Arriving by rail at Khartoum on the Nile preparing to board a steamer south; this segment and the next two might be considered the fulfillment of Hayes Perkins’ lifelong ambitions.
January 1,1914 – January 4, 1914
At Port Sudan, Brits run the town; Germans run the hotel: “These people are ubiquitous in hotel life all over the East, a key position to give them the opportunity for information they relay to their home government. Why one wonders, but Germany aspires to be next top dog for world power.” Egyptians and Syrians hold the minor bureaucratic positions. Nubian Sudanese hold the rifles and “It is easy to see they like their jobs, take real pride in keeping to the scratch.” Arabs and Hadendowas (sic) populate the town. Moslem pilgrims streaming through Port Sudan on Haj toward Mecca find a detention barracks surrounded by “barbed and panel wire entanglements,” rather than a German hotelier. Pilgrims “rest” at the detention center on quarantine against plague.
Customs officials sent Hayes through a maze of red tape appropriating his “fine Savage rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition” to the Sudanese government. He claims they charged him for wearing his fine London clothes through customs as well. “But that is ancient history now [one day later], and we will forget it.”
The slow train climbing the mountain Range to Sinkat captured Hayes’ imagination just as it had Rudyard Kipling’s “because of the wars fought in its vicinity, when Dervish battled Briton and Fuzzy-Wuzzy contested with warrior Hybernians(sic) in a manner they both loved.”
In 1914, Sinkat had become “a peaceful little station” through which “Arab and Sudanese Negro” pilgrims continued their “two or four year” struggle “across the vast plains of the far Soudan (sic) from Sokoto and Kano or from far Dakar and Djenne.” Hayes can almost understand the long trek for the male pilgrim who “obtains merit in the sight of Allah that endures for all eternity.” The women though; “some authorities say she has no soul.” Hayes sees her following her man, “trusting in the protection of Allah to save her from the dangers of the way.… With no hope of Heaven and doomed to slavish toil in this world, life holds little for her.”
During the night Hayes’ train descended the mountains onto “a sprawling yellow plain seemingly without end,” as a thin line of green gradually resolved into trees along the now-dry Atbara River. At the town of Atbara, Hayes got his first look at the Nile. It was the time of “low Nile” and the local residents were sowing grain “getting quick results in the rich soil of the river silt, sub-irrigated by the filtering water.” Despite the grains, “one wonders how all these people lived, for there are vast ruins here.” At Memroe, he sees “pyramids, ruined temples and even cliff dwellings.”
“Khartoum! How often have I looked on the map and wondered what this city might be like, little thinking I would ever reach it.” [Stories of Charles George Gordon and the The Mahdist siege of Kartoum of 1884-1885 had fired the imagination of a young Hayes living on the Coquille River, Oregon igniting his lifelong fascination with the African continent.] Another German hotel keeper let Hayes a “clean and ample” room where he sat on the roof overlooking the white houses amidst waving green palm fronds just as Gordon sat brooding on the roof of his palace overlooking Khartoum watching his diversion of the Nile, the city’s only defense against the overwhelming force of the Mahdists, dwindle into the desert sands.
“When the British retook this city from the Dervishes [in 1898], it lay in ruins. The zealous disciples of the Prophet abhorred anything pertaining to the Infidel, so moved the few remaining people across the White Nile to Omdurman.” But, “Khartoum is a surprise. In the fifteen years since the night of Mahdism has been dispelled a modern city has been created.” Hayes admires the British efficiency: streets at right angles, a zoo of native animals, trees planted at regular intervals, and “a wide avenue border[ing] on the high bank of the Blue Nile.”
The two great rivers, the chalky White Nile and the transparent Blue Nile meet at Khartoum whose name Hayes says “signifies ‘proboscis’ or the trunk of an elephant. And it is like that, a long cape dividing the two rivers, each keeping to its own shore far down river, refusing to mingle until compelled by swiftwater below.” By comparison to other rivers Hayes has seen, “The Niles have none of the lilt and swing of the Yukon nor the sparkling blue of the St. Lawrence. They are patient plodding rivers, uniting their forces here for a common purpose, that to conquer the desert.”
In early 1914, Hayes, nearly 36, has been traveling the hard avenues of the world for more than 20 years with one of the great disappointments of his life looming ahead at the Heart of Africa Mission in the Congo with C.T. Studd. It’s nice to read at khartoum a little of the wonder of the ten year-old boy who fell in love with Africa on the south coast of Oregon. He says of Khartoum: “There is an air of enchantment and mystery about it all.”