April 15-August 2, 2014
After coming to a dead end with the Sudanese lawyer, the local fixer and a fixer in Sudan, we weren’t sure what to do. We had another friend of a friend who knew someone in Sudan, so we figured we’d see if he could help us out.
Abdu wrote back to my emails right away. It turned out he knew someone in the ministry, so this looked promising. I emailed a copy of my passport and we hoped that this time things would work out. Essentially, Abdu’s ministry contact wanted a hefty bribe, about 350 USD. It didn’t seem like we had any other options so we agreed.
The difficult part would be finding a way to get money into Sudan. Abdu had an Egyptian colleague who would soon be making the trip to Sudan and passing through Aswan. Of course it’s always risky to send money with a stranger to another stranger. Abdu understood this and called to reassure us. Hearing his well-spoken voice helped put some of our fears to rest.
When Abdu’s colleague had to delay his trip indefinitely, we were back to the beginning. Abdu suggested Western Union as another option. With the sanctions against Sudan, western banking systems can’t work there, so we couldn’t do something as simple as a bank transfer.
We ran around town, found the Western Union and learned that they would send money to Sudan. There was only a small problem, we needed to send dollars, but the payout in Sudan would be Sudanese pounds. They would then need to be exchanged for dollars.
Sudanese pounds essentially have two exchange rates, the official bank rate and the black market rate. The black market rate is about one and a half times the official rate. When we did the calculations, we would have to send over 600 USD in order to work out to the 350 we needed at the black market rate. Abdu agreed with us that this was too much.
Again, we were in the same place as we’d been a few weeks ago. In the meantime, Michele, our new Australian friend, had mentioned our plight to some of her local friends. Ahmed and his wife Eiman had been living in Aswan for the past few years. Ahmed is Sudanese, but had spent about 20 years living in the United States.
Even before meeting us, he was offering to help us out. He went to the consulate to see if he could be our sponsor and tried calling his friends to see if anyone could do anything. We exchanged a few phone calls, excited to meet him and his family eventually. He even appealed directly to the consul but couldn’t do anything to change our situation.
At the same time, we were on a hunt for some perfume for one of the tenants staying in our apartment back in Paris. A few years ago, he’d received some perfume from Aswan as a gift and was hoping we would be able to find the same store and buy him a few more bottles. Gheve was popular with Spanish tour companies, but I couldn’t find any information about it online.
We asked around about the perfume store but got nowhere. Those that tried to help wanted to take us to their uncle or borther’s store. The same sounded familiar and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it somewhere before in Aswan.
Finally it dawned on me, I’d seen the name on one of our many visits to the Sudanese consulate. We’d even visited a travel agent in the same building on one of our first times there to see if he could somehow get my visa. It was a pleasant change to ride down the same direction, but to have a destination other than the consulate.