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.
“Squad ‘shun; left-right, left-right; shoulderrrrr arms!”. The bearded stranger looked a little surprised as I marched around the courtyard followed by a cloud of dust and a small child. When my great-nephew told me he had brought an Englishman to our home, I thought he deserved to be welcomed by some proper British army commands. Any Englishman was welcome in my house in Bana, a village near Kassala. I’m over 70 years old and, after the marching, I had to catch my breath before saluting him and going off to change into a clean white jellabiya for dinner. The meal consisted of lots of communal dishes into which we dipped bread and ate with our fingers. There was a dish of livers; waika, a sauce of okra and tomato, with some tripe floating in it; goats milk soaked in unleavened bread; scrambled egg; a chicken stew.
I told the stranger how, in 1940 the damned Italians had invaded Kassala, in Sudan, from their bases in Ethiopia. I had fought with some brave English officers as we repelled their invasion, and have had supreme respect for the English ever since – even those who drop their bread in the waika and splash my nice clean jellabiya.