This was the first deployment of my life, including the military, where I did not receive any R&R. I was deployed for 7 months straight, living in the Assaha hotel and working at the embassy for 233 days. I will admit, it was a difficult stretch and not having any time with my family was not easy. Watching the embassy staff take their R&R at specific points and returning home for the holidays made it even harder. But, making the best of the situation, Christmas does arrive in Khartoum.
In Khartoum is a knock off hotel similar to the Burj al Arab hotel in the UAE called the Burj al Fateh. I liked the sail design of these hotels and inside was absolutely beautiful. Here, Eric and Cindy invited me to a Christmas dinner with senior staff from the embassy. It was a pleasant evening gathered with my new colleagues and friends, but just not the same as being home with my family.
On the penthouse restaurant the view was stunning, the Christmas atmosphere was all around and we all enjoyed a Khartoum Christmas dinner. I was quite amazed at how they were able to carve Santa Clause into a watermelon. The presentation for a Christian holiday in a Sharia country was very beautiful. But, sadly this was the last time I would be with my embassy colleagues until the New Year of 2009.
The long-distance Christmas holiday was a bit weird. I had never been away from my family for this time of year, let alone with a seven-hour time difference. What made things worse, was just before the holidays started, the internet went down. Of all the years for this to happen, a fishing trawler in the Mediterranean had snagged the fiber optics cables running from Europe to North Africa. Not just one cable or two…but the entire bundle feeding the entire North of Africa. This literally cut us from December 19 until December 31, until they could re-run a cable network across the sea. The first day the internet was back up was in time for me to wish the family a Happy New Year, somewhere around 0800 Sudan local time on January 1, 2009.
Knowing that I would be alone in the confines of the hotel for the next ten days, I was able to secure a good bottle of Famous Grouse whiskey from Eric before he left (cheap whiskey, not recommended!). This would make for an easier New Year’s, which I was determined not to celebrate alone. Good fortune was with me for this time as my friend, Nabil was also going to be in the hotel for New Year’s Eve as well. Now, Nabil, was not one to turn down a drink and was more than happy to celebrate the coming of 2009 with me. However, we had to find a clever way to be able to celebrate with the other guests and staff in the hotel with our friend, Grey Goose.
How convenient that the bottle of Famous Grouse I had secured was the amber variety, looked just like the tea that was served in Khartoum! We decided that we would craftily put the drink into the silver aluminum tea pots, you know, the little ones. When the tea pot was empty, we would run up and top it up again. That way, when we poured the savory delight into our clear glasses, it looked just like we were drinking tea! So, New Years was spent drinking “tea” and smoking shisha with everyone at the hotel.
The remainder of the holidays were fairly quiet with days spent mostly touring Khartoum and Omdurman and walking around the market.
During my time walking around over the holidays, I noticed several knock off food chains that for sanction reasons the real chains could not open. My favorite was the Ivory Fried Chicken, or IFC…and probably ten times better!
Next – The Security Adventures