(As I tap this out in the back blocks of Sudan from my hand written notes I see it is 4.45pm on Sunday and the Writers Group will be wrapping up their monthly session – writing, worlds apart in so many different ways). Ribbons of black streaks stain the grasslands below, the result of burning off. Stock trails leave faint marks through it, like the light touch of chalk on a blackboard. Heading to 6,000’ and the pilot turns and suggests we buckle up the full harness, its going to get rough. The full harness is already on and nipped up tight alright. At 5,000’ the cabin turns into an oven again. But there it is, creeping out of the distant haze on our left is the Nile, snaggling and stretching across a flat plain. It is an impressive sight. Sandy scribbles a note in my notebook as an island slides past: We are passing the Island of Fashoda where Churchill came down to retrieve the French officer. He and his troops had planted the French flag claiming it for France. But Churchill took the officer back up to Khartoum and then on to France. The Brits and France did a deal. France gave up its claims in Sudan and the Brits gave three Canadian islands to France. We circle the strip – the obvious check of the runway for animals or people that might be in the way, and a check of the wind but also to signal our arrival. The nose points into a mud strip and we make a neat landing despite the buffeting wind, roll to the end, stop. The silence is deafening. I step out into a view of sparse bush in every direction. The aircraft instruments tell us it is 41 degrees. I feel right at home.
We unload. Someone arrives on a pushbike then rides off. The co-pilot tells me it is the airport manager and we all laugh. Then the team appears through the bush. They had heard the plane , jumped in the boat to come upriver to pick us up. So the next leg was a ten minute rise up the Nile in a power boat. The breeze and the spray most welcome. It takes no time at all for the locals and the kids especially to make us welcome. Kids are wallowing in the mud and playing in the reeds to keep cool and they shout their exuberant welcome as we hit the bank and tie up. Actually there is not much tying. Anchor is dropped on the ground but I think they are just relying on the boat being firmly wedged in the mud bank.
We walk up the river bank to a compound walled by sticks and with a blue steel gate as its sole entrance. Peter, a tall quietly spoken Dinka and about 7 feet tall looks down from the heavens and welcomes me. He shakes my hand – not as a Westerner but a touching of palms and then sliding of hands across each other, until fingertips slide past fingertips. I learn some have adopted the grip and break approach to hand shaking but this touching is somehow more familiar and intimate. It communicates that “I see you” message. Everyone does it when approaching someone else, from the oldest matriarchs to the youngest child. Peter is my host for the duration of my stay but I drop my gear, am fed some rice and chicken (you better like glutenous rice in this part of the world or you starve) and then we bolt for the workshed. After all this is why I am here and I can hear the generators running in the background as I eat. It’s a remarkable initiative I have heard lots about and I am keen to see it for myself. By all accounts it holds a lot of promise for this community.