How I Spent One Month in Khartoum With Local Family
There is a Slavic saying about hospitality that in English translation goes something like this: three days is plenty for any guest to stay. I think similar idiom in English goes Fish and visitors stink after three days.
Obviously this philosophy in Sudan is not applicable. And I landed my couch surfing spot with a family that was willing to bare with me for a whole month. Sudanese family that took me under their wing allowed me to stay one month in their modest home on the outskirts of humongous Khartoum, treated me like a family member, looked after me more than it was necessary.
I arrived as a stranger and left as a friend.
For those who are (still) not familiar with Couchsurfing, it is an online platform where people from around the world offer to travelers free couch in their home – like free Airbnb. In reality it could be a couch, a mat on the floor or even a private room.
The idea is cultural exchange, an opportunity to go local, to learn from each other, although many travelers primarily use it because of free accommodation. My motivation wasn’t free place to sleep, but wanted to experience local life in Sudan.
Neighbourhoods in Khartoum are full of dust and sand, garbage lying around, and each house is surrounded with high walls, with usually very unique colored entrance door to the yard. When it rains, you almost need a boat to navigate the neighbourhoods.
Found a Home for a Month in Khartoum
My couchsurfing host family lived in the outskirts of Khartoum, in quiet neighbourhood. Our house didn’t have tiles or wooden flooring, but sand for the floor. I found it strange at first, but it turned out practical thing, due to so much heat, when they water the floor to make it wet, it becomes cooler in the house.
There was only one pipe with running water on the other side of the yard which means bathrooms and toilet had no running water. with high temperatures mostly over 42 degrees each day bucket showers were my favourite part of the day while lack of running water in the restroom was less comfortable.
I Dressed Like Locals
Well, ladies made me do it! The fabrics are fantastic, so vibrant and colorful. The green dress that ladies made me try it was grooms gift to bride, very expensive cover dotted with stones. This is “Nina Sudania” as they were teasing me.
Got my First Henna Tattoo
On general Sudanese women don’t regularly wear henna until they get married. One of pre wedding events on bride’s side is Henna party. Strong coffee with ginger and cardamom is served, women chat and gossip while waiting for tattoo.
Female relatives and friends from the bride’s side gather together in the late afternoon and draw each other beautiful henna tattoos on feet, ankles and hands. Married women get henna tattoo on both hands and feet, while single women like me are entitled to only one. I got mine on my hand and was super happy about it!
I Gained Some Weight with Sudanese Food
We ate a lot of bread, with every meal and at the end of the month I could feel some extra kilos around my hips. For someone used to eating lots of vegetables and no bread that was a shock for my body in addition to being slightly intolerant to gluten.
Usually we had breakfast together at 11 am or noon and then dinner in the evening. We always gathered together for eating. Everybody ate with hands, so did I. I have to admit, eating with one hand from a shared plate for a month was a bit of challenge for me.
I Got Jalabiya Dress
Along with super beautiful scarves and other little things I got from my dear couchurfing family as gift souvenirs, this beautiful Sudanese garment is my favourite. Its maxi dress made of airy linien with 3/4 sleeves and beautiful golden embroidery. Its called Jalabiya. It is usually worn at home.
I Attended Sudanese Wedding
This is material for separate post that will be published sometime soon. Wedding in Sudan is big thing, for many women the most important event in their lives. Preparations for final wedding day start long before and bride has to go through a special rituals (like taking scented sauna every day to make skin soft and this girl was also using lots of bleached cream to lighten her skin tone) one month before wedding as well she has to move out of her home.
This bride was living with my host family before the wedding. Actually through out the whole month of my stay in Khartoum there were three pre wedding parties and a final wedding ceremony. I think I met hundreds of relatives on these parties. Lots of dancing and live music on each party. All parties ended at 11 PM.
I got Granuloma
One thing had to go wrong. Those who know me, will just laugh. Somehow I get unlucky with health problems every time I am travelling in Africa. This time granuloma hit me in my face. Just days before my Sudanese visa expired my face started to swell and my headaches were awfully painful.
I didn’t plan to explore health care in Khartoum, but there I was, a guest in hospital, that set me back for 400 Sudanese pounds, while dentists weren’t able to find the right diagnosis. I left with thinner wallet and a mouth wash that didn’t help. Long story that got epilogue in Tanzania. Lets just skip picture of my moon face.
I Found my African Family
Most of all, I got my African mama and Sudanese family I will never forget! A month in Khartoum with this amazing family created a beautiful bond. I will visit them again! I highly recommend couch–surfing experience to every traveller.
Do you use couchsurfing? Share your best experience in comments!
What a fascinating experience (though very sorry to hear that you were ill — that did not sound fun). I’ve thought about couch surfing, but I think I’m too much of a wuss to stay in a home with strangers. But I have to say your description of really learning about Sudanese life made it sound very appealing. And I loved your green Jalabiya dress!
I have to say I didnt know what to expect since I am a private person but it turned out as great unforgettable experience.
Wow! What a wonderful cultural experience. When I saw the sanded floors, I thought it was odd too. But after reading your explanation it made a whole lot of sense 🙂 I also would have gained a ton of weight. The food looks ridiculously delicious.
Food was delicious once i turned the portions ratio between veggies and bread. I tried to adapt as much as possible.
That is an amazing experience! I love that you really acclimated to the culture there and I also love that modest families in Sudan use Couchsurfing. I’m sure they are as interested in your culture as you are in their culture.
They are very open to foreigners and I think this is how they get an insight through the borders of Sudan, Many websites are blocked, internet censorship is also very common.
I can’t imagine a CS host agreeing to have someone for a month! This really captures how amazing CS can be — you meet people who are in your life forever. I’d love to hear more about your stay!
hehe, me either. I even wasn’t asking myself, they just proposed to me the long stay and invitation to wedding. Not a single time i felt i was annoyance to them.They even aksed me to stay longer, but i had plans already.
Wow! what a great experience, especially that wedding. So hard to get accepted to one of these intimate sort of family experiences as a tourist. The bride was beautiful and I bet you gained weight with all that home cooking. looked great!
I was honoured to be invited:) Never been to any wedding before, so this was for me really cool experience to see and enjoy the ceremonies.
Where are you now?
I am a pirtuguese solo traveler and shall be in Sudan during only 5 days next month.
Though you could help me giving the contact ( email) of someone nice and reliable who could take me to Meroe on a 1 day tour, of course paying a fair price.
Can you do that?
Hi issa, you can go by bus, oterwise there are agencies that do tours with car. I recommend asking in hotel Acropole, they might hook you up.
Thank you for your beautiful words about Sudan. Hospitality here is the cultural. I hope it counhope like this in the modern life. You are welcome in Sudan any time and for more than month haha
Thanks for stopping by. Sudan will always have a special place in my travelling heart. 🙂