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 directions...so double check the dosage before leaving. No need for prescriptions...you just buy it over the counter.
If you are seriously sick, ask someone to take you to a hospital (mustashfa) or a clinic (mustawsaf), where you can have blood tests. Malaria is common in Kassala, and thus easily diagnosed...often the first thing they will do is give you a malaria test. Drugs like chloroquine are widely available in the pharmacy, although anti-malarial tablets are not generally taken by locals. Doxycycline can be found, but most pharmacists are mystified as to what you want with it! Dysentary is another common problem, again easily diagnosed and solved.
Medical attention is not free in Sudan...expect to pay heavily for treatment. Clinics are often cheaper than hospitals, which are in turn cheaper than going to see a private doctor. The main hospital in the centre of town is chaotic and not overly clean, so my friends preferred to go to the new clinic at the Khatmiya junction (take buses for Khatmiya or Sha'abiyya), where the staff speak better English. The police hospital is meant for police and their families only, but if you drag yourself in and collapse in the waiting room, you won't be ignored!!
Ashwaa'i, den of vice!
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 whole friendly. However, this is not a place to visit, unless you want to be thrown on a police truck and spirited away for a few hours grilling at the military HQ...a white face arouses suspicion...take it from one who knows!! (Find out what happened when muggins here decided to explore the area...go to my Sudan page and the whole story is in the Warnings and Dangers section under Alcohol!)
Other "naughty" places include Kadugli, the shanty town favoured by IDPs from the Nuba mountains, and the whole area of Mukram mountain.
Here is a view of Mukram mountain, the offending area too distant to be caught on camera.
Kassala is noted for its dust storms, which can be particularly unpleasant if you get stuck outside during one! Completely unannounced, huge brown and yellow clouds will fill the sky, and amazingly quickly they envelop the town and anyone who happens to be outside. For up to an hour, it seems like the middle of the night, then the sky clears and all is well again. It is quite an experience! here is a picture of Kassala University during one such dust storm
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 attention. It is probably safe to say that all foreigners in Kassala are watched, supposedly for their own safety...most don't even notice. Stay awhile, and you'll get to know them rather better, as this being a conflict zone on a turbulent border, they are suspicious of any outsiders.
I was routinely stopped and asked for documents, all over town and at all times of the day...make sure you carry all your documents with you always. If you are stopped, don't just hand your documents over straight away...try to move to a well-lit place and somewhere with lots of people around to overhear what is going on. Don't show them anything unless you are sure who they are...if you refuse and walk off, 9 times out of 10, they will shrug and go the other way...if they come after you, they probably mean business.
If you are taken to their HQ, stay calm...most are friendly and respond fairly well to politeness...go in shouting your head off, and things are not going to go in your favour. Usually after a few questions and a check over your documents, you'll be allowed to leave...but they like to make you wait a few hours first.
A favourite trick is to arrive at your hotel late at night, demanding that you accompany them to the station to register...be nice, but insist that you are tired and that you will register first thing in the morning. The sole purpose of this is to intimidate you...there is absolutely no reason at all why you can't go in daylight. Get you hotel manager involved, as often they have some clout with the authorities.
This isn't meant to scare anyone...many tourists come to Kassala and have no run-ins at all with security, but it is better to be prepared.
As I said in the introduction, Kassala is plagued by floods every so often...this year was the most serious, and left the town devastated. I'm in two minds about encouraging tourism to Kassala at the moment...on the one hand, it will bring much needed money to the town and raise the spirits of the locals...one the other hand, many people will see it is gawping at other people's misery. The town is damaged, but the natural attractions of Kassala have not really changed...it is still backed by extraordinary mountains and surrounded by lush gardens, and the many different tribes still come to town to trade, albeit in damaged souqs. It will take a long time for Kassala to recover from this disaster, especially with the lack of aid (due to the lack of media coverage)...but when it does, please come!
My camera was marooned at home when the water was high, so I only have a couple of rather dark photos showing the water once it had receded a bit. I wanted to take many pictures of the damage around the town, but something about photographing other people's misery stopped me every time. You'll just have to imagine the destruction.
Kassala is not the safest part of Sudan, yet the city itself has witnessed no fighting for a while so we had no problems once we'd got past the military checkpoints on the outskirts. Like anywhere outside Khartoum, you need a travel permit from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to visit Kassala which costs 60,000 pounds (6000 dinars) and takes anything from two days to three weeks to issue. You could try just turning up in Kassala with no permits at all, but you run the risk of being sent back to Khartoum....get them sorted before you leave Khartoum, and make plenty of photocopies too. Don't worry about safety in the town...it is an extremely friendly place...but don't go wandering past the mountains as the war is only just behind them.