The first five stories of 2018 are all from a trip the bearded stranger made to Kassala in Sudan. Different characters tell their stories as they meet the stranger in different environments: a school, a courthouse, a coach, a dinner, a bedouin encampment.
One of my teachers met the bearded stranger walking outside and brought him to my office. We welcomed him to Awwad School and asked where he was from. Of course we know where Great Britain is, we told him, and we asked him a few questions about it. Then he asked about the school. I sighed; all I could tell him was how much I wanted to move. I had been headmistress here for three years. A remote village near the Eritrean border. I sighed: no salt, no soap, no fun, no life. I offered to show him around the school if he took photographs of us. He agreed so the three teachers lined up in front of the flowers and then we brought all the girls out for a mass photograph. I sighed, this time with satisfaction, and gave him our address for a copy of the photograph.
So we showed him around the school and he was politely interested. I explained to him that the bottles placed in the middle of the thatch rooves, where they tapered up to a cone, were primarily decorative but by reflecting the sun they also stopped the storks from landing on the roof. The walls were wattle, ushra reeds strapped together for strength and then coated with mud. The rooves had leaked during the recent rainy period and I sighed deeply as I showed him how the rainwater had stained the walls. In one schoolroom it had badly affected the world map we had so proudly painted on one of the walls. Our country, Sudan, indeed Africa as a whole, was peeling away; Canada was a large yellow blister; India was dribbling down to the Antarctic. As the stranger pointed out with a laugh, the rain hadn’t affected Great Britain at all: certainly we know where it is but we had forgotten to paint those remote islands onto the map.