I LIE IN THE middle of the road somewhere in the remote desert about 100 miles north of Khartoum, Sudan. It feels like I am in a frying pan because of the hot afternoon sun, and the SUV is next to me with blown-out windows and broken doors. I smell
fuel leaking but I cannot move out of the way of danger and
every breath I take feels like someone is stabbing me in
the chest. I think I am going to pass out and the Leonard
Cohen song “Closing Time” is playing in the back of my
mind. The thought that this might be it for me begins to take
hold. After all these years and extreme adventures in Tibet,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arctic and other wild places, my
last breath will be in the desert of Sudan.
A few minutes before, we were stopped at a roadside
restaurant to have a quick lunch on the way to a camp
called Dongola in the desert, but as we were speeding
along, a strange sound came from the front of the SUV.
We began to swerve and the next thing I knew, the vehicle
started to flip over and over again, glass flying all over
inside and the sound of metal hitting hard on the road.
We flipped three times before coming to a stop in the
middle of the two-lane road and were very lucky there
was no oncoming traffic at the time.
Now, another SUV that was following us stops and people
are running toward me asking if I am OK. I cannot speak
due to the pain and they drag me by my feet to the side of the
road. My travel mates in the other SUV are from the U.K. and
Spain. Everyone is stunned and trying to help me feel better.
It is close to 100 degrees but I feel cold and I am shaking.
The decision is made to put me in the other SUV and head
back to Khartoum to find a hospital. Waiting for an ambulance would take too long. I am beginning to fade and Toby,
a wonderful guy from the U.K., is talking to me, trying to
keep me awake. After about an hour we see a red ambulance
coming in the opposite direction and my companions flag
it down. We are in the middle of a small village and it seems
like the whole town comes to watch me get transferred to
the emergency vehicle. As the ambulance heads toward
Khartoum the male nurse is very attentive and keeps reciting verses from the Koran in my ear.
A Medical Misadventure
We arrive at a hospital but there are no doctors there so we
try two more. Finally we find a doctor at the third hospital,
where I am carried into the emergency room. There are no
dividers between beds. Next to me the doctors are performing a tracheotomy on a man while his family is outside the
room wailing and crying. As this goes on, a helper in the
emergency room is casually mopping blood from the floor as
if cleaning up a water spill.
Opener: Camel caravans are
still a very common way to
travel the deserts in Sudan.
This page, top to bottom:
Driving off-road through
the Bayuda Desert; the SUV
accident. Opposite page, top
to bottom: Camels find shelter
at an oasis in the Bayuda
Desert; the tents at Meroë;
lunch under the trees.