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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Happy Hanukkah!

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

My husband Gunter and I visited Jerusalem twice, once as a side trip during the 1990s as part of a business trip to Ein Gedi and Tel Aviv, and again during our world circumnavigation, when we docked our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, in Ashkelon.  Stories and photos of that second trip are included in my recently published book, The Long Way Back.

My favorite city in Israel—a country not much larger than New Jersey—is Jerusalem, her capital. To me, Jerusalem is the one place in the world where past, present, and future become one. I felt that portentous-yet-exhilarating sense of past and future both times.

These are some of my favorite pictures and places in that grand city:

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built with the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone

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These olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been there in Jesus’s day

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The wall at the Temple Mount, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall”

Jerusalem had been called some 70 names: Some of the better-known ones are: Ariel (Lion of God), Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City), Kiryat Hannah David (City where David camped), Betulah (virgin), Gilah (joy), Kir, Moriah, Shalem (peace), Neveh Zedek (righteous dwelling), Ir Ha’Elohim (City of God), Gai Hizayon (Valley of Vision), Oholivah (My tent is in her) and, more recently, International City.

Despite its problems, I know I will always love Jerusalem. And despite the danger, I’d very much like to go back again. Have you been in Jerusalem? Would you go back again? If you have not traveled there, is it on your Bucket List?