Kullu senna wa intu tayibeen—Arabic for happy new year to all of you! I’ve left Khartoum for the 4-hour drive across the stark Bayuda desert to get to Karima, where my Sudanese colleague and co-director Abbas Sidahmed Zarroug has arranged a house for us to rent. We passed a series of watermelon sellers in the steppe, with beautiful melons stacked inside old tires.
When I first came to Sudan in 2006, this paved road had just been built, and the Sudanese have recently completed the first paved road to connect Khartoum with its northern border. I hear stories from archaeologists about the old days (like before 2004) when this drive could take 36 hours bumping over the rough and dusty desert, where cars could break down and be stranded until the next car came along. Archaeological discoveries have been made during extended breakdowns in the desert!
The road across the desert—it’s a toll road, by the way—finally reached the Nile. It was marked by a line of palm trees extending across the desert, and it was a relief to reach it.
In 2007, a bridge across the Nile was finished near Karima, which meant no more need to wait for hours in a long line of cars and trucks waiting for the ferry. And during my last excavation in Sudan, in a remote area called the 4th Cataract, we were there (also in 2007) when they turned on the first cell phone towers. The local men we were working with took their phones out when we were finished digging for the day and made their first calls from their village.
Sudan is changing fast, and there’s been a lot of investment in infrastructure (much of it built by Chinese companies). It’s hard to convey what paved roads mean, but being in a truck that breaks down and having to wait in the cold desert night for the next one to come along (as we were in 2007) showed me how much this can mean for people here.