We met up with the rest of our group at the cafe near the base of Toteel Mountain. A pleasantly arranged set of cafes huddled on large rock formations. Of course coming to Eastern Sudan and not tasting coffee is missing out on oh so much. Neighboring the region that discovered coffee, you better believe coffee culture is serious business around these parts. Many of the ethnic groups Beja (mainly comprised of Beni Amer, Hadandawa and Halanga in addition to a myriad of other smaller tribes) roast, grind and brew their own coffee on the spot. Many carry around with them miniature mortar and pestle in order to grind the beans. Freshness is key.
So we climbed up to the base side cafes and decided to climb further to get a panoramic view of the city. Our climb took us to the Well of Toteel, a ground water aquifer that is recharged by rains, is a famous well. Locals say that if you drink from Toteel’s water you are bound to return. So of course we abided by our hosts request to have a some water in order to ensure our return. Once we soaked up the majestic view of the city and all the way to the empty Gash River basin, we walked down to one of the cafes and ordered some coffe. They really do know how to brew some good coffee. We stayed at the café and watched the sunset, with its vivid streaks of oranges and yellows painting the sky. After which we headed down towards the city to took yet another prominent region of the city.
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Al Sawagi are a series of family owned orchards that line southern end of the city, along side of the Gash River Basin. The orchards extend for miles and grow a multitude of fruits and veggies including the famous Kassala “dotted” bananas. We drove along a 2 story high flood prevention dam that is meant to protect Al Sawagi’s residents from the wrath of the Gash River. Driving along the orchards the air was fresh and clean, and much cooler than the temperatures in the city. We drove to a look out point, overlooking the empty Gash River basin and the mountains in the distance. At sunset, the view was surreal. When looking at the pictures taken at this location. It is as if, my colleagues pictures were photoshoped behind this backdrop.
We hit the souk to get a taste and feel for pulse of the city. At night the souk is more effervescent. The rhythms of cars, vendors, music from shops and the mundane movement of people coalesced melodiously to generate a unique and pleasant soundtrack. The auditory experience was further enhanced by the distinctive smells of spices, coffee, incense and food freshly prepared by street “hawkers”. Each regional city’s central souk has its unique features but Kassala’s souk is a different world. One that not only blends the goods of the colorful ethnic groups in the region but also numerous shops of Kassala’s sizable Indian population. Indians here specialize and are well known for their Sari and textile shops. Most women purchase the Saris and wear them as our traditional Toubs. They are for the most part the same length. We zigzagged through various shops, mingling with the Indian owners to find good bargains. It was a really interesting case study to see how these Indians have assimilated into Sudanese culture. Yet at the same time maintained to retain their distinct Indian heritage. Their connection with their homeland is evident with the numerous Bollywood posters that decorated their shops in addition to pictures of devoted gods. Although walking through the souk and taking in first hand the interesting menagerie of shops and peoples, I quickly grew tired of looking at goods. I bought a few things early on but was obliged to continue through the maze of shops as others with me were still in the process of making purchases. After a long and exciting day, we bid farewell to our hosts who graciously chauffeured us around and showed us some of the best their city had to offer.
Upon our return to our guest house, we were greeted by a peculiarly organized poetry reading session. To be honest we were exhausted at this point, but at the insistence of the owner’s numerous requests, we appeased him by sitting in and listening to some of the poetry. After which we called it a night.