Well, having arrived in Sudan on a Thursday, or very early on a Friday morning, there was not much to do as it was the Muslim day of rest. Still, I had a mission to do and I had been informed to check in at 0800 at the embassy. So after looking at the sad, dirty looking flag hanging over the embassy, I cleaned myself up and went to the restaurant to have breakfast. A lovely middle eastern breakfast buffet was laid out in the dining hall of the Assaha hotel and my new friends were already there eating.
We had a good chat about the adventures of the flight from Beirut while eating our boiled eggs and drinking some rather thick American style coffee. Nabil introduced me to the cooks and servers, as this was not his first trip to Khartoum. Nabil was in the banking/financial industry and had several stop overs in Khartoum, so was well known and well connected. Security Tip #2 – Make good connections and network! I was quickly introduced to the Nescafe style of coffee, not the regular 3 in 1’s, but something that was more delicious than I can imagine. The white liquid of coffee with a honey taste was a delightful surprise to my palate after trying the thick American style sludge that in Sudan is called coffee. I soon became addicted to this Nescafe!
After eating and chatting with my new friends, it was time to figure out where the embassy entrance was. Not hard to find, out the main gate of the hotel, turn right and there it was…the Canadian embassy in Khartoum in all her glory…sort of. My nice shiny diplomatic passport in hand ready to meet the Mission Security Officer (“MSO”), who was on loan from the Embassy in Uganda, I walked to the main entrance. Passing the tourist police that were stationed in front of the hotel and towards the steps of the main entrance to the embassy I went…and rang the buzzer when I got to the door.
The door was opened by a young security guard who met me with a little displeasure, who was I and why was I there on a Friday. I was told, the embassy was closed and to come back another time. I was a bit taken thinking people knew I was coming, not that I had to wait for a driver or anything. I showed the guard my passport, which was like a golden key, and was immediately let inside the guard room. The guardroom is a small passage way from the outside world to Canada, containing a desk and small room for the guards, an x-ray machine and walk through metal detector. Feeling like I was going through airport security, the guards, informed me that it was Friday and that no one would be in today. Not deterred as I had my “orders”, I said I would wait in the court yard as I was expected by the MSO.
In the courtyard for no longer than 10 minutes before a very rushed MSO shows up to guide me through my “orientation”. I put in quotes as this is not the first rushed orientation I would face, nor the thirst post 36 hour trip! Mind boggling to say the least, the MSO was not happy to be in Khartoum and was due to depart the same day following my orientation. To put it in perspective, to this day I have no idea whom I met or his name, it was that fast. Regardless, I was introduced the various procedures for the embassy, provided my codes and given the tour.
Within an hour, I was trained to the MSO’s standards…not what I would give today, so much has been learned over the past 10+ years. Once my orientation was complete, I was left in the “control room” and as fast as he came, the MSO had gone! I was now alone in the embassy with the guards outside. Not sure what way was up and jet lag kicking in, I decided to see what the guards were up to. Naturally, I found them like this:
Relaxed and working multiple cell phones in the shade. I had a brief chat with the guards before deciding to head back into the embassy and get a self tour of the grounds from the roof.
This is when I saw the swimming pool for the first time and boy did it look inviting. I knew that before I left a swim would be in order, just not today. I had yet to meet the purpose of my mission, but that would come soon enough in the next couple of days. I knew he was on the grounds and had seen him from a distance, but the MSO did not introduce us.
Back in the control room, I found a box of fresh new flags, what a delight! I decided that the sad looking flag needed to be replaced earlier and having made this discovery, the flag was changed post haste:
After performing my flag changing ceremony, I returned to the control room where I sat watching monitors and listened to the buzzing of the servers. This was enough to nearly put me to sleep, not that I needed any help at this time. So, coffee after coffee, hour after hour…I sat patiently waiting for the day to end. When it did, the only thing on my mind was to enjoy a conversation with my family and rest my head on a pillow in the confines of my hotel room at the Assaha hotel.
Next: The Khartoum Tour – Sudan 2008