The Notebook

Getting stranded in Sudan was a lesson in ubuntu

In her travels to 23 countries, Lerato Mogoatlhe has rarely encountered people as hospitable, generous and patient as the Sudanese

08 July 2018 - 00:00 By Lerato Mogoatlhe

I discovered on arriving in Sudan that I couldn't access my money while in the country because of US sanctions, leaving me cut off from credit cards and money transfers. This disaster was the best thing that could have happened. It showed me the Sudanese character - hospitable, generous and patient.
Counsellor Almajjed at the Sudanese Embassy in Pretoria called in a favour with a friend who works at a bank. I got $1,000 in Sudanese pounds while he got the money in rands that my sister delivered to him.
Meanwhile, he created a network of people to help me find my feet. There was Yusuf who, after taking me to a lavish lunch, bought me airtime that lasted beyond the two-and-a-half weeks that I spent in Sudan.Yusuf introduced me to Osama, who simply showed up at my hotel on Day2 to take me around the city.
After inviting me to his house to tea, Bashir gave me a tin filled with dates, biscuits and sweets as padkos.
The treatment I received went far beyond money. People show each other love and tenderness that I have never encountered anywhere in travels in 23 countries.
To be Sudanese is to put yourself in another person's shoes. In Dongola in the north, a group of taxi drivers who couldn't figure out where I was going made several calls until they found someone fluent in English and Arabic to translate for us. Instead of giving us directions over the phone, he came to meet me and help me find my way around town.And so it went. People changed their plans to help me with mine. Some taxi drivers refused payment. A hotel owner lowered his rates as a New Year's Day present and restaurant bills were settled before I called for them, among many other gestures that people assured me were an expression of ubuntu.The most powerful expression of ubuntu is the value placed on water. It's impossible to walk a few metres without seeing clay water containers filled with water for anyone who is thirsty to drink for no charge. There are plastic jugs everywhere so that whoever wants to answer the call to prayer can perform the ritual cleansing required before facing Mecca.
I went to Sudan to explore its history and heritage that pre-dates ancient Egypt, and to enjoy its landscape and culture. I left feeling spiritually replenished because in addition to everything it offers to travellers, Sudan also has soul. My trip there was easily the highlight of my travels.
• Writer Lerato Mogoatlhe has been travelling around Africa for 10 years. Her memoir, 'Vagabond: Wandering through Africa on faith' will be out in September 2018.
• 'The Notebook' is about chance meetings and unforgettable encounters people have had on their travels. Send us your story - no more than 400 words - and, if published, you'll receive R500. Mail with the word Notebook in the subject line.

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