Thursday, 4 February 2010

RUN DOWN TAXIS, DHL AND... CELINE DION

Today is "rest day".... which of course has nothing to do with resting since it is the only opportunity riders of the TDA have to catch up with a million and one duties such as laundry, cell phone card purchasing, internet, bike cleaning, and shopping extra food for the days ahead. One thing we are all dying for is some salty stuff. Since we let Egypt we have found only sweet biscuits everywhere, but no chips or salty bits and given the amount of salt we lose every day through sweating, we are desperate for salty things to eat between meals. Khartoum has one "modern" shopping center called the "Afra Mall" where the entire TDA was gonna spend their Sudanese pounds today. The mall even has free wifi, so say no more...

I have a different priority and it is called DHL. I have come to this tour pretty well prepared from an electronic equipment point of view, with literally everything backed up by something else when something brakes or gets stolen. Unfortunately I am missing a crucial piece of cord between my laptop and my external power Gorilla battery, which means that at the moment the bottle neck is my laptop battery time. This little cord has been a series of bad luck. I ordered it many week before leaving for the TDA adventure but everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. It was lost in transit on its way to my house in Andorra, then a second one arrived, but is was the wrong one... and by the time I ordered a third one on Amazon, the huge snow storm that hit England delayed all postal services and I had to leave for Cairo without it. So the plan "D" was to get another one sent to my son Oscar who lives in Scotland and he would ship it straight to Khartoum via DHL. Plan "D" worked.... by a few hours, but it worked. This morning as I accessed the DHL tracking page on line I was relieved to see that my cable had been cleared by Sudanese custom at 16h03 pm yesterday afternoon and would be available for release this morning... 6 days for Edinburgh to Khartoum... That is the time it had taken us to ride 800 km on a bicycle... He he.. Imagine if we had used the postal service instead of DHL....

So the first challenge of the day was gonna be to get to the DHL office and get my cable. This will give me almost unlimited power for my laptop, a great relief, so I might now have enough time to check my text and correct the spelling mistakes. Well, lets not make too many promises...
The DHL exercise turned out to be a real expedition. Taxi drivers in Khartoum speak as much English as I speak Arabic, about 5 words... and DHL is not one of them...

So needless to say it was fun. The interesting thing here in Sudan is that as soon as people see you struggling, they stop and try to help. So within a few minutes, I had managed to gather a group of 20 men who were all trying to explain to the taxi driver what they thought "DHL" was... he he... I realized that my chances to get to DHL where smaller than finding a clean street here, so I asked the taxi driver to follow me (by now, I am getting really good at my gestures) and took him back inside the hotel where the Chinese receptionist would translate in Chinese English to the Sudanese concierge who would at his turn tell the Sudanese taxi driver that I wanted to go to DHL... And the funniest part of that story was... DHL in arabic is DHL... I could not believe that I had just been telling to 20 different people "DHL" "DHL" and none of them understood, and now the receptionist was saying "DHL" just like me and the taxi driver went "ahhh! DHL".... So, Amin the taxi driver finally knew where this strange European man wanted to go and his face was clearly illuminated with relief.

Amin's taxi was so run down that it had no mirrors, the window on the passenger side had gone missing quite some years ago and the fact that this car was still keeping together was definitely an "Inshallah" situation. (God willing). I realised that if a bicycle had to hit us, we would probably have more damage than the bicycle.... When you look at the surrounding traffic and how close everybody drives to each other, it adds a new dimension to the ride. Khartoum traffic is definitely a good place to inspire science fiction movie scenario writers...

As we were making our way between furious bus drivers and overloaded trucks, Amin offered to play some music. He pulled an MP3 player out of his pocket, plugged it in the cigarette lighter and here it was.... Celine Dion! The song was "Dans un autre monde" (In another world). How awesome was that! He he... I have never enjoyed a Celine Dion song as much as I did today, in the middle of the mad Khartoum traffic, in a taxi that does not have mirrors or even window, but has Celine Dion playing... Amin noticed how much I enjoyed Celine and played it again just like in "Casablanca" movie... By then Amin had run out of petrol and we had to stop for fuel. The funny thing is that they don't really buy much at a time, they seem to buy enough for the next 2 or 3 customers, and that is if they don't go far. Amin bought 3 liters and we carried on. I was wondering if it was more a cash flow problem than proper planning, or could it be that he did not really trust his car to live that much longer?... The next surprise aws that soon after refilling for petrol, the taxi stalled... In the middle of the traffic adding to the hooting and the mess... I had only one option, getting out and help Amin to push start... That cable really was not gonna come to me easy... But I was so grateful about the Celine Dion experience that I was ready to help Amin. After 3 attempts and being almost killed just as many times by trucks who didn't care a dime about us, driving so close as they were flying by, we finally got Amin's taxi back to life. "Starter, Starter" he shouted... So at least he knew one English word and that was the name of the disease his car had been hit with. I realised that I certainly was not the first foreigner to push his taxi and by now Amin even knew the english name for his car problem. The solution did not seem to be very much part of his plans though... But as they all say here "Inshallah"...

I felt sorry not to be able to exchange more words with Amin, he was genuinely friendly, he smiled a lot and made sure I was happy too. Great encounter. These are the little details that make such a trip extraordinary... As we finally made it to the DHL office, it turned out that DHL has 2 offices in Khartoum and it was the wrong one... He he... This cable was really going to be hard to get until the end... Once we got to the second office and I was handed my DHL packet, I kissed it and asked the staff to immortalise this moment of glory on a picture; Never ever before in my life, had I been so happy to get a stupid piece of cable....

2 comments:

Rob Paterson said...

Hi Gerald - I'm sure you have some sort of strange magnetic force that attracts bizarre encounters - another legendary story and had me really laughing - Celine Dion will now forever be corrupted for me! Take care and I look forward to reading more strange encounters.
Rob

Anonymous said...

Bravo Gerald.I am enjoying so much all your interesting reports and your photos.I love your sense of hunour which I find very contagious.I can't wait to read your next encounter.
well done! Forza,vai avanti cosi,up to the end.The best of luck and most fullfeeling,gratifying experiences.