Crossing into Sudan

When I was in Addis Ababa applying for a Sudanese transit visa, I wasn’t sure if I’d get one, since I wasn’t transiting to Egypt as most tourists do. A tourist visa, which costs the same and also takes only 24 hours to process, required a bit more paperwork, and since I wasn’t spending more than 2 weeks in Sudan I didn’t need the 2 month tourist visa. I said I was transiting to Tunisia, since I don’t need a visa to go there, but I still needed a letter from the Tunisian embassy in Addis explaining why I didnt have a Tunisian visa in my passport.

A Nuban wrestling match

A Nuban wrestling match

The rest of my travels in Ethiopia after Addis brought me slowly closer to Sudan, in every respect. I started meeting Sudanese people, eating Sudanese food, and the temperature rose gradually. On my bus nearing the border, I tried to relieve myself from the styfling heat of the back seat by opening a window, but it only felt like I had unleashed 10 hot blowdryers on my face. I regretted not having more time in Ethiopia, but looked forward to returning to a more familiar, English/Arabic speaking place that didn’t have ‘faranji’ screaming, rock-throwing kids (faranji means foreigner, and look out for village children in the Ethiopian countryside who get a kick out of throwing rocks at us!). Still the women were warm, welcoming, colorful and beautiful, and immitated some Somali and Ethiopian trends of facial tattoos and henna-dipped fingers.

a Sufi dervish gathering at Oumdourman cemetery

a Sufi dervish gathering at Oumdourman cemetery

Crossing the land border at Metama/Galabat was a breeze, especially since I met 2 Sudanese men on the way who took it upon themselves to make me their ‘guest’ for all travel, accommodation, food and drinks, especially beers since they warned me it’d be the last cold beers I could have before entering Sudan. It only took 2 buses to reach Khartoum, where the temperature was still above 40°c after sunset. Some things hadn´t changed at all, like the dirt-matted, unreadable paper notes worth fractions of a euro – I managed to rip a 50 Sudanese pound note in half just after managing to exchange a 100 Ethiopian birr note I taped back together at the border.

selling hats

selling hats

The music changed drastically, but I heard that even the conservative Sudanese enjoy the up-beat dancy sounds of Ethiopian music, and better yet, the music videos of the shoulder flapping, torso-jerking, scandalously dressed men and women who make it. Ethiopians were obsessed with Arsenal, the football logo and players plastered on most buses and alot of clothing; in Sudan, the buses were colourfully carpeted, sometimes on the outside too, and Arabic script became the focal art work of any ads or logos. Anglicizing Arabic is always a problem, since there’s no standardized transliteration, so Al Qadarif is the same place as Gedaref, which I was lucky enough to figure out and change buses in the right location.

traditional Sudanese lunch

traditional Sudanese lunch

The roads were better, but the strange cross-traffic didn’t subside. Donkey carriages, cows, sheeps, goats, people, children, cats and rickshaws still seem to jump out onto the road exactly when you need to pass. I thought that Ethiopians had a wide range of skin colour, but the Sudanese people include faces ranging from pale, fair Arab to purply-black South Sudanese.

Couchsurfing in Khartoum was a luxury vacation in itself – I had washed sheets, on a king sized bed, in a room with air conditioning, in an apartment with constant electricity and water. For some reason, rough traveling always makes you crave a real, hot shower, but in Khartoum I would have killed for a cold shower but the water only runs warm, maybe cooling a few degrees only in the early morning hours. There was a lot of water in Khartoum, a place where 3 Niles meet, the Blue and the White Nile flowing into what looks like an Elephant trunk. Still it was dry season, and the dead animals on the side of the road could have died from a car accident or thirst, but it was impossible to tell since all that was left of them were some shriveled hides and hooves. On my little roadtrip to the Meroe pyramids, I saw more exploded tires on the side of the road than I saw cars with tires, but somehow I managed to get there and back without any accident.

at the pyramids in Meroe Royal cemetery, aka Al Ahram near Bajrawiya

at the pyramids in Meroe Royal cemetery, aka Al Ahram near Bajrawiya

An important note to any traveler going to Sudan: Somehow I had met Sudanese people and travelers who had come from Sudan without ever realizing that Sudan is a closed economy. This means there are atm’s, but none that dispense money from international accounts. You cannot get money in (or out – it wasnt possible to exchange it except at the Ethiopian land border) so bring loads of cash. Also know that once you have USD or whatever currency, the exchange rate is more than double that of the official rate. You are also meant to register within 3 days of arriving in the country, which is another fee and passport stamp, but I didn’t do it since I had a transit visa. I managed to get out that way. I also traveled without a travel permit (which is supposedly required to any foreigner traveling outside of Khartoum) to the pyramids, but that maybe worked only because I went with public transport. From Khartoum you take a bus to Shendi and change for a bus to Atbara, or you take a bus directly to Atbara, but you jump out 30 km after Shendi at a place referred to as Bajrawiya. I didnt really see a village there, and people dont know what ‘Al Ahram’ (‘pyramids’) might be, and Meroe is also the same pronounciation of Merowe, a town 3 hours further north of Atbara (dont end up there by accident!). But you can actually see the pyramids from the road, so just ask to jump out there and then walk the half km across an open desert until you see alot of boys on camels come running at you, and then you’ll know youre in the right place!

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Photo Highlights: Food and Drink in Ethiopia and Sudan

It’s hard to remember everything I’ve done or where I’ve been, but the food has been a memorable part of this trip. Eating only with your right hand and drinking coffees while being choked out by burning incense has become a daily affair, and the places and people I’ve shared these moments with are just as unforgettable.

the street kids in Hirna, Ethiopia, offer to share their dinner

the street kids in Hirna offer to share their dinner

a local coffee shop in Old Harar, and two of my new travel buddies

a local coffee shop in Old Harar, and two of my new travel buddies

morning coffee in Bahir Dar

morning coffee in Bahir Dar

a typical injera spread

a typical injera spread

sharing some injera and shiro with our hotel cook

sharing some injera and shiro with our hotel cook

a fried fish lunch, fresh from Lake Tana

a fried fish lunch, fresh from Lake Tana

a woman prepares her incense at her open-air coffee 'shop'

a woman prepares her incense at her open-air coffee ‘shop’

Sudanese ful, a fava bean concoction eaten with bread

Sudanese ful, a fava bean concoction eaten with bread

a coffee ceremony in Khartoum after a traditional Sudanese lunch

a coffee ceremony in Khartoum after a traditional Sudanese lunch

Street food in Sudan: fried and sugar coated donuts

Street food in Sudan: fried and sugar coated donuts

my couchsurf host in Khartoum prepared raspberry pancakes and french-pressed Ethiopian coffee

my couchsurf host in Khartoum prepared raspberry pancakes and french-pressed Ethiopian coffee

Ethiopia, a small detour from the Middle East

Besides being one of Africa’s largest countries, second only to Algeria I think, Ethiopia was also a complete diversion to my Arabic/Muslim themed journey. Filled with Orthodox churches and a very active Christian community, Jewish Ethiopians also consider themselves ‘Beta’ Israel. I was confronted with an unfamiliar language and an undecipherable alphabet; I felt like I had crossed a new frontier into an unknown world, yet thrilled to be in Africa again. Each corner of Ethiopia had a different Africa – the far east is filled with Somali Muslims, the south to West with big mountains and big game animal parks, the northwest bridging into Sudanese desert plains, the Egyptian influenced north, and the northeast blocking out their most familiar African brothers in Eritrea. There were highlands, lowlands, active volcanoes and lakes, making even the climate different in each area. I woke up my first morning in Ethiopia to the sound of birds singing and opened my eyes to a tree filled with purple flowers, the first time in a long time that either had happened.

Blue Nile Falls

Blue Nile Falls

I could easily have spent 3 months just traveling in Ethiopia, and still I’m not sure I could have reached all those places. The distances between spaces are never ending, and filled with little villages in between to stop and visit, so one could make dozens of destinations out of every journey and I’m not sure where the road could end. Its possible to travel in circles or take a different route back, and public transport and hitchhiking are cheap and easy… but very slow. English was less common, Arabic useful only close to Somalia, and the Amharic language was difficult to absorb, especially in written form. I managed to finally memorize ‘thanks,’ the 6 syllable word ‘amasakanalo,’ and a few numbers, but charades got me a lot further.

a lone papyrus boat fishing on Lake Tana

a lone papyrus boat fishing on Lake Tana

My travel route was from Wajaale, on the Somaliland border, to Jigjiga, the capital of the Somali speaking province in the east, and onto Harar, considered by some the 4th most holy city in Islam. It has a walled old town filled with windy pedestrian alleys, and strangely enough a high concentration of pubs and Harar beer consumption. The local tourist attractions include feeding wild hyenas after sunset and visiting the livestock/camel market where locals expect you to pay an entrance unless you’re really there to buy a goat or something. I met a handful of other travelers there, who always seemed to be coming from or going to the same places, and the degrees of separation between me and Ethiopian couchsurfers or even a traveler I met in Jordan was never more than one.

the Holy Trinity Orthodox cathedral in Addis

the Holy Trinity Orthodox cathedral in Addis

I traveled some days with a Belgian woman named Debbie, and together we left Harar and visited the little village of Hirna, where a Canadian raised Ethiopian Somali girl greeted us in perfect English. We carried onto Awash Saba and shared our hotel with another traveler from France, who hitchhiked a semi-truck with us to Adama. I carried onto Addis where I couchsurfed with a French guy from Cote d’Ivoire who liked to Salsa dance, and managed to get a visa from both the Sudanese and Saudi Arabian embassies.

hand feeding hyenas

hand feeding hyenas

To go south seemed a little unsafe and the north seemed too far away, so I went to Lake Tana in the mid-west of Ethiopia. Bahir Dar wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped, but a boat tour on the hippo-filled lake to some island monasteries was a highlight. On the northside of the lake was the car-less, chicken-filled village of Gorgora, where a Dutch woman has opened the most serene, idyllic tourist retreat called Tim and Kim village. I ‘camped’ there by tying my hammock in some trees before carrying onto nearby Gondar. It was a lovely, hill-perched town, with a UNESCO site of six castles, and my gateway to the Sudan border. It was tempting to stay a little longer in Ethiopia, carry onto the more touristy places in Axum or Lalibella, but its also nice to save something for next time, especially since I was smart enough to get a multi-entry Ethiopian visa.

There’s Something about Somaliland

I could have flown from Djibouti to Somaliland, but I had heard a rumor that the Somalian airline Jubba Airways uses old, refitted livestock transport planes to transport their current human passengers… and that they’re flights are notorious for being delayed or cancelled, so I decided because of the latter to go overland. It was a little over 400km, and all I knew was that the journey would take a whole night and the mode of public transport was (outdated) 4×4 Toyota Landcruisers. In the end it took nearly 19 hours and the road there was merely a sand track repeatedly followed by the same Landcruisers, but their tires had no traction and a little bit of rain had caused 3 to get stuck on the way.

The border sold Somaliland visas on arrival, but I had had mine from the embassy. The other 5 passengers in my vehicle were either Somali or Djiboutian, and they needed a visa too, which 4 refused to pay for. Instead of turning them back, we (I didn’t realize I was innocent and free to move) were held at gun point (one was foot-cuffed) to see how long it would take them to give in and pay. In the end we waited more than 3 hours and only 2 out of 4 paid, but somehow 3 out of 4 made it through and Im still wondering what happened to that last guy.

the cornerstore

the cornerstore

Arriving into Hargeisa was an anti-climactic relief. The roads hadn’t really improved, just hardened and gotten dustier, and getting local money meant bag fulls of notes worth between $0.07 and $0.70 (there weren’t larger bills or any atm’s – could you even imagine withdrawing $100 from one?). Besides breaking my back being jostled around for a whole night, the Somali music had kept my spirits up, and I was happy to see some live music and eat local food at a cultural village my first night. We ate goat and camel while sitting on goatskins, but I wondered what the fat-tailed sheep might taste like or how the hyde would look with their tails flattened.

At first sight, Hargeisa had taken me back to a super conservative, Islamic place, where some women covered even their hands in gloves and girls years younger than puberty had already started covering their hair (and it was around 40°c). Covering was a nuisance in such heat, but its camoflauging ability wasn’t worth abandoning. Instead of a Holy Bible in the drawer like a typical American motel, prayer mats were provided at all hotels. Alcohol and pork disappeared, though I hadn’t really noticed it in Djibouti even though I thought I missed them, and the calls to prayer got louder and closer no matter where I was. Courtships between men and women were very discreet, with walled VIP rooms, private tents, or separation partitions set up between tables at restaurants so that no one could see who’s dating who. At least the women here were allowed to go out alone with their romantic interests, and they seemed to enjoy more colourful clothing and henna tattooing than their gulf country counterparts. Still many men had multiple wives but not as many marriages were arranged as in Oman.

a woman waits for a bus at a gas station

a woman waits for a bus at a gas station

I managed to make it to Hargeisa and onwards to Berbera and back without hiring an armed guard. It didn’t seem to matter I you were covered and took a local bus, but I took a private car once and the guard in the next private car behind us had to pretend to take responsibility of me to get me through the regular checkpoints, turning a 1.5 hr drive into twice as long (even though the road was paved!). We often slowed for goats crossing or dodged a camel, and every village let their livestock roam free and only fenced in their trees to keep them alive.

It’s easy to get tired of this kind of travel: it’s slow, dirty, hot, and long, but the rewards become much simpler. The payoffs weren’t any major tourist attractions or natural wonders; they’re just simple luxuries like taking a normal shower (vs. bucket shower or cold water hose) or finding wifi and some cold water to drink. Someone explained that Somalilanders think cold liquids aren’t good for you, so they don’t refrigerate much or use ice. However, they go all out on telecommunications, with cell phone service and 4g available even in the littlest shacks and faraway places.

checkpoint

checkpoint

I left Somaliland with a tummy at war, disgustingly sick from an unboiled cup of coffee, but the memories of Berbera’s coast and endless beach still made it worth it (they happened on the same day). Las Geels ancient rock art on the road between Berbera and Hargeisa was also interesting, although it could be a lot better managed for the $25 entry the guard either pockets or you pay at the tourism office in Hargeisa. But that won’t happen until more people start traveling to Somaliland, so I encourage anyone with a different taste in tourism and a sense of overlanding adventure to try it soon. At the moment it’s the safest, most peaceful part of disjointed Somalia, but you never know how long that will last!

Overlanding between Djibouti, Somaliland and Ethiopia

When I was researching a trip around the horn of Africa, information was hard to find, and all outdated. Google, Lonely Planet and most other travel guides didn’t offer much help, since I needed to find out if and how it was possible to get visas and cross land borders. After a few weeks of traveling these routes, here’s what I found out, but keep in mind this might only stay relevant for a few months.

I started in Djibouti and traveled overland first across the Loyada border into Somaliland, then from Hargeisa to Ethiopia via the Wajaale border. In Djibouti, there is a Somilland embassy (between the Sheraton Hotel and Ethiopian Embassy) that issues single entry visas in 24 hours for $31USD (payable in local Djibouti francs), but the Somaliland land border with Djbouti also offers the visa on arrival for the same price and it only takes a few minutes. The actual crossing may take a lot longer since even Somalis and Djiboutis need the Somaliland visa, and they like to refuse to pay and be detained by an armed guard for hours until someone gives in (either they pay or they get let off in each situation).

the Loyada border between Djibouti and Somaliland

the Loyada border between Djibouti and Somaliland

There’s an Ethiopian Embassy in Djibouti that gives single or multiple entry visas within 24 hours, and you must have it before traveling overland to Ethiopia. In Hargeisa, there is neither a Djibouti or Ethiopian embassy, so if you enter Somaliland without getting your visas first in Djibouti or Addis, you wont be able to leave unless you fly out of Hargeisa.

As for the actual travel, Djibouti to the Somaliland border is less than an hours drive, but its possible to buy a ticket (from some khat dealers and money changers on 26th street close to the police station) from Djiboutiville to Hargeisa. You show up between 2:30 and 3:30, and a beat up old truck leaves around 4 with 6 passengers and some cargo, drops you at the border, and a Somaliland Land Cruiser takes over the load. Then you wait hours for the border process (I was accidentally grouped in with my fellow detained non-visa holding passengers before I realized I could leave the guy with a gun and sit more peacefully by the shops selling cold drinks and some home-made food from make shift tents) to finish, and continue overnight along a bumpy 400km+ sand track (its hardly a road) which takes more than 12 hours. We had to rescue 3 other land cruisers who had gotten stuck in the sand, and near the end of the trip, when a proper gravel road appeared, we had to dodge alot of road kill – a dead donkey, dead camels, and an entire family of dead cows.

our overnight landcruiser to Hargeisa

our overnight landcruiser to Hargeisa

Then you’ve reached Hargeisa, Somalilands capital, whose city center roads are still nothing less than bumpy dirt tracks. Dust gets blown on you and everybody and everything all the time, but there is a decent paved road going north (to Berbera 150km) and south to Wajaale, the Ethopian border. Its a $5USD bus trip, 100km in under 2 hours, and the border was a bit easier to pass, although the immigration offices were well hidden among the other shops and shacks along the road. From Wajaale, you can travel to Jigjiga and onto Harar within the same day, budget another 3 hours and $3 for each bus (less than 100 birr).

Doing the trip the other way, Somaliland – Djibouti – Ethiopia, remember you must first have a Djiboutian visa or fly into Djibouti from Somaliland. Then there is a direct bus between Djiboutiville and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia (very close to Harar) which travels either early morning or late afternoon and takes all day or all night. I saw the ticket office somewhere on the south end of town on a main street, but don’t know the street name (they’re usually not marked in Djiboutiville, but asking around led me quickly to the place).

If you’re flying in or out of these countries, Ethiopia offers a visa on arrival in Addis Ababa airport, but only a 1 month single entry visa (around $50USD). Getting a multiple entry visa is only possibly in an embassy outside of Ethiopia prior to your arrival, or extending your visa once you’ve arrived. Djibouti, like on the land borders, also offers a visa on arrival for international flights. It costs $6o for a 3 day transit visa, and $90 for a week or more tourist visa. I’m still unsure about the Hargeisa International airport in Somaliland, but it seems flights (i.e. Jubba airways) are usually delayed or cancelled going in or out, there isn’t a mandatory exchange of $50 USD upon arrival or a departure tax, but it also seems the visa on arrival may not be available but in theory it should be.

If you’re interested in traveling to any other nearby countries, keep in mind the land borders between Ethiopia and Eritrea and Djibouti and Eritrea are currently impassable. There is no Eritrean embassy in Djibouti (its been closed for years despite information online saying there is one), Ethiopia or Somaliland, and the only way I’ve heard of people traveling overland is through the Sudan-Eritrea land border. Only Italians and Sudanese can travel visa free to Eritrea, but getting a visa would be hard anywhere in Africa (Europe is a better bet). Traveling south from Somaliland to Puntland or Somalia doesn’t seem easy either, especially since you need a Somalian visa to get out of Somaliland but there’s not Somalian embassy in Hargeisa. Although you used to be able to buy a Somalian passport in Somaliland for $60-75USD!

Djibouti: Somewhere between the Middle East and Africa

I reluctantly left Oman a few hours into my birthday, traveled overnight through Addis Ababa, and landed in Djibouti with an extra visitor, some birthday champagne, roses and cake. I couldn’t have imagined a better welcome or continuation to the day, but there it was. The next 2 days were spent indulgently at the Sheraton hotel, with French and South African wines and buffet breakfasts like nothing I had seen in the Middle East. It was hot, too hot, so doing nothing and laying pool or beachside in the shade were big-energy accomplishments.

the quietness of a hot afternoon in downtown Djibouti

the quietness of a hot afternoon in downtown Djibouti

After a few days of Gulf decompression, I swung into some East African vibes. Local delicacies were Ethiopian dishes and fatirah, a type of roti bread cooked up with tomato, onion, meat, and egg. Since Djibouti has a large French presence (military, air force and navy base), French delights were overflowing: real croissants and baguettes, crepe Nutella, and freshly toasted Paninis.

Tadjourah coast

Tadjourah coast

As far as traveling goes, the guide books seemed to discourage solo-backpacking, and the local ex-pat community have do-it-yourself kind of adventures only on the weekend, so taking public buses to any of the beautiful nature sights or renting a private 4×4 wasn’t possible. But there is Lake Abbe, a kind of African Dead Sea, the 3rd lowest in the world, and Lake Assal, also hyper-salted, and a bunch of pristine untouched coast to camp on. I ferried across the bay to Tadjourah, only to see a few sheep, fishing boats and a city of 7 mosques.

humble little mosques, but still just as loud

humble little mosques, but still just as loud

The ancestors of most Djiboutians are similar to those in surrounding Somalia, Somaliland and Somalian Ethiopia, and it’s hard to place your finger on these Africans who aren’t really Africans, not quite Arabs, but an ancient mix of the two, with only a small bit of sea separating this eastern horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf of Aden is still traversed for trade and travel, since the supply of camels in the peninsula is heavily dependent on Somali export, as well as their funny looking, fat-tailed goats. At the moment there’s a bit less movement because of Yemen’s status, but 20 minute flights and passenger ferries also used to shuttle people around. It’s amazing that history can keep repeating itself, but hopefully everything will return back to normal once peace is restored, which is the way things usually turn out after turmoil in the arab world… Inshallah.

Themes of the Middle East

I´ve gotten used to a few things after traveling some months in the Middle East. Starting in Lebanon and moving south to the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula in Oman, I now find myself in Arabic Africa, and a lot of familiarities have remained the same.

  1. Islam and the calls to prayer: Without fail, there is always a mosque within sight, a towering minaret hovering over a little village, or a humble little minaret peering between highrises. If you don’t see a mosque, then you most certainly will hear one, during one of their 5 calls to prayer every day, starting before dawn and ending after sunset. The mosques never seem to be in sync either, so during each prayer time the calls echo from street to street or in each neighbourhood a few minutes apart.
  2. Lack of alcohol and pork: Depending on the conservatism of each country, alcohol is either completely illegal, only available with a personal purchasing license, or only sold through western hotels. Pork was just as rare, since its very haraam (forbidden) for Muslims. In Kuwait and Somaliland, you can get hefty fines or even jail time for having a drink. Only in Lebanon, Jordan and Bahrain was alcohol and pork available to anyone (or sometimes only non-Muslims), but still not easy to find.
  3. Cheap gas: the price of gas was a fraction of what it is in Europe, and even more than half the price of North America’s cheap prices. You could fill a sports car with premium gas for $15, or pay only 32 euro cents for a liter of regular gas.
  4. Car friendly, pedestrian hating mobility: Side walks are nearly non-existent, and walking anywhere is weird, since the cities have been built for car traffic or those moving without cars are assumed to be of lower class or less money. Even buses were rare, since public transport would also mean the same, and everyone who’s anyone should be able to afford a car and the cheap gas. This causes a lot of traffic, round-abouts, impassable highways and crazy drivers. And it doesn’t help that they like to drive oversized American SUV’s and Japanese Land Cruisers as if they were in an Aston Martin (this comment applies mainly to Saudi drivers).
  5. Security, Security: The middle east is just as paranoid of terrorism as any European or North American place (if not more), and random searches, road blocks and checkpoints are a regularity. Passing through airport security as a woman was a little less hassling, since we don’t have to strip down to our socks and undershirts, but a handheld metal detector may still scans us before entering a mosque or supermarket. In Somaliland, you need to hire an armed military guard to accompany you on any trips outside of the city capital, Hargeisa.
  6. Endless Construction: Oil money has poured into the Gulf countries, very recently, quickly, and heavily, and its like they don’t know what to do with it other than build and develop. In Kuwait they regularly build something just to rebuild or redesign it, and some can’t build without destroying something first so these places are in a constant dusty state of being torn down and built up. And I mean up, up, up into the sky, sky scrapers that compete to be the tallest in the world. And the places they tear down sometimes have to be cleared to prepare the lot, so rubble is driven out of the city and in Qatar, they’re literally building a mountain out of it.
  7. Over-Perfuming: People literally cover themselves in perfume, and its not just eau de toilette, but ‘oud’, a kind of oil de toilette, so it lingers longer and stronger. It can be suffocating, for the entire time theyre near to you, and even if they’re walking past, a scent will linger, floating behind them for a few metres.
  8. Socializing alone or at home: If it wasn’t for the shisha bars and Starbucks, people would probably just stay at home sending whatsapp messages, both texts and voice recordings, all day long. For those who don’t smoke or have had enough coffee for the day, alot of socialising happens in the privacy of peoples homes. You can order in food, stay comfortably dressed, and hang out with the gays or women that dont seem to show face in the public sphere alone. Since alcohol is a no go, board games are a sort of social elixir, the in thing to do with a bunch of nerds who prefer it to watching any more television (we watch a lot of flat screens and big screens around here).
  9. Fashion: The men wear perfectly pressed, angelic white robes (dishdasha or thawb), with matching head scarves (gutra) crowned with a black rope thingy (ogal). The names change from place to place, as well as the colours (the robes can be shades of beige or grey and the scarves red or black checkered), but its always impressive to see how they flip and fold the ends of their traingular head scarf as if it were an extension of themself, like a head of hair to a woman. Then the women, wear a similar robe but more like a cloak, and usually black, called an abaya. Then they wrap their heads in a hijab, some cover their face below the eyes (a burka), some wear a sort of Zorro mask around their eyes (a nikab), and then there’s those who just drape their whole face with a sheer black sheet so they look like black ghosts floating around from far away. Things started to get a little bit more colourful for the women in the Emirates, and especially Oman, but nothing beats the African Muslim wear of a trillion bright colours adoring their dark, henna-tattooed skin.