Wasting time

Having lost a few more precious hours when our truck fell in the river, we pressed hastily on, and promptly ran into another time waster.

As we passed a small village in the distance, Taff slowed the truck and brought it to a halt as we saw a police jeep chasing out to intercept us.

The village was an “official” police check point, and we must pay our respect to the headman and get his permission to continue.

Feeling slightly vulnerable, we all jumped down, clutching our back packs, and were escorted into a dusty, airless hut where the big man sat grinning, behind a desk. His bloodshot eyes and general demeanor made us more nervous, worrying that his good mood might swing the other way.

As we were assembled in a semi-circle, our passports were collected and piled on the big man’s desk. He counted them, making a new pile, and then he knocked it over, laughing loudly. He did this several times and we watched with frozen smiles.

One of the passports was red, and we felt our Swiss companion cringe, as the big policeman singled in out.

But he accepted the explanation that this lady was a different nationality than the rest.

Fortunately the police chief remained jovial and he laughed joyously as he scanned each passport for the photograph and made a game out of locating its match.

We continued to stand, dripping with sweat as the sun beat down mercilessly on the tin roof above us, and anxiously bobbed our heads as he called our names.

Whether or not money exchanged hands, I cannot say for sure, though I would be surprised if it did not. We would hardly have cared, and we did not tally, once we received clearance to proceed.

Not long after these adventures, we arrived at Talodi where we were overjoyed to find a water tower.

Every evening from the day we left Juba, we had been issued a water allowance which amounted to two inches in the bottom of a washing bowl.

You could use your ration in whatever way you chose.

In my case, brushing of the teeth, washing of the face and hands, washing of the knickers and finally, washing of the feet. I can’t say what anyone else may have done.

So the water tower at Talodi was a cause to rejoice, particularly for the mud-encrusted heroes of the river rescue. For the first time in days I rinsed my hair and the delight was almost orgasmic.

Afterwards we sat happily in our seats waiting for the others to finish.

Suddenly, I heard an ominous crackling and felt heat as from a blast furnace. Jumping to my feet I cried “fire!” and Taff quickly rolled the truck forward.

The bone dry grass had spontaneously burst into flames, but it quickly went out, there being far more dust than grass in the vicinity.

We were, in fact, getting very close to the desert. It would be a relief to get away from the thorns and the endless ruts, and it was beginning to look as though we might actually reach Khartoum in time for our flight home.

After days of being covered in soot and sweat and dust, the desert seemed so clean. At night it grew quite cool and the ink-black sky was immense and wondrous. The only slight inconveniences were prickly shrubs that grew everywhere, constantly leaving splinters in our fingers, and when we slept, sand fleas came to feed on us.

But soon we arrived at Omdurman, on the outskirts of Khartoum.

We stopped to walk around this very sandy, busy town, and Tim insisted on photographing camels at a well.

The great lumbering beasts looked fierce and sounded bad-tempered and I was much relieved to get back to the truck unscathed.

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