about the stories I had heard of how gentle and kind the ordinary Sudanese people were, since – with the exception of those at Mohammed Qol – I hadn’t met many so far who were not rude or officious. Now I became a believer. I thought about this and concluded that a visitor to a country like the Sudan should put things into their right context and understand the dynamics of what a white tourist represents to the everyday poor man, of whom Africa has no shortage. Here things like a bank account and a visa were meaningless; these people had a fraction of what Westerners are willing to exchange their entire lives for, but they were the happiest individuals I’d ever seen in my life. The food was terrible – sour and rancid fool that had probably been reheated 30 times – but it was a token of their hospitable spirit, and I could not do less than reciprocate that respect by eating it. So I choked it down while the kids (some were chewing tobacco, believe it or not) milled around me. They were fascinated by my hair, stroking their fingers along my head and pulling at the fluff on my legs. In some circumstances this might have creeped me out, but it was all completely innocent. The video I took of my hilarious lunch-time party clearly shows how comfortable we were with one another, even though none of us could understand a word of what the other was saying. The men staged a traditional war-dance and jokingly chased me with their staged a traditional war-dance and jokingly chased me with their long swords, and I returned the favour by teaching them to sing the South Africa sports anthem ‘Shosholoza’, which they enjoyed even though they didn’t understand a word. I expect that this was the first time Zulu had been sung in the Sudan. I was welcomed back to Port Sudan by a serenade from a megaphone-rigged pickup which was advertising the latest 10-year-old movies to reach the town cinema. I hooked up with Ahmed as scheduled and spent a day getting my bike in shape for the next leg, which would take me to the port of Suakin on – thankfully!-a tarmac road. From Suakin I would have to peel away inland and head for kassala, because I didn’t have a permit for the coastline to the south and there was no border post near the sea anyway. One of Paul’s employees would be waiting for me in kassala to render help if I needed it, and I felt quite optimistic about getting through to Eritrea in spite of warnings that I would not be allowed to cross the line. I passed through Suakin without incident and headed for my next major destination, a town at the very top of a high plateau, aptly named Summit. My original plan was to ride into the night, but after a bit I began to feel uncomfortable about the fact that passing cars would slow down or even turn around so that the occupants could get a look at me. I didn’t like this, because my earlier experiences had shown me the danger of someone telling highly coloured stories about me to whatever authorities existed further along the road. I kept going, but each time I saw a vehicle approaching I switched my headlamp off and flattened my bike and myself a few meters off the road till it had passed. It was inconvenient but better for my peace of mind. On the second day out of Port Sudan, just before I tackled the final haul up to Summit, I found a fare well gift that Katrin and the other instructor from Wadi Lahmi had stuffed into my bag, a whole salami. I thanked my lucky stars that no fundamentalist had happened on it during my various baggage-searches, and decided to eliminate any future risk by eating it then and there. So I sat down on a rock almost hot enough to grill my impromptu lunch on and shoveled slice after slice into my mouth. It was a good salami, I hadn’t had any for more than a year and it tasted amazing as I warded my way through it while feasting my eyes on the uneven landscape around me. The scenery was barren and deserted, but I really enjoyed my view because I was filled with a satisfaction that most people would think was a little crazy. Surely no one else in the world had ever sat on that precise rock, eating a luscious salami after a journey like mine! ‘This is my view for lunch.’ I thought aloud. ‘I cycled here to come and have my salami lunch.’I was also looking forward to seeing a familiar friendly face when I arrived in Summit. After my departure from Port Said Ahmed dad found a jacket I had left behind at his house, and at this very moment he was bringing it to me. We had decided to meet at Summit in the mid-afternoon, since there was so little cell phone coverage along the road that we might well miss one another. That jacket and most of my other clothes were sponsored by First Ascent, and I can’t remember how many times I put it on and thought how lucky I was to be using their brand. The First Ascent stuff was amazingly durable. In the past I had had some adventure vests falling apart after no more than 10 wearings, but the First Ascent clothes had literally taken a sunrise-to-sunset beating for more than 450 days and were still in good shape, even if they did look very well used by now. Or perhaps I should say ‘full of character’. I had missed the comfort of my jacket during the ride from Port Sudan, so was very glad that Ahmed was making the effort to bring it back to me. I had plenty of time before my rendezvous with Ahmed and stopped off for a rest at the village of Sinkat, just north of Summit. Here I came face-to-face, so to speak, with the terrible custom of female circumcision. I knew about it, of course, thanks to the worldwide lobbying by people like the famed Somali model Iman, but the full horror of it didn’t hit me till I sat down in the grass-roofed restaurant to have some tea. There I struck up a conversation with a Sudanese doctor, a well spoken, thoroughly modern (to the point of being clean-shaven0 28-eght year old who was performing his compulsory year of community service. We started off chatting generally about qualifying as a doctor and what happened afterwards. Then he told me that 80 percent of his daily patient intake were women from the village and its environs suffering from complications resulting from circumcision. To my shock he added that in spite of their life-threatening infections, these very women continued to practice the ritual on their children – the grandmothers apparently were the most insistent – which they believed would ensure that girls stayed chaste till they married. This was bad enough, but then he got into the details. I had only a vague idea of what female circumcision actually entailed, and I think the doctor realized this, because he proceeded to describe it in detail – the excision of all external genital features, usually with a rusted and unsterilized razor-blade on a dusty floor, then the sewing up of the labia except for an opening to allow urination. Then on the girl’s wedding night the labia would be opened again, either by penetrative sex or ‘surgical’ (if you can call it that) excision with the rusty but trusty old razor-blade. To conclude this gory and heart-rending tale, the doctor told me that 98 percent of all the women and girls I saw around us had been circumcised, not one of them by choice. I rode away from Sinkat with a maelstrom of thoughts running around in my head. Female circumcision was not required by any religion, so traditionalists could only justify it as a cultural phenomenon. But was forced ritual mutilation of this severity actually culture or simply a savage form of male domination? Sometimes ‘culture’ involved a complete lack of reason and compassion, I concluded bitterly. Then I put it in the back of my mind. This was the way of life that the women of Sinkat had inherited; we don’t always have a choice. In my world things like that were abnormal and shocking, but not in theirs. I reached Summit without difficulty soon afterwards, retrieved my jacket from Ahmed and was back on the road to kassala again. En route the next day I had another brush with ultra-conservative Sudanese life when my water ran low and I stopped off in a roadside village’s market to top up. It soon became clear that I wasn’t welcome here, apparently because the locals had instantly concluded that I was an American. Children who had gathered around me were soon pulled away by their parents and ended up watching me from a distance, their little faces screwed up in anxiety, and the only shopkeeper willing to serve me asked me to leave his premises after I had bought a warm Coke. Groups of young men in dusty cloaks stood around, discussing me in what was obviously not a friendly manner. The general air of tension was so strong that it was almost tangible, and I realized how very vulnerable I was to kidnapping or worse. I got going without wasting a second more than was necessary, weaving between the sun-bleached clay huts with my heart pumping overtime and my eyes fixed on the roadside military radio tower that would guide me back on to the road. I was so shaken that when I came to some travelers’ stalls about a kilometer and a half further I sped right by, thirst or no thirst. The mountains of Totil come into view, great round mustard-coloured shapes that looked like gigantic bullets bursting through the desert’s flat surface, and before too long I was within easy reach of my destination, kassala. But rumblings from below my belt warned me now that my entry would not be plain sailing. My enforced drinking-water experiments in the desert had come home to roost, and it was quite obvious that if I didn’t take the appropriate steps – and soon – my entry into kassala was going to be a messy one. When I came to a line of shack-stalls on kassala’s outskirts I flung myself off my bike in front of the nearest one and got right down to business without going through any of the customary greeting ritual. ‘Min fadlak wain el-hammam?’(where is the toilet, please) I cried out to the first person I saw. Confused by this abrupt introduction, he went off to get help while I hopped from one leg to another. Then one of the stall-owners came over, having obviously comprehended my problem. He handed me a bucket of water and pointed into the bare field across the road that lay between the stalls and a cluster of houses. I laughed incredulously at the thought of attending to my needs in full view of the hundreds of people in the vicinity, not to mention their camels, donkeys and dogs, and illustrated my intentions with the customary squat just in case he had misunderstood me after all. He returned my laugh with equal gusto and pushed me encouragingly across the road and down the bank. I took the hint, unhappily conscious of the fact that my bright blue anti-fly shirt made me even more visible to all concerned. But then I went back into Riaan-the-Explorer mode and remembered my toilet experience in Guinea. It hadn’t killed me and this wouldn’t kill me either, so off I strolled with my bucket of water, while from the corner of my ere I could see small groups of water, while from the corner of my eye I could see small groups of people gathering to watch the fun. Repeating ‘when it’s over, it’s over’ like a sort of sanitary mantra, I dropped my shorts and got down to business, painfully aware of the watching eyes. It goes without saying that I wasted no time getting rid of my problem, but my ordeal wasn’t over yet. I still had to sluice myself down, and at this stage a handful of young men came walking past within five meters of me. All except one gave me a quick look and then walked on, but the exception kept turning to monitor my progress. This prurient interest infuriated me as I sluiced away, and the prayerful mantras turned into mumbled curses. Why was he staring at me like that? Hadn’t he ever seen someone caught up in a similar situation is that the only way to avoid near-terminal embarrassment is to concentrate on those prayerful mantras, or otherwise to settle for angry grumbles and curses. In my opinion the anger works better. It was a relief in all senses of the word to haul up my shorts, return the bucket and get going into Kassala itself. Almost immediately I ran into problems when I came up to a police roadblock at a turn-off about 200 meters from the shacks. The cops were not interested in my travel permit. It might give me permission to cycle to Kassala, they said, but not into the town itself; at present even United Nations staff were prohibited from entering. I would have to go back to Khartoum and solve the problem there. I wasn’t having any of this, so I asked to see the local police chief and told him that the governor of Port Sudan had personally overseen my permission (this was shaving the truth slightly, but it was a that my permission had been given via his office), and if the top cop would be so kind as to contact him the governor would be sure to back me up. The upshot of all this was that my bicycle and I were loaded onto the back of a military pickup and taken to the area’s military commander. He issued me with a week-long pass for this town, but flatly refused even to discuss the subject of crossing into Eritrea and warned me not to attempt going near the border. This was no empty warning, because while I was being processed at the adjacent police station another van arrived witha glum-looking Japanese in the back who had been caught trying to slip over. The Japanese told me that he had tried to cross in the guise of a Bedouin, since many local men covered their heads with scarves to the point where only their eyes and noses were visible. Obviously the eyes didn’t have it in this case, so to speak, and he was grabbed. Now he would spend some time in the police cells before being deported. No wonder he looked glum! I was amazed all over again by the Sudanese attitude to tourists. He wasn’t a terrorist or criminal. He had entered the country legally, and now all he wanted was to leave again. What did the authorities have to fear from him? Surely it would have been much better and simpler just to let him go and prove to the world that they had nothing to hide. Paul’s man in Kassala was called Yussuf Hijazi, a distinctive-looking character with the three slanted scars of the prominent Hijazi clan on each cheek. Paul had told me that Yussuf was a big man in Kassala, and he hadn’t been fooling. I realized almost immediately that I was in the best hands in the town; power is good, but influence is always better, and Yussuf had plenty of that. He took me into his house for the duration of my stay in kassala, and we discussed ways of getting me over the border into Eritrea. It gave me some cautious but very welcome optimism, because I was full of instant faith in this formidable leader. I also become aware of the political complications of the local situation. Yussuf explained to me that for years the town had had to withstand many challenges from the central government, and more recently there had been tension and open violence about the issue of autonomy for the Kassala province. Another complication, he added, was that many of the local families were separated by the border with Eritrea, which dated from colonial times. Half of his extended family, he said, lived only 35 km away in the town of Tessenay, but Tessenay was in Eritrea, and he had to have special government permission to visit them there. On the other hand, the Eritreans were even more unreasonable, and most of the blame for the violence fell on their shoulders. Yussuf’s main desire was for peace and a family which was not so severely separated. He didn’t support violence as a means of achieving this end and had condemned the fighting between the government troops and rebel militiamen, but he was powerless to do more, and the very day of my arrival had brought the sound of gunfire from behind the smaller of the mountains north of kassala. I was privileged to sit in on a meeting he had convened with other prominent tribal leaders to discuss their plans for the coming year. They were unhappy about the increasing tension and violence, although they understood the reason for it. Khartoum was becoming more aggressive and opposed to negotiations, but the common people did not like it. It was clear to me that some sort of trouble was brewing, and I looked forward to my low-profile exit on the coming Saturday night. Kassala was no place for a foreigner to be in if fighting broke out. On the Saturday morning I had an interview with Cape Talk Radio in South Africa, and would have liked to share my exciting plans about getting over the border with the presenter, Charmaine Noy, but naturally that was impossible in case it jeopardized my departure. But I did share something extraordinary I’d seen the previous evening. While lying on my wooden bed under the night sky I had spent time marveling at the Milky Way, which seemed to be much brighter here than in most other places, even after moonset. As I that lasted at least twice as long as a normal one and then suddenly broke into two smaller streaks of light. I had never seen anything like this before, and I remember wondering whether anyone in South Africa had seen it too. If Vasti had, I thought, it would have been nearly as good as having her there with me. But then I dismissed the thought. It would be impossible to find anyone back home who had seen this incredible sight. But when Charmaine Noy invited listeners to call in about this story and others I had told her, a man in Cape Town telephoned to say yes, he had seen the same thing. Charmaine and I were stunned, and she asked the man what time he had witnessed the spectacle. About 10 pm his time, he replied, and that fitted in as well. So we had seen the same thing, thousands of kilometers apart! That was the last good thing to happen that day that very morning there was an outburst of violence in Port Sudan in which government soldiers shot and killed 19 protesters, no more than 500 meters from where I had been staying with Ahmed. The immediate effect of the shooting was that Yussef firmly ruled out any ideas we might have had about sneaking into Eritrea because the military had been authorized to shoot at anyone trying to cross the border illegally, no questions asked. He called Paul and they decided that the best thing would be to put me on a bus back to Khartoum so that I could regroup, he and the Coca-Cola representative sharing the cost of the ticket. I returned to Khartoum in a daze of unreality. Surely this couldn’t be happening three countries in a row! But it was, and I would have to go through the same rigmarole of finding my way into Eritrea the long way around, then going back to a spot on the Eritrean side of the border near Kassala town, to start afresh – and, more importantly, join the dots of my journey. How I was going to manage this I didn’t know, and just then didn’t care either. I had almost no money and not much determination left in me, and I castigated myself for disappointing everyone who had helped me, particularly Paul. But Paul was not disappointed in me. He knew exactly how depressed I felt and came up to scratch once more. He spent $200 of his own money on an airline ticket to Eritrea and organized a car to the airport, sending an employee named Joseph along to smooth the way for me. And then, after we had said our goodbyes and I was getting into the car, he slipped another $200 into my shirt pocket. What more can I say about this great-hearted man which has not already been made clear by his actions? But I had not yet finished with Paul, as it transpired. Joseph and I arrived at the airport in good time, only to run into an incredibly obstructive airline official who threw up every possible obstacle, real or made up on the spur of the moment – right down to requiring that I dismantle the bike and pack its component parts in cardboard boxes – so that in the end I missed the flight, to his visible joy and there. I boiled inside with anger. It’s difficult to describe the mixture of emotions I felt as we left the terminal building with all my bits and pieces, searching for a taxi back to Paul had paid for this flight, and now I had gone and missed it! What would he think of me? How could I have let him down again? I didn’t deserve the kindnesses Paul had given so freely. We got my bicycle and kit into the taxi and Joseph climbed into the front seat, next to the driver. He had spoken to Paul on the telephone, he said, and Paul had replied that everything was going to be fine, we would solve the problem when Joseph and I got back to his office. I felt guilty all over again; Paul had enough problems of his own, and here I was, heaping mine on his shoulders as well! I slumped down in the back seat, and suddenly I just couldn’t hold it all together any more – the anger, the frustration, the disappointment, the guilt. I leaned back and covered my face with both hands, with Joseph liking on with concern, and began to cry. I tried vainly to control myself. I was always so big-mouthed about how I could press through regardless of the challenge, about walking the talk. But here I sat in the back of a taxi, crying like a baby. I felt useless and pathetic. Joseph laid his hand gently on my shoulder and whispered: ‘Riaan, it’s going to be OK. Mr. Paul is going to make it Ok. Believe me; everything is going to be OK.’ His voice was as comforting as his touch, and although I was so down that I didn’t want to believe him, I knew he believed it, and that I didn’t want to believe him, I knew he believed it, and that was good enough for me. If Paul had so much faith in me, I had to show the same faith in him. If I didn’t, that would be reason for disgrace. That would be something to be ashamed of. He had taken me to his heart like a son and never failed me in any way. Suddenly my sprits started to revive, and by the time we stepped out of the taxi at his office I was resolved that he would see only the determination that he knew was in me, the determination to overcome anything. Paul was calm and organized, as always. He called the airline and rescheduled the flight for the Thursday, a couple of days away, then told me to take the afternoon off to get my mind right, starting with a visit to the Sudan’s only shopping mall for a traditional Lebanese lunch (sort of like the ‘retail therapy’ that cheered women up, he joked). Paul knew that I was quite happy on my own and that a dose of down-time would do me a power of good. So I enjoyed my Lebanese lunch and then settled down in the well-organized and dust-free surroundings of this tiny First World outpost to plot my departure from Africa’s largest country. I was going to Eritrea, no matter what. Challenges strengthen you if you see them exactly for what they are, not for how they make you feel! I felt happy again. The old Riaan was back after that disgraceful collapse in the taxi. The Thursday flight was all of 36 hours away, but I was ready today. website: www.riaanmanser.com
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