Surrounding Kassala are lush gardens and farmland, the ideal place for a picnic if you happen to know any of the landowners...I do, as many of my students live there! OK, so there isn't much to do, but the people there will be very pleased to show you guava and mango trees, and to roast coffee beans on makeshift fires for you...at least that's what...more
Khatmiya, in the shadows of Taqa, Totil and Aweitila mountains, is the oldest area of Kassala. The main sight for tourists is the Khatmiya mosque, which is one of the few in Sudan that allows non-Muslims to enter. It might be best to go with a local guide though, not least because they can inform you of the story behind the damaged mosque. Inside...more
As you arrive in Kassala, you can't fail to see the weird shaped mountains sticking up out of nowhere. From left to right, you have Taka, Totil and Aweitila, as well as a smaller but still impressive one in the north called Mukram. One of the favourite things to do in Kassala is to head to Totil late afternoon and watch the sun set while sipping...more
Kassala is renowned for its souq which attracts villagers from all over the state as well as the odd tourist or two. You'll find almost anything here, but usually not the very thing you're looking for! Kassala's souq is different from other markets in the country, as you can see the mix of tribes as you wander round the many alleys of stalls. As I...more
If you would like to see what the British did for Kassala, then hop on a bus to Banat and get off at Souq Gharb al-Gash. Look left and you'll see train tracks, a few rusting tains, and an impessive brick-built station. Sadly, the railway no longer connects Kassala to the world, but you can wander round the buildings freely. Near the station is a...more
On the west bank of the Gash, past the university, is souq Gharb al-Gash, or the Wstern Gash Maket. Primarily for locals, this is where I do food shopping. It is quite a lively place, with fruit and vegetables everywhere, fresh from as-Sawagi. Many of the traders are Hausa, originally from Nigeria. As the story goes, a group of Hausa pilgrims made...more
The word "chicha" should never be confused with hashish...chicha is the Sudanese term for nargileh/hookah/hubble bubble pipe that is so popular all over the Middle East. On a chicha, only normal or fruit flavoured tobacco is used...if you are after hashish (and you shouldn't be), it goes under the name "bongo". Chicha smoking has taken off in...more
Kassala has been compared to Paris by a very optimistic traveller due to its cafe culture. Well, there are certainly many places to drink coffee, although not really many proper cafes. Most are men only, and a foreign woman is likely to cause quite a stir...that's not to say you shouldn't go, just don't go on your own, and be prepared to be stared...more
In one of Kassala's markets is a special section for buying sheep and goats. Immediately next door is a man with a rather sharp knife, and next door to him is a restaurant where the flesh is torn off the still warm carcass and fried in front of you. Not for vegetarians or the squeamish, and even meat eaters might have second thoughts, but this is...more
You might spot women or children sitting in strategic places around Kassala next to what looks like a cool-box (usually bright orange with a white lid). They sell "ice cream", which is actually what we'd call ice-pops in Britain...frozen fruit juice in long thin plastic bags. S£100 (SD10) will buy you an ice, complete with a scrap of paper to catch...more
A number of places serve baklava and other Syrian sweets...the best for my money are At-Tabag As-Souri (mentioned above) and Kassala Sweets, on the road to the bridges over the Gash. Half a kilo of these sickly sweet sticky pastries costs around S£2000, and you can choose to eat in at the At-Tabag As-Souri if you so wish. Buying halawiyaat, as they...more
Close to the Bashair and Toteel Hotels are two excellent fuul stalls. The owners vie with each other to make this unappetizing-looking dish more exciting by adding spices, garlic and other sauces on top of the standard cheese and oil. Eating a bowl of hot fuul with fresh bread at a roadside table can be a great experience...at other times, it can...more
HAHAHAHA...nightlife in Kassala?!!! You must be joking! Well, actually, that's not quite true, but there isn't much to do if you don't know anyone. One option is the open-air cinema, which shows heavily-edited Bollywood films subtitled in Arabic...obviously if you cannot read Arabic quick enough and your Hindi needs brushing up, the film itself will be of limited enjoyment, but watching the audience is quite amusing...they boo and cheer at all the right moments, and when the film is cut at that vital moment, all sorts of obscenities and gestures are aimed at the projector! Hindi films tend to be long...count on three hours at least, a long time to sit on metal chairs (although there are a few more comfy chairs in the balcony, you'll still get ridges on your bottom). Apart form the cinema, you cna drink coffee in the market, or go to one of the clubs...you are supposed to be a member, but usually a foreign guest is welcomed without question. Of course all of this is for men only, as any good woman should be firmly tucked away in the kitchen or the bedroom after sunset...but as a foreign woman, you'll have a bit of tolerance, even if you might not feel all that comfortable in the cinema as the only woman in sight. STOP PRESS: The cinema has now been repaired, and still shows Indian films every night (look out for the billboards in the bus station to find out what's showing). Good news for female travellers is that Kassala's first mixed cinema has opened in the Osman Digna park...again, only Indian films are shown, but you can't have everything...
Dress Code: Wear whatever you want to (not too outrageous), but in certain months you'll regret it if you forget your mosquito repellent.
Unfortunately the border between Eritrea and Sudan is firmly closed at the moment. In October 2002, there were attacks on the Kassala area (including the Sawagi) by Sudanese rebels based in Eritrea's mountains, and since then there have been periodic skirmishes along the border. To add to that, the closest town in Eritrea, a place called Tessenei,...more
The only way to get around Kassala, if you don't want to walk, is by a motley assortment of local buses, collectively known as muwaasilaat (transport). The important bus routes to know are Khatmiya (to get to old Khatmiya and the mountains), Banat (for the Gash River, University HQ, Sikka Hadeed and Souq Gharb el-Gash) and the special buses for...more
From Khartoum, head to Souk ash-Sha'abi where you'll find all the buses and ticket offices waiting for a silly khawaja like you to come along so they can try to rip you off. Buses to Kassala generally run in the mornings...the last bus leaves around midday because it is illegal to enter Kassala under darkness (after 7 or 8pm). The journey takes 8-9...more
Kassala is not the ideal place to buy clothes, but if you need any, you will certainly not have a hard time finding a shop selling some. Half of the souq is geared up for clothes imported from Syria, China or Kenya. Each type of clothes has its own little corner...shirts and jeans, jellabiyyas and waistcoats, skullcaps, headscarves and tobes...more
The Rashaida tribe have very different clothes on offer at their own market near the hospital. Clothes are made locally, often in the shops themselves, and the best time to buy is early morning when the Rashaida are in town. Be warned though, that you will attract a lot of attention from just being in the Rashaida souq, so you might want to take a...more
The women's market is the place to shop for all your coffee needs, although all the sellers seem to be men! Basically, it is a few short streets lined with stalls selling coffee pots and other things generaly associated with women (make-up, incense, etc...).It is sort of hard to describe how to find it, but if you ever come to Kassala, I can show...more
Two famous coffee-drinking tribes of the east, the Haddendawa and Beni Amir are part of the large Beja family of tribes, and are widespread in Eastern Sudan and Eritrea (where they are known as Hedareb), along with the lesser known Halanga tribe. Now, I know several Hadendawa males (my room-mate is one) and know that their traditional dress is a...more
Another surprise for visitors is the fairly large Indian community in Kassala. The most profitable businesses in the souq are Indian-owned, and they have their own school in the very centre of Kassala, right in the bus station. The Indians are most visible along "Police Street" where they have an unofficial "quarter", and on Fridays it isn't...more
Another West African tribe to find its way to Kassala, the Fulani, or Felati as they call themselves here, originally came from Mali in much the same way as the Hausa...after visiting Mecca, they decided to settle in Kassala on the way back. The Hausa and Felati are often confused by Kassalawis, but although they share some similarities (they tend...more
Kassala is not a great place to fall sick! There is no shortage of hospitals in town, although facilities are somewhat basic. For simple things like diarrhoea or colds, head to a pharmacy (saydaliya), as the pharmacists are used to dealing with these problems and should have the pills to solve them. Pills in Sudan are often handed out without...more
Hopefully, the only time you'll meet with these plain-clothed police is as you enter Kassala...if your documents are in order, they wil cause no problems.Once in Kassala, you should be aware that there are many istikhbarat on the streets, looking out for any odd behaviour...usually their interest is in locals, but foreigners do not escape their...more
Over by Mukram Mountain is a neighbourhood known as Ashwaa'i, which means "random" when roughly translated. It is an area of mud huts, barking dogs and figures lurking in shadows, and is known locally as a place to find alcohol and women. The inhabitants are mainly internally displaced persons from other parts of Sudan, desperately poor but on the...more
Walking through as-Sawagi, you might come across big clumps of mud and rock which look as if they are just part of the land. On closer inspection, you realise that they are actually termite houses. My Kassalan friends were non-plussed, but having never seen one before, I was quite impressed! They are incredibly solid, and it is hard to believe that...more
A weird sight in Kassala is the symmetrical palm tree. Tall and thin trunks, completely bare, reach great heights before splitting into two, then splitting again, topped off with green leaves. If you look out of the bus as you pass the large cemetery on the way to Khatmiya, you'll see a number of these trees, some looking like candle holders...I...more
OK, before I start, I will say that Areba is not a tourist destination by any standards. It isn't even nice to look at. Areba is the tax-collection point for goods bypassing Kassala on their way to or from the Red Sea. So it is a big lorry park, with truckers' caffs and a ramshackle collection of stalls selling all sorts of things you don't want....more
Running in Kassala is possible, but not an easy pursuit. For a start, the weather is just too hot most of the time. Then there is all the attention you'll get...it is bad enough walking in the street as a foreigner, so you can imagine how people will react if you run past them! Sudanese don't often walk...or at least, not if they don't have to...so...more
Not only was Kassala the first Sudanese university to elect its own Students' Union, it was also the first to set up an inter-departmental football league, something which only started this year. Matches take place during the second semester, starting around 5pm (which explains why the 4-6 lecture slot had poor attendance this semester!). It...more
Not being a football fan, this is maybe an odd thing for me to recommend, but in Sudan you go to watch the crowd more than the players! Kassala's stadium is home to two teams...Mirghani and Taka, bitter rivals and nationally fairly good. The football stadium is possibly the only place where I have seen orderly queues...not to buy tickets, as that...more
There used to be internet access at Fayed Technology (look out for the bright lights atop one of the buildings in the bus station, the entrance is between a barbershop and a coffee stall up some rickety stairs), charging a reasonable S£3000 for an excruciatingly slow connection. As the only place in Kassala, this used to get extremely busy, and often we would spend over an hour waiting, only to give up and try again the next night. The problem was that it only ever opened to the public after 8pm, and as buses stop around 9.30, this wasn't exactly practical, especially for women.
Kassala used to share Gedarif's server, but then the national internet company Sudatel decided Kassala should get its own, so increased the charges...Fayed Technology were forced to put their prices up to an astronomical S£18,000 an hour! Of course no one could afford this, so they stopped offering internet altogether. The government of Kassala thought about getting their own server, but they decided in the end that there just wasn't enough demand, so internet stopped altogether.
Fondest memory: Just before the floods however, and organization called Plan Sudan opened an education centre with six high-speed computers, all with internet access! After initial teething problems, the cafe is now up and running, charging S£3000 an hour, with a discounted rate of S£1500 for teachers or students...we have considerable difficulty persuading the owners that we are in fact teachers on a Sudanese wage, and that no, we don't get paid in dollars, but they haven't "seen the light" yet! Plan Sudan gets crowded, especially in the evening, but if you go, you will often meet international aid workers and several of my students, who may just use the opportunity to have a chat in English...don't hold your breath, but stranger things have happened!
Plan Sudan is inconveniently located far enough from the bus station to warrant taking a bus...take buses heading to Murabba'at or Sharia' al-Wali, and get off after the Police Station and the University of Juba, just past a major turning off to the left. Plan Sudan is on the corner on the right and is open all day long...they don't always have connection to the internet though, so it may be worth finding out their phone number and calling in advance.