Never one to be a really big party person or drinker, the parties in Khartoum were amazing. Having said that, let’s look at the context. Khartoum is the capital city of a nation which practices Sharia Law…meaning, alcohol is not available to the general public. The only way to get a nip is to bring it in via duty free (and hope it does not get confiscated) or know someone at an embassy. Now I knew the real importance of having my shiny red passport…access to alcohol and parties!
Every embassy in Khartoum had its stash, big or small, there was plenty to go around and the weekly events were never short. The three biggest embassies with alcohol were the US, Germany and the UK. Each would hold events on off weeks so as to share responsibility as it were. The Germans and the Brits had the biggest events going in Khartoum by far, but one could not just show up uninvited, you needed to be on “the list”. If you were not on the list, you were out of luck. Before I joined World Vision International, I had thought I had seen it all in terms of alcohol consumption, these embassy folks knew how to throw and event and drink. But World Vision International…hands down have any embassy beat on consumption, more on that in future stories!
Events were not always held at an embassy, but sometimes on the Nile in the evening, some guest house where a band was rocking (remember my friend Dan B.). These were the social events to maintain some sense of sanity in this odd world of Sudan. They were great for networking, socializing, and unwinding. My first event was in early December on the Nile with the team from the embassy. It was a small gathering on a Nile cruise, having a few drinks and getting to know each other. The evening was quite nice with a clear sky and calm waters to cruise on. I have to admit, the night sky in Sudan in open air, away from the city, was breathtaking.
There were other rooftop events where we could watch the sun go down, some places call these events “sundowners”. Again, very relaxing and a great way to unwind from a day in the office.
As mentioned, the most popular events were at the German and UK embassies, the US did not host many (I do not remember being at one). The UK I think had the most fun and most challenging events, and only challenging as the pool at the UK embassy was between the social area and the bar. Often, we would take bets on who would be the first to fall in, none of which were ever collected during my time, no one fell in but certainly a few close calls.
These events would go on until the wee hours of the morning and generally were held on a Wednesday or Thursday evening to coincide with the Friday being a day off. Still new to all of this, I was still very situationally aware (military me), but there was no curfew or protocols for being out late in Khartoum, at least not for the diplomats. It was not uncommon to walk the 1.5 kilometers from the UK embassy back to the lovey confines of my suite at the Assaha Hotel as early as 0200 or 0300. As I mentioned, Khartoum was probably the safest city in all of Africa back then. Mind you, it was not always easy getting back into the hotel without having to wake up some night clerk and disturb the tourist police parked out front.
Probably the most memorable event I was invited to was the Marine Corps Ball at the US embassy on November 10. I had been able to befriend the late US Special Envoy to Sudan, Richard S. Williamson who extended the invitation to me from the Chargé d’Affaires Mr. Chargé d’Affaires. It was a small event but felt very personal and it was good to be around some fellow Marines.
Unfortunately, there were never any events at the Canadian embassy due to our “guest” being in the pool house, at least not during my time. But that still did not stop the embassy from purchasing alcohol. So, how did we go about procuring this liquid gold and getting it into the Sudan? Well, that is a secret, but what I can tell you is that it came in on large 40’ shipping containers. These orders were usually done every quarter (3 months).
Now, in late May of 2009, one embassy in particular was preparing for its biggest annual party. The US was gearing up for the July 4th long weekend and was preparing in style. In addition, it was the normal quarterly booze order and Canada was also preparing as the “guest” would most likely be returned to Canada prior to the July 1st long weekend. Needless to say, booze was ordered and when it arrived, it was something like I have never seen before! Two 40 foot containers loaded stem to stern, top to bottom with cases upon cases of hard liquor, wine, beer, coolers and anything else you can imagine.
When I arrived to help sort out Canada’s shipment there was such a bee hive of activity. Local Sudanese busy unloading the containers and sorting them on palates at the back of one of the embassies. I felt a little bad for them as they did not drink but were doing the labor for peanuts of those that do. At any rate, of the three embassies involved in this order, the US was definitely preparing for something. Their shipment alone was one full 40-foot container plus a quarter of the second! I think the Canadian shipment was, if lucky, an eighth of the second container and the rest to the Brits. And as you can guess, the sorting was not done at the US embassy for security reasons, so it was offloaded and put into other smaller trucks and transported. I did not stick around for that, but sure it took all night.
We took our measly little lot, which an eighth of a container is significant, into two trucks and back to the embassy to store it. I was gifted a bottle for my troubles, which I took back to my suite and nursed for the remainder of my stay. Unfortunately, I was not around for the Canada Day festivities nor the July 4th event as I ended my mission in early June. I do know that Canada was able to celebrate in 2009 as the Mr. Abdelrazik was flown home finally on June 18 after the courts ordered the Government to fly him back. I heard that the Canada Day celebrations that year were a huge hit and people enjoyed being able to return to event gatherings by the pool in the garden of the Canadian embassy.
Next – The Holidays – Sudan 2008