Crossing the Ethiopia-Sudan Border

On March 13, I took the bus from Gonder to Mettama at the Ethiopia-Sudan border. The bus was bumpy, but mostly not as bad as the bus between Gonder and Debark. The terrain on that route was arid and mountainous. As we approached the border, the temperature soared.

I crossed the border with the help of two guys who carted my baggage in wheelbarrows for 1 birr (about 12 cents) each. Before we even crossed the border, two Sudanese guys were bugging me about changing money and stuff. I changed my remaining 50-birr note into Sudanese pounds (or dinars, they are still using both for a few more months until the pounds get fully established). I had to visit an immigration office and a customs office on the Ethiopian side to get my passport stamped. I tried to get a soft drink and use the bathroom while in the immigration office, but the guy working there was not very helpful. Eventually, I figured it all out. I headed across the bridge between Ethiopia and Sudan which most people passed without any border crossing formalities at all. When I arrived on the other side, I had to visit the immigration office, customs office, and a security office, all of which ogled my passport and eventually gave it back. Two out of three offices required a photo to process me through. They did let me postpone my Sudanese registration until I reached Khartoum (three-day time limit for doing so).

By this time, I was pretty much deathly ill. I couldn’t walk with my luggage, so I had to take a little taxi from the customs office to the security office. I then took the taxi across the street to the bus station and argued with the driver about the fare which had been agreed upon at the customs office. He eventually let me go after I threatened for us to ride back to the customs office telling me, “Time is money.” Then, I argued with the guys on the bus to Gedaref about how much that would cost. It was supposed to be US$5. After much haggling, I ended up paying US$10. Once in Gedaref, I knew I could stay in a nice airconditioned hotel, then take an airconditioned bus the rest of the way to Khartoum.

A security post on the route stopped the bus and we all had to get off and get our stuff searched. No problems and we moved on. About 20 minutes into the ride, the bus died. We had to wait in the broiling hot sun for another bus to arrive.

Meanwhile, I was dying. I mean actual near-death experience. I told the other guys on the bus that if I passed out they should pour water on me to revive me. Eventually, the replacement bus came. We all packed in to the new bus and I had to practically force the guys to move my baggage over from the old bus.

While I was moaning and groaning on the remainder of the bus ride, I noticed a young woman seated just behind me. She gave me the most wonderful smile. She was beautiful. I felt better just from that simple connection. I didn’t really chat with her until she had her sister say hello and practice speaking English with me. Later, I got off the bus for a male-only pee break (all the Sudanese guys pissing kneeling on the ground and only me standing up). When I returned, the young woman looked upset, as if her brother on the seat behind her had chewed her out perhaps for talking with me.

Later in the bus ride, I fortunately met an attorney who is a member of a political party that likes the U.S. That meant that he was pleased to help me make a phone call on his mobile phone. I called my friend Phil about 20 minutes before arriving at the “Landport” bus station in Khartoum. Phil figured out where the place was and picked me up in front of a strange-looking mosque near the station. I had to crawl there with my two bags.

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