Camping 101

The origin of this quote is disputed, but it certainly applies perfectly to the journey I took in 1980, my “in at the deep end” introduction to camping. My Camping 101.

Our return to Khartoum was very anti-climatic. Someone thought to acquire a newspaper. Bouncing around, in the middle of no-where for over two weeks, we had felt isolated and cut-off, as if craving for news was a basic human need.

We had expected to hear of the release of the Iran hostages who had been captured on the 4th of November, 1979.

In fact it would be another eleven months before they were released.

Our own lives were about to go back to whatever normal looked like for each of us.

The start of our somewhat mis-guided journey to Sudan, had gone badly. Our Austrian companion, the gaunt and gloomy “Doom”, had been about to persuade us to bail out of the whole thing, when we were at last summoned to the aircraft which would fly us south, to Juba.

Looking back, that was strange. We never, in fact, received a boarding call. No-one came to round us up, or escorted us to the ‘plane. As we sat there wondering what Doom was blathering about, suddenly a line formed and began to proceed toward an aircraft. I can only presume that Jack, our leader, checked to ensure it would take us to Juba and not Port Sudan.

From what I have heard, Port Sudan could have proved interesting, but that was someone else’s adventure and a real one.

In any event, by the time we reached Juba, I was feeling slightly, shall we say disappointed, about my latest holiday. Physically it was proving a bit more than I had bargained for and I hadn’t been expecting much! It was just that there were no apparent rewards for all our efforts.

It had begun to feel like an endless, miserable journey back to my freedom.

Then, as we neared the desert, my spirits began to lift and I began to see this journey as a gift. It was an invaluable lesson, although parts of it were ineffably sad.

Having lived in Asia, I thought I knew what poverty looked like. Even in poor places, I had heard laughter, but not here. The faces of so many of the children in Sudan affected me deeply.

Tiny children that stood silently staring at us. Clothing, if they had any, was ragged and filthy. Snot ran down their faces, encrusted with flies that everyone ignored.

Two-year old children had the faces of old people.

Perhaps it was the absence of hope that made their eyes appear so dead.

They didn’t even ask for anything, as most village children do.

It made me wonder why Nature would allow children to be born in this wasteland. It defied logic. No one could wish to bring a child into such awfulness, but sex is such a basic thing.

To me it seemed that Nature should suppress the hormones that allow fertilization, but perhaps propagation of the species is the stronger instinct and the birthrate seemed higher than the appalling death rate of the young.

It was the most devastatingly desolate place I ever saw.

It made me so ashamed. I had, from an early age, been aware that I was very fortunate to have been born into so much privilege, and it had always bothered me that I had so much, while so many children I saw had nothing.

Yet here I was in Sudan, getting all bent out of shape because of a little temporary discomfort. How could I have forgotten the lesson learned so long ago? Served me right that it was back in my face, an even more dreadful reminder.

As an animal lover, I can’t not mention that almost all the animals I saw in Sudan were in an equally sad condition, except maybe the camels that were such an important part of life in the desert. They at least were respected and valued.

By the time we neared Khartoum, I had had a serious mental adjustment.

I no longer cared that when I had a call of Nature, there was not even a tuft of grass to offer privacy. You simply walked a short distance and did what was needed, keeping an eye out for snakes. The rest of the group could not have cared less.

I had also stopped caring what I looked like and had resolved that I would never again go on any journey without proper walking shoes. ( A tough pair of Rockports got me through the remainder of my travelling days.)

When we reached our hotel in Khartoum, I had a new appreciation for the bliss of running water and stood for long moments in the shower.

Taking food at a table was something else I had always taken for granted, or even having a table to write on.

Of the many trips I have been privileged to take, the journey to Sudan, was no doubt the least actually enjoyed, but it was also, for me personally, one of the most valuable and for many years we have laughed about all that went wrong.

Six weeks after our return, I suddenly began to itch all over when the fleabites flared up to remind me of Camping 101.

We never did get to the Roman ruins, and we never did find out what happened to Jim in Thailand.

8 thoughts on “Camping 101

  1. Absolutely … the end is sometimes an anti-climax, it’s the journey that matters!
    Poverty is a difficult thing to watch (especially when children are involved) – this would have been a difficult journey for me. But you’re right about one being much more appreciative of the ordinary things after such a trip – like running water and a loo.

  2. Such a marvellous account of life that far too few of the privileged get to see. It should be mandatory for all those who grow up with adequate food, water, sanitation, and healthcare, to spend a month with a family who have nothing. I’m sure that if that were the case then world poverty would be sorted out very swiftly!

  3. Wow, even though I’ve read this post before, it touched me deeply again. The poverty and little children who only know hardship … it is indeed difficult to understand and just so sad.

  4. Not quite Sudan, but my youngest daughter taught in Ghana for a while and she was also profoundly affected by the poverty – although she did find the children, in most part, quick to laughter and very loving (once they’d put their machetes down!). As for Sudan, I am at a loss to see how things could get worse for those poor people – and all for the power and glory of military madmen. Such a stupid, sad, sad world!

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