Many foreigners who move to Sudan
have access to a private car for
day-to-day travelling about. This
car is often provided by the company
or organisation for which they
work. Sometimes, the employee
will be able to drive the car, but
more often than not the car will
come with its very own driver.
A tragic consequence of this is that a great many expats who move to Sudan miss out on one of the greatest cultural experiences that the country has to offer — that of negotiating the infinitely bewildering public transport system.
Of course, many workers in the country — including UN staff and diplomatic representatives — are warned against using public transport, because of security fears. Note that whilst public transport is relatively safe in the north and east of North Sudan, you should exercise much greater caution when moving about in the South or in Darfur. It is with good reason that the UN advises foreigners to only travel by private vehicle in these areas.
At their best, Sudanese cities can appear fairly daunting to get around in. Street maps are a rarity. Roads are not always clearly marked. There are few fixed bus stops on the streets, and locals use a complex series of hand gestures to flag public transportation down. Taxis are expensive and taxi drivers regularly put the prices up for foreigners. However, if you make the effort, you will find that things aren’t quite as arduous as they first appear.
Most towns or cities in Sudan
have places where you can buy or
rent private vehicles, although prices
can be relatively high.
Note that you can hire vehicles with or without a driver, the latter option being the more expensive. However, under Sudanese law, if you want to hire a four-by-four vehicle (which is necessary for travelling in many parts of the country) then you must do so with a driver. To get around by car or motorbike, you really just have to rely on your own knowledge of the area: there are few signposts or street maps to help you out. To make matters worse, many roads (particularly the smaller ones) are in a poor state of repair.
Night-time driving can be hazardous. In certain areas (such as near the Presidential Palace in Khartoum), the authorities have installed street lighting, although the lights are not always turned on.
In THE major cities, new traffic light systems have been installed. Passing through a red light will invite an immediate 30 SDG fine and could result in you being arrested if the offence was deemed particularly dangerous. Some of the traffic lights have been poorly installed, so that it is not clear to which road they relate. Take particular care at these junctions because the traffic police will almost certainly be watching.
If you are going to drive for more than three months in Khartoum, then you must get your national driving licence converted to either an international or a local Sudanese one.
The cheapest way to move around towns and cities is, without doubt, to use the local bus network.
Most inner-city journeys cost between 50 piastras and 1 SDG, depending on where the bus is heading and where you catch it from. In general, buses are more expensive if you catch them from a terminal point than if you catch them in the middle of the route.
Don't confuse the city bus with the minibus, which looks more like a van. The minibus runs along many of the same routes that the ordinary bus does, but generally costs twice as much. You might want to take a minibus, for example, if the route you are travelling along is particularly busy and all the ordinary buses are full. Moreover, minibuses sometimes serve destinations that ordinary buses do not.
At first glance, the thought of navigating the chaotic and noisy bus system can be more than a little daunting. Few non-Sudanese use the bus system, preferring instead to travel by private vehicle or taxi. But it really is worth spending a little time to learn how the buses work, especially if you are going to be in the country for a while. It is an excellent way of seeing local life and will save you a great deal of money in the long run.
There are now a few official bus stops in the country, usually identified by a signpost that bears the symbol of a bus. Drivers will stop pretty much anywhere, but they are more likely to pick you up if you wait at one of these official bus stops or at one of the many unofficial congregation points where people tend to wait for the bus.
To catch a bus, simply flag it down at a convenient point and hop on, making sure that they are in a place where the bus driver can safely stop. Hand signals from the bus conductor indicate the direction in which the bus is heading, and allow the passengers to communicate their wishes (see box on p88). You can also guess at the direction in which a bus is heading by listening to the string of Arabic names that are blurted out, very quickly, by the conductor.
To request a stop, simply click your fingers or make a hissing noise through your teeth.
BoksisThe boksi is a pick-up truck where seats have been added for passengers at the back. There will usually be two rows of seats facing one another, enclosed in a kind of metal cage.
The boksi used to be very popular in Khartoum, but the government has now banned its use within the city, although it is still used on Tuti Island. The boksi is much more popular outside of the capital, particularly in the east.
The boksi usually works as a form of shared transportation, where the costs are divided equally between all passengers. Simply sit on the boksi until it has become full, and then it will set off. It is certainly a memorable way in which to travel.
Taxis and amjads
Taxis and amjads are the most convenient way of travelling around cities if you don’t have your own vehicle, although they are also the most expensive. Taxis are usually yellow and look fairly beaten-up. Amjads are nondescript vans — most commonly blue or white, although they can be any colour.
To hail either a taxi or an amjad, simply raise your hand and indicate the way that you want to go. It is a good idea, and often cheaper, to hail a taxi or amjad that is already going in the direction in which you want to head.
Insistent beeping from an amjad or taxi often means that they are free and touting for customers.
Foreigners may have to fight over the price. It is a good idea to negotiate your fee before you get into the vehicle. However, if you are certain of the price for a particular route, you can just hand over the correct money when you get off. Since the driver may question the price that you think you ought to pay, it helps to go armed with some choice Arabic expressions. 'Ana tawalee bedfa'a...' (`I always pay...´) is a good one to use.
If a taxi or amjad driver gets aggressive about how much he thinks you should pay, be firm. In the North, you should rarely pay more than 10 SDG for travelling to most places within a city.
In general, amjad drivers charge less than taxi drivers do.
Most of the motor rickshaws that rattle down city streets are imported from India. They are usually yellow in colour, and can seat two people comfortably in the back. Three can fit only with a bit of a squeeze.
Rickshaws are great for travelling short distances. Most journeys should cost between 3-5 SDG. On certain streets, you will also find shared rickshaws, which charge 50 piastras for a single journey (usually down streets where there are no buses).
In Khartoum, it is often not possible to take rickshaws between neighbourhoods because of restrictions on where they can travel. Rickshaws cannot, for example, cross Afriqia Street.
Again, as with taxis and amjads, you can either negotiate the price before you get in or just hand over the correct change when you leave.