Culture


Bukhara architecture

Bukhara architecture

From Khiva, we took a midnight flight to Bukhara, where we checked in at the Komil Boutique Hotel. This privately-owned bed-and-breakfast, built over 100 years ago, is located in the heart of the Old City. The young proprietor had waited up for us, and he graciously led us to a unique, exquisite room decorated in traditional style. Each room in the hotel remains as it did in 19th century Bukhara and ours was no exception. As tired as we were, we marveled at the intricately carved and hand painted walls, wood trim, and shelving. The old house was originally owned by a Jewish merchant, one of the wealthiest men in Bukhara, and was purchased 50 years ago by Komil’s grandfather. We enjoyed a wonderful night’s sleep and wandered into the 19th century breakfast room refreshed and ready to walk around Old Town. Because we were staying in the Jewish quarter, we explored that nearby area first. We visited the Bukhara Jewish Synagogue, and after that, the shop of a puppet maker.

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Amazingly, there have been Jews in Bukhara since the 12th or 13th century. They developed their own unique culture with its own language, Bukhori, which is related to Persian, but uses the Hebrew alphabet. Bukhara’s Jews still speak it, as do an estimated 10,000 Jews, most of whom now live in Israel. At the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Jews made up 7% of Bukhara’s population, but after they could exit, all but a few hundred left the country.

Bukhara was founded over 2500 years ago, and I must say, this ancient city stole our hearts! It’s one thing to be old, quite another to be beautiful and old. Bukhara blossomed as Central Asia’s religious and cultural heart as capital of the Samanid state in the 9th and 10th centuries and never looked back. In 1220 the city succumbed to the Genghis (Chingiss) Khan and in 1330, she became part of Timor’s Samarkand. Her second chance came in the 16th century when the Uzbek Shaybanids made it the capital of the Bukhara khanate. The city was turned into a vast marketplace with dozens of specialty bazaars and caravanserais, more than 100 madrassas housing over 10,000 students, and more than 300 mosques. From 1868 on, Bolsheviks took over and by 1914, the city was absorbed into the newly created Uzbek SSR.

In the late afternoon, we wandered around the central park where we watched robed men levitating. We wondered how they did it while we browsed souvenir shops. Our guide had reserved a front-row table for us in an outdoor restaurant, where we dinned to a folklore performance and fashion show. It was a fitting end to a wonderful time in Bukhara. We looked forward to the next day’s adventures, when we would take a road trip to Aydarkul Lake, stopping at villages along the way, ending up at Yurt Camp.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time through Father’s Day.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wisconsin Gardening

My Wisconsin garden is spring green in May

 I’ve spent the past week relocating our household to our summer home in Polk County, Wisconsin that we call Northern Bliss. Sailors forever, Gunter and I must have the serenity of water close by. We enjoy the change of pace from our city life in San Diego. There is another lake every four miles in our county, so we never lack the color of water. But after eight years sailing around the world, we also crave the color green.

I agree with John Burroughs, who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” While the green palette soothes my soul, the song of newly-arrived finches tickles my ears, the feel of warm soil running through my fingers connects me to the earth, and the heavenly scent of budding flowers brings me peace. I wet my lips and taste the freshness of the country breeze rustling through the treetops.

What happens to your body in the presence of green? Your pituitary gland is stimulated. Your muscles become more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase. That leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels. In other words, green is calming and stress-relieving, yet invigorating at the same time. The color green has been shown to improve reading ability and creativity.

Aha! I’ve been gardening my first week here, exposed to all that green. Now that my creativity is back, I can get back to writing again. Before I continue the Uzbekistan travel series, I want to take you to my environment here. The days are getting longer. Sunrise was at 5:27 this morning and sunset will be at 8:48. On June 21, the summer solstice, first light will occur at 4:43 a.m. with sunrise at 5:21. Sunset will be at 9:02 with last light at 9:40. Plants love all that light so spring growth is intensive. I can almost see those ferns in my garden unfurling their delicate fronds.

Garden Ferns

Garden ferns unfurl as they mature

Did you know that fiddlehead greens are harvested as a vegetable? The fiddlehead fern fronds must still be tightly furled.

Martha Stewart even has a recipe for them! . Reportedly, they taste grassy (of course) but with a hint of nuttiness. Hmm. Many people say they taste like a cross between asparagus and young spinach. Some detect a bit of mushroom. Watch out for those if they’re growing nearby. Also keep this in mind: Fiddleheads can cause symptoms of food-borne illness if eaten raw or improperly cooked. Be careful.

Have a wonderful and inspiring spring!

 

 

 

Fiddler greens

Fiddler greens served as a restaurant delicacy

For related blogs, visit https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/soft-focus/

and https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/returning-to-northern-bliss-fifty-shades-of-green/

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time through Father’s Day.

“You cannot make a drawing without shadows.” Anonymous.

Our final morning in Tashkent, we transferred to the airport an early-morning flight to Urgench. Then we drove to Khiva along the Amu-Darya delta, which stretches from southeast of Urgench to the Aral Sea. This region, an important oasis called the Khorezm Delta, has been inhabited for millennia. Along the way, we stopped to walk through the rooms of an ancient palace with a stone courtyard surrounded by a harem’s quarter, visited a caravanseri (inn for traveling merchants), and photographed an old mosque with 200 uniquely carved wooden pillars.

Urgench, Uzbekistan

Carriage used to bring a new bride to the palace near Urgench, Uzbekistan

Khiva seafood

My fish takes one last breath.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant specializing in seafood. Skeptical, Gunter asked, “Seafood this far inland?”

“It’s from the lake close by,” Fak answered. We saw fish was swimming in a tank outside the restaurant. At least, they would be fresh. What I didn’t realize is that they were carp!   Growing up in Wisconsin, I was taught never to eat these bottom fish. I ate a few bites, didn’t like the texture, and hid the meat under the skin. And then we traveled on to Khiva.

Khiva was an 8th century minor fort and trading post on a side branch of the Silk Road. The town remained an insignificant player until the 16th century when it became the capital of the Uzbek Shaybanids. Khiva ran a busy slave market for more than three centuries. Slaves were bought by Turkmen tribesmen from the desert and Kazakh tribes of the steppes. By 1740, the town became an outpost of the Persian empire and by 1873, its khan became a vassal of the tsar of Russia. Finally, in 1920 the Bolsheviks installed the Khorezm People’s Republic, theoretically independent from the USSR.

What I wanted from Khiva was a spectacular photo of its west-facing facades bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. What I got was clouds, rain, wind for two days. And I was still trying to recover from a cold. Our hotel, the 78-room Orient Star, offered us the chance to stay inside a 19th century medressa, with its hujras (study cells) converted to rooms. We were told to bend low climbing the high steps curving toward our room the second floor, but with my short height, I’ve never had to bend over for ceilings. Bump! Fortunately, I have a hard head! Because Old Town is a UNESCO heritage site, certain restrictions applied, for example, only one electrical outlet to plug in all our electronics (we each had an iPod and cellphone). No matter, internet reception was only available—quite intermittently—in the walkways facing the courtyard. I didn’t feel too much like a hermit; the bathrooms are made of fancy stone, similar to the rustic farmhouse décor currently in style.

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Pomp and circumstance: a dual presidential visit. The next morning, after a simple breakfast of fresh yogurt, wonderful cheese, warm bread and fruit, we found the courtyard and all the streets filled with frenetic activity. The following day, the president of Uzbekistan would be visiting Old Town Khiva, along with his guest, the president of Turkmenistan! Gorgeous young women from both countries were flown in. The day before the event, we saw them practice standing in a receiving line the delegation would pass by. Bands were blaring; dancers and other performers were perfecting their arts; all the while, locals swept the streets clean and gardeners planted wheelbarrows full of colorful annuals—gold marigolds and red petunias—along the parade routes.

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That evening, we attended a magnificent dinner, complete with a musical performance and a puppet show. I feared it would rain on Khiva’s parade because it poured most of the night. But while the morning dawned cold and windy, the rain had ceased. We skirted puddles along mud walls dating from the 18th century, rebuilt after being destroyed by the Persians. We were relieved to get back inside the walls to the familiarity of “our street.”

The plazas and streets looked deserted. “Where are the other tourists? Gunter asked.

“Oh, most of them stayed inside because of the weather,” Fak explained. I wondered what I was doing there! Then he added, “When the event begins, they’ll have to stay inside their hotels, or another hotel or restaurant. Security.”

Shivering, we ducked inside a restaurant offering freshly pressed ginger tea. How wonderful! I asked for the recipe and it turned out the chef was from Germany! Gunter talked with him about his experience coming to Khiva to train the restaurant staff in “western” ways.

A Special Ginger Tea

A Special Ginger Tea

We took an afternoon nap before packing for our flight home. Our morning flight–which had unfortunately been scheduled the day the two presidents would arrive—had been cancelled. The airport would be closed all day. Security.

We were driven back to the airport for our re-scheduled 7:30 evening flight, which we were assured would take off to Bukhara. The airport was still closed. The visiting president was apparently still in town. Our driver could not enter the airport parking lot, and only those with tickets were allowed into the terminal. We passengers had to pull our luggage from the other side of the building, around to the entrance. And then we had to wait, and wait, until close to midnight, when the plane finally took off. Our guide, Fak, was flying with us, so we weren’t left alone.

“In the U.S., if a visiting president were in a town or not,” I told him while we waited, “the government would not close the airport.

“It happens all the time here. How would they provide security for your president if he came to your town?” he asked.

“In San Diego, he would probably land at our naval base,” I said.

“Keep in mind,” Fak explained, “we do not have private or government airfields outside of Tashkent, the capital.”

Always expect the unexpected. These are but the “shadows” of a country just opening to tourism.

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Tashkent, Capital of Uzbekistan

Lois and Gunter in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Those of us who have grown up in a country that has known democracy for centuries have no idea what a difficult road this is for fledgling democracies that have recently broken free of the yoke of communism. While touring Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, we came to understand the struggle Uzbeks have gone through since gaining independence in 1991. Visiting the structures, monuments, and museums allowed us to gain an understanding of this proud and independent Uzbeck people.

Uzbekistan, like it’s Central Asian neighbors, is not particularly well known to the outside world. For about seventy years, it was one of the 15 republics of the USSR. Few westerners knew much about the culture and ethnic differences within this huge country. In 1991, after gaining independence, The Republic of Uzbekistan joined the family of “stans” that lie beneath Russia on the globe and span most of central Asia. We’re more familiar with Pakistan and Afghanistan because they’ve been in the news. Yet, it is Uzbekistan that contains the exotic ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara—reminding us of the Great Silk Road and the stories of Arabian Nights. It is Uzbekistan that’s the crossroads of cultures from Persian to Turkic, from European to Russian, from Chinese to Mongolian. We could see this cultural melting pot for ourselves in the capital city of Tashkent. Arriving on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul, we dipped into a vibrant, colorful, and exotic slice of Central Asian life. But this life is not the overwhelming chaos of New Delhi, or Cairo, or Saigon; it’s more constrained—with careful city planning, wide tree-lined streets, and well-kept architectural monuments and public spaces.

Having recently embraced tourism, Uzbekistan has yet to fall victim to globalization. Refreshingly, there are no ATMs, McDonalds, Starbucks or broadband outside the major hotels. But we did find remnants of Soviet-style restrictions and bureaucracy. And the people seem to like a certain order. That’s to be expected; change does not come overnight. We were reminded of this by our guide, Fak, now 33, who was only six years old when the country broke free of Russian domination. He represents this new generation—hopeful, ambitious, energetic and full of love for his country. It is the generation of his parents who remember how Russia had forced her satellite countries to furnish raw materials and products to fuel Russia’s empire; e.g., Uzbekistan was to provide natural gas, minerals (such as uranium) and cotton. Russia would, in turn, provide the food and products to keep the country dependent. So, when the country broke free, the people were starving; quickly, they had to grow and produce everything they needed to survive on their own. This was a tough time—becoming independent—but most saw it as a growth experience. They hated Russian domination as much as they loved Reagan’s “tear-down-that-wall” style of freedom.

Uzbekistan is a Presidential Republic. Elected for a five-year term, the president appoints ministers and selects provincial governors. The constitution was modeled after that of the U.S. and even the government buildings mirror the U.S. White House and congressional architecture. The current president, Šavkat Mirzijojev, took office on September 8, 2016. In his address to the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2017, he stated, “We are deeply convinced: the people must not serve the government bodies, rather the government bodies must serve the people.” He promised to eradicate the child and forced labor the country had experienced in the past to pick the cotton crop for export to Russia and China. And, he abolished past policies, such as exit visas, and opened the country to tourism and other investment opportunities, hoping to grow other industries to replace cotton exports.

During our time in Tashkent, we wanted to understand the people and culture of Uzbekistan by viewing what was most important to them. And that desire led us to Independence Square.

Independence Square tells the story of Uzbekistan as a country. The old monuments of Karl Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were torn down. Three others dominate the square:

The Monument of Independence, raised during 1991, is a large golden globe that symbolizes the desire of a young, independent state to join the world community. The 6-meter Happy Mother monument, completed in 2006 and placed in front, depicts a simple Uzbek woman as the symbol of the homeland, life, and wisdom. Her eyes are fixed on her child, symbolizing the birth of the young, independent state. The child is an image of the future.

In the square, our guide walks us by a memorial to those who never returned from the fields of World War II. Near an eternal flame are tragic figures of bereaved mothers who await their children, sometimes called “The Crying Mother Monument.” More than one million Uzbek soldiers fell in battle. From all parts of Uzbekistan, people come here to see and remember the names of their fallen inscribed in gold.

Our next stop: Khiva, a town founded back when Shem, son of Noah, reportedly discovered a well there. Little did we know what we would find.

We booked our Independent Travel tour to Uzbekistan through Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours. Coincidentally, she was attending a travel conference in San Diego during our first weekend back home! She visited us to debrief and is bringing back my first two books to add to The Long Way Back she already has.

Our travel took over a day—from San Francisco, to Istanbul, to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. When we arrived, our guide, Fakhriddin, was waiting at the exit of the airport with a sign. We walked into the cool early morning air to a waiting car and driver and were off to Tashkent Lotte City Palace. We were checked in by 2:45 a.m.

Günter and I were wide awake by 6 a.m. so we had a chat with AT&T in New York about how to switch our phones to Wi-Fi only and avoid international roaming. Then we enjoyed a deluxe east-meets-west breakfast soon after the dining room opened at 7 a.m. Our Day 1 schedule said, “check in and relax” but we were too excited. I’d fueled myself with a cappuccino and we were ready to stretch our legs and see the sights. “Just a short walk around the area,” Gunter said, “to get out the kinks from all that sitting. Then we’ll relax.” Famous last words. After 4.2 miles on our sports bands, we arrived back at the hotel exhausted. But already, we’d seen and learned enough to get a sense of place.

Navoi Theatre

Navoi Theatre. This Soviet-era Opera House, directly across from the Lotte hotel where we stayed, was built by Japanese WWII POWs but with the Uzbek design detail shown here.

Directly across from our hotel stands the huge Navoi Soviet-era opera/ballet theatre built by Japanese POWs using Uzbek architectural techniques. We walked around the huge building trying to get that concept into our jet-lagged heads while Fakhriddin (Fak for short) riddled us with other stories. I liked the one about the 7000 children—most of them Jewish orphans from Europe—that were dumped by the Soviets into the city of Tashkent along with orders to “just take care of them.” Rather than build an orphanage, the Uzbeks took them into their homes; sometimes half a dozen would be taken into one family and brought up along with their own children. That story introduced me to Uzbek culture: one of hospitality in which foreigners are treated as guests of honor. Tashkent has a sizable Jewish and Japanese population to this day.

I was amazed at the mix of nationalities and styles of clothing in Tashkent. Street vendors were dressed in multicolor dresses and scarves and clunky shoes with socks. But at the main thoroughfares, businessmen wore black suits, white shirts and ties with dark, highly polished shoes and women wore long sleeve blouses, blazers, and skirts at knee-length or slightly above—with nylons and heels. It could have been New York!

Tashkent plov and samosasAt one corner, an open-air restaurant was serving plov out of a humongous wok and samosas (meat-filled pastries) from another. “Take a look,” Fak urged. Plov—a conglomeration of rice, vegetables, and bits of meat swimming in lamb fat and oil—is a staple throughout Central Asia, but most closely associated with Uzbekistan. Each province has its own style, which locals proudly proclaim is the best. Rumor has it that drinking the oil at the bottom of the kazan (large cauldron) adds a spark to a man’s libido. “The plov here is the best,” said Fak while directing us to an oil-cloth-covered table. “You have to try some. I’ll make sure the cook selects portions that he’s pushed up along the side of the kazan, so you don’t get the fat.” Soon dishes of plov, samosas, and a heap of naan-type bread covers our little table. And we weren’t even hungry.

We walked off our lunch by walking through the near-by park, art lining the sidewalks. Then we walked a long way to the main post office to select commemorative stamps for a friend. By then, we were ready for a taxi back and a long, well-deserved nap!

Tashkent Barak Khan

If Day 1 was a taste of Tashkent, Day 2 was some serious touring. We walked through Old Town and much of the Khast Imon Square, ending with the Barak Khan Medressa (school) on the west side where we strolled along souvenir shops that formerly housed students. Northwest of the square, we peeked into the mausoleum of Abu Bakr Kaffal Shoshi, a famed Islamic scholar and poet.

We ended our tour at the famed Chorsu Bazaar, one of Tashkent’s 16 open-air farmers’ markets. What an amazing and energizing experience! This slide show depicts a few of our many encounters with locals there:

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A restaurant bordering a park was the perfect place to eat and relax. As we were finishing our lunch, a bridal party asked their photographer to have a picture taken of them with us. Americans! How special! Who knew? This scenario would be repeated throughout Uzbekistan.

We booked our Independent Travel tour to Uzbekistan through Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours. Coincidentally, she was attending a travel conference in San Diego during our first weekend back home! She visited us to debrief and is bringing back my first two books to add to The Long Way Back she already has.

Silk Road Treasure Tours

Lois and Zulya in San Diego

Author Lois Joy Hofmann World Travel

Travel can make you rich in a way that nothing else can. It allows you to break habits, give yourself time to heal, reduce stress, expand awareness, and gain a new enthusiasm for life. It helps you rediscover the real you. As Rachel Wolchin said, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.” Instead of repeating the same life experience every year for ten, twenty, or forty years, travel can give us dozens of life-changing encounters in only one year. Travel is the difference between reading one page of the “world book” and reading the entire thing. So, come out of your bubble and into the real world.

Traveling Takes Us Out of Our Comfort Zone

Travel awakens your “inner child” by offering new, first-time experiences. It stokes your curiosity. But keep this in mind: “A foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It’s designed to make its own people comfortable.” –Clifton Fadman.

Yes, travel is inconvenient. But when you’re away from the unfamiliar, you’re open. And with a heightened state of awareness, you’re ready to tackle new experiences. If it scares you, it will also challenge you, so go for it!

A few words of caution, however: travel can be addicting. “Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” –Michael Palin. Michael is talking about the traveler’s rush that hits you upon arrival to a new place. Like an elixir, the more you expose yourself, the more you want it.

Travel Helps Us Learn About Other Cultures

I admit to passionate affairs with destinations. I tend to fall in love with one country until I find another that I love even better. To me, reaching a destination with a purpose is so much more important than crossing countries off a list. That’s why I prepare so much—reading, researching, discovering all I can. I want to engage fully with the culture I’ll be in. And after you’ve been in many cultures, you’ll find that all people around the world, while different, are in many ways the same: They laugh, love, cry, eat, learn, and die. They care for family first, then their community or tribe, and want an even better life for their children. If you’re a person who learns best by doing, then go and explore this varied and wonderful world.

Vanatu Northern Banks Islands

While attending a festival in the Northern Banks islands of Vanuatu, we yachties learned how to weave using plants and to make kakai (island food), and laplap.

During a three-day festival, we invited a local couple from Waterfall Bay, Vanuatu for afternoon tea on our yacht, Pacific Bliss. The wife pointed to the placemat, a large photo of Sail Bay in San Diego. “Why you leave beautiful home like this to come here?”

“To see how you live,” I answered. She shook her head, surprised. I took a loaf of warm pumpernickel bread out of the BreadMaker, cut it into ample slices, lathered them with honey, and handed everyone a slice. Before long, the entire loaf was gone! This couple had never tasted bread before.

“This…our laplap,” the woman said. “We bake in ground. Put fish on top.” The next day, the local women showed us yachties how to make laplap.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll love to experience the different dishes prepared around the world. And don’t hesitate to take local cooking classes whenever you can.

Travel is About Creating Memories and Making New Friends

You create lasting memories when you open your horizons to different and unique cultures, cuisines, and landscapes. And many of the friends you meet “on the road” continue to be your confidants many years later. Once you’ve taken the plunge, you’ll be surprised at the ways you’ve changed. Be sure to take a travel journal with you so you can document your transformation. Who knows? Your next trip just might turn you into a storyteller!

Storyteller, leaves you speechless, Crater Lakes, Kelimutu, Indonesia, The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann, p 97
“Traveling Develops Character; It Opens the Mind”
Travel is not the reward for working; it’s an education for living. In fact, many Europeans view travel this way and take a year off between school and work to travel. It’s a time for new graduates to think on their own without others telling them what to do. Distance provides perspective and opens young minds to what’s really important. To travel is to evolve. Traveling Develops Character; It Opens the Mind.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” –Miriam Bia
…Coming Back to Where You Started is Not the Same as Never Leaving
“So much of who we are is where we have been.” –William Langewiesche
You go away so that you can come back and see the place with new eyes, new colors, and a different perspective. As I said in the last chapter of my trilogy about sailing around the world, “We’ve closed a momentous chapter in our lives, and we can never return to who we were before.”

And that’s not all bad. To Gunter and me, at this stage of our lives, travel is life, and life is travel. It’s as much a part of our makeup as the books we read and the food we eat. Sure, we love to spend time with family and friends, and we enjoy other activities, but to suggest that we stop traveling would be like saying we’ll stop learning, growing, and living our dreams.

About the Author: Embarking on an eight-year adventure at sea, former human genetics and biomedical technology CEO, Lois Joy Hofmann sailed around the world on a 43-foot catamaran with her husband, Gunter. Discovering the thrills, dangers, and bliss of the cruising life, she shares their passions, experiences and knowledge learned and Lois inspires others to “Follow Your Bliss”; you’re never to old to fulfill your dreams.

Sailing the World Travel Trilogy Book Special Now Available to the Public for a Limited Time!
LEARN MORE

Description: This thoughtfully written, beautifully illustrated Trilogy documents people and places around the world. Containing hundreds of color photos, these coffee-table- sized books are all three now available to the public.

One of the pleasures of traveling is encountering the unexpected. If you keep your options open and avoid planning and filling every hour of every day, you’ll experience all kinds of unforeseen adventures.

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I encountered the unexpected many times. On one occasion, we were guests at a tribal meeting in Sudan. We had a long, hot day running errands in Port Sudan and were dead tired by the time our bus returned us to the bay in Suakin where Pacific Bliss, our catamaran, was anchored. While filling our dinghy with produce and supplies, we encountered Kirstin and Hans, another couple from our cruising fleet.

“Ten minutes, tribal meeting. Mohammed has ordered the minivan for our group,” Hans announced.

“What does it involve?” I asked.

“Dancing,” he said.

“How long?”

“Only an hour.”

“OK, let’s go!”

The meeting was on the outskirts of Suakin. The van emptied, and we walked toward the performance area. Packed bleachers faced each other across a dusty circle; between them stood a  three-sided tent fronted by a row of white-robed, white-turbaned men sitting in overstuffed chairs. We spotted a podium to the side of the tent. Our group of ten cruisers made its way through the crowd of men and boys. Plastic chairs were brought in to seat us in front of the side bleachers.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 10.50.16 AM

Turbaned politicians attend a tribal meeting in Suakin, Sudan.

One white-robed speaker after another came to the podium. After each speech, the crowd shouted hearty agreement, and everyone raised his staff.  This sequence continued for an hour or more, and it was getting dark. The speakers went on and on, and because we didn’t understand what was being said, it appeared as if they were just getting started.  The crowd loved it and erupted into rousing cheers for each message.  Finally, the last speaker wrapped things up, and music suddenly blared from two huge speakers.

The entire crowd rushed to the small circle of dirt in the center of the venue, with staffs and sticks waving high into the air. And the dance began! Chris, our crew, was right out there with them, having a blast. I stood atop my plastic chair taking movies in the fading light. I was over the dancers’ heads, shooting down into the crowd. I could see our friend Patrick standing on his chair, cheering and shouting. Then he couldn’t resist the excitement; he jumped off his chair and into the chaos.

The song seemed interminably long, but suddenly the music stopped.  And that was it! Men crowded around us yachties, laughing, smiling, and shaking hands. We hated to see it end. We’d have liked to spend more time with them, but we were herded into our mini-bus and driven back to the dinghy landing.

The following day, Boris of Li clarified what had happened: “That was a meeting of all the chiefs of the local tribes. They converged on Suakin for their meeting, and politicians joined them to represent the Sudanese government. Last night, each tribal chieftain gave a speech of praise and thanks to the government.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, two years ago, Boris explained, “Suakin had no electricity, no schools, and no hospital. These improvements have all been completed within the past two years. So now it is time to show appreciation.

“There were no women present. Why?” I asked.

Apparently, they don’t go to political rallies. These are for men only.”

I’m glad I was not born Sudanese!

Given the town’s poverty, the meeting must have been expensive. Each attendee received a can of soda and a candy bar, and during their stay, Suakin more than likely provided food and lodging for its visitors. We cruisers appreciated being invited for an unexpected glimpse into the culture of Sudan.  This event made our visit to Suakin even more worthwhile.

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Adapted from The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann. Available from Amazon and www.loisjoyhofmann.com. Photos © Lois Joy Hofmann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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