We arrived in Khartoum very early the morning of Tuesday 16 January. I am surprised how busy we’ve been since then. Between getting to know our immediate neighborhood, setting up internet service on our phones and laptops, and figuring out where to buy food, we’ve also been trying out our Arabic (Alan’s is pretty good; I have about 12 words of Arabic right now.)
Alan and I woke up earlyish this morning – not as early as we usually wake in England and India, but much earlier than the other volunteers living in the house with us. We ate breakfast and went out for a walk to the mogran, the Arabic word for “place of confluence” – in this case, the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile. The White Nile flows north into Sudan from Uganda; the Blue Nile flows west into Sudan from Ethiopia.
As we walked along Nile Street, feeling the fresh morning breezes, enjoying the sunshine and the mild chill in the air, we overtook a man walking along in a white jellabiya (a long traditional robe), walking with his two young sons. He greeted us, and he and Alan chatted for a while. He said he lives on Tutti Island, across the Nile from where we live. We could see easily across to Tutti; there were a few people scattered, working, across a patchwork of green fields.
We said we wanted to go to the mogran. The man, whose name was Saddam – “But not Saddam Hussein,” he said, and laughed – lives on Tutti Island. He’d been buying fish at the famous (in Khartoum) Morada fish market, and was heading home. Each of his kids had a little bag of nehbak, the dried berries that are sold all over the streets of Khartoum and Omdurman, and they nibbled on these as they walked. (Nehbak taste a bit like doum, a dried fruit sold in Egypt, only doum are much bigger.)
Saddam told us he was getting on the ferryboat to Tutti Island, and said we should come and see the island. We asked if the ferry could take us to Mogran Family Park, which we’d read about in the Bradt Guide to Sudan. Saddam didn’t seem to know about the Mogran Family Park; we realized later he thought we were asking to be taken to the mogran itself, so that’s what he told the ferryman.
The ferry was a simple motorboat with a fabric roof. There’s enough room for 20 to 25 passengers, seated on the benches around the edge of the boat, more if you crammed people onto the benches that span the boat, and serve as stepping places.
This early in the morning though, it was just us, Saddam and his boys, and the ferryman, a cheerful young man with a ready smile. He turned on some music as we pulled away onto the water – an African pop song with reggae overtones and English lyrics – and joked back and forth with Saddam. He included Alan in the jokes once he realized Alan could speak some Arabic.
It didn’t take long to reach the confluence itself, just north of a small island that lies to the southwest of Tutti’s curving belly. The ferryman guided the boat slowly and carefully into the place where the waters meet, then killed the engine so we could enjoy the quiet.
I realized we were right in the middle of something unusual: the meeting of two powerful rivers, flowing together from sources thousands of miles apart. The surface of the water looked thick, with most of the movement going on beneath it, like the taut hide over a big cat’s tensely rippling muscles. I hadn’t expected to feel so much power.
I lifted my eyes from the mesmerizing waters, looking up into the vast blue sky with its tatters of cloud. All around us, birds were diving into the thick turbulent water. Tall green grasses fringed the riverbanks, swaying in the wind, their plumed tops adding a separate little motion, like a hand waving atop a waving arm. The churning waters threw a spray of droplets into our faces, and the ends of my scarf rippled in the wind. The mogran is ceaseless, eternal movement.
(Added 25 January 2018) Huda, one of the fifth-year students at the Faculty of Education, asked me what I’d been seeing since I arrived in Sudan. I told her about the mogran, and tried to describe how it felt. “The mogran is a holy place for us, one of the holiest places in all of Africa,” Huda said.
NOTE: If you’d like to enjoy some really good images of the river in Khartoum, and how people earn their living on the river, go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3051935/PICTURED-Afloat-2-Niles-fishermen-Khartoum.html