“So, I said to two of our logisticians plunking myself down in a chair in their office at 5pm on Sunday. “How would one go to church if one wanted to?” Our weekends are, well…Friday – not so much a weekend really according to popular usage as much as a day off.
“Well, girlie,” one said after several sardonic comments about redheads confirming both that political correctness has its bounds and that redheads are a victimized people-group. “One would take local transport like everyone else.”
“One couldn’t get the keys to the car or a driver?” I asked.
“Not unless one is Khartoum staff or an approved driver.”
“Hmmmm,” I said.
“Get a guard to go out to the road with you and get a taxi,” came the helpful, if not slightly patronizing advice.
“They speak English?” I asked, meaning either the guard or the taxi drivers.
“Oh yeah, no problem,” they said.
I should have been more dubious. However, naiveté won out over pragmatism and I trooped out to the road armed with a guard and all the Arabic I know (meaning the words: yes, no, my own address and how to count to the three). Thus, proving once again you don’t know what you don’t know.
At the sight of white woman standing by the side of the road the first vehicle passing stopped. It was a small, battered minivan that redefined the word, mini. I put on my best Arabic accent and said, “church” pointing to the address on the post-it note. The guard nodded. The driver nodded. Everyone was apparently on the same page. I got in.
We drove for ten minutes in what I thought to be the wrong direction but what do I know? I’m the foreigner. We then made a u-turn and drove for five minutes back in the exact opposite direction until we arrived at the airport. The taxi driver beamed. My Arabic wasn’t going to get me out of this one so I haggled over the price, paid him, got out and promptly found another taxi.
Taxi driver number two clearly spoke better English. He gesticulated, he parroted the address, he positively exuded certainty. I got in and off we went.
We drove for ten minutes in an entirely different direction which I thought was promising. Then, he kept slowing and looking at buildings…also promising. Then, he rolled down his window and began shouting at an expat, “church, church.” We had pulled up outside the Italian Embassy. He looked back at me and said, “Italians, Catholic? Yes?” My driver didn’t have a clue where he was going but had reasoned if he found a cluster of Christians surely they would.
The woman happened to speak Arabic as well as English and I explained my predicament to her and she gave concise directions to the driver who was clearly proud of himself for his ingenuity and ability to keep a fare. We were off again.
Not five minutes later, as we pulled up to a roundabout…crash! We were rear-ended by a truck full of construction workers. Again, my Arabic isn’t quite up to snuff but I’m fairly sure there was a whole lot of cursing, there certainly was yelling, there were arms flailing and all sorts of impolite hand gestures. There was me, sitting in the cab wondering if I have whiplash and…more importantly, I’m somehow going to somehow find myself out on the street in a hostile mob taking the blame for this.
Luckily, the light changed and my driver felt it was more important to try to rip me off for than get any money out of the truckload behind us. We drove away and, finally, I made it to church.
You would think that would be enough taxi-adventure for one evening. Alas, no, I had to get home. Leaving church, I hailed a cab and the first one that stopped proved to be an actual taxi. In Khartoum this means he drove a beat-up yellow car. I said my address in Arabic and sat back waiting to be taken home. We went somewhere but it wasn’t home. He stopped and shouted the address out the window to a guy sitting by the road who shouted something back. He turned and looked at me. I said the address again. He turned off the lights and shut off the engine. In his opinion, we were there.
I hesitate to say that I panicked but I did have several fleeting panicky-type thoughts. I could call the team house but no one there spoke Arabic either. I could get out and find a new taxi but we were no longer on a main road and I had no idea where I was. And what was I going to do, hop from cab to cab until someone understood my address? I got out my mobile phone and started scrolling through the numbers until I reached a name of one of our Sudanese staff that I was pretty sure I’d met. Luckily, he answered and was able to talk to the driver who had trouble even understanding him. This should have been troubling but I chose to take it as a sign that my Arabic wasn’t so bad after all. Five minutes later we were, not at the airport, the embassy or a church. We were back home and I have never been so happy to see House 41 so much this entire trip!