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.

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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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