Trektocht door Sudan
Trekking through the Sudan
Arita Baaijens feels most at home in the desert: the silence, the peace, the endless plains, the sobriety, the hardship, the scarce human contact – Baaijens finds it all far preferable to the noisy chaos of the West. In Desert Nomads she recounts the story of two spectacular treks through the inhospitable, deserted Northern Sudan, through the province of Darfur, which borders on Chad, Libya and Egypt.
One of her destinations was the Nukheila oasis, often referred to as the oasis of a thousand date palms. The Hungarian Duke Almásy – the model for the main character in the film The English Patient – visited this legendary oasis in 1935. It was partly the historical sensation of following in his footsteps seventy years on that prompted Baaijens to take this adventurous trip.
Baaijens’ travel account makes fascinating and educational reading, as she does not limit herself to describing her travels, but also expands, en passant, on the history of the Sudan and its neighbouring countries, on the customs and habits of the areas she visits and the peoples she comes into contact with. She describes the detrimental colonial politics of the British Empire which to this day left the Sudan a torn country – north versus south – as well as describing a form of Islam according to which women are not punished for infidelity during the long months when their camel-driving husbands are away and women, too, may remarry after divorce.
Baaijens’ travel companions are all men: her guide and armed protectors lead her in her voyage of discovery to virtually unrecorded ruins, hidden springs and lost cities. The contrast between the ‘rich’ westerner who can afford the luxury of travelling through the desert for pleasure, and the Arabs she employs is a rich source of lively and funny anecdotes. Suspicion becomes trust, hostile eyes turn kind and full of admiration and friendship. Arita Baaijens is fascinated not only by the desert, but also by the life of desert nomads, who, despite drought and starvation, persist in the spartan, wandering existence they have been accustomed to for centuries. Travelling with camels and sheep is simply their way of life, regardless of the physical hardship, dangers and disease.