Returning to the other side of the Nile, we were energised by our hilarious and only slightly scary marriage-proposal-shop-interlude, which meant we approached our photo matching task with a new zeal. First on the list for this side of the river was The Grand Hotel, which was an easy win for us, as it hasn’t changed its name or location since my Great Grandfather lived in Khartoum, making it very easy to find! I thought it best to ask permission before taking any photos, so we entered the hotel and basked briefly in its air-conditioned embrace before searching out the manager, who, after I explained what I was trying to do, couldn’t have been more helpful. He excitedly showed us his own collection of historic snaps of Khartoum which adorned the walls of the hotel restaurant, and went out of his way to help point us in the right direction towards the last few remaining photographs we had yet to snap, which as coincidence would have it, happened to be just around the corner from the hotel – result!
With the hotel located and documented, it was time to complete our photography quest. As the last couple of photos were so close to where we were, we decided it didn’t require both of us to go hunting them down, and so I left Nick in the cool embrace of the air-conditioning and planned to be back within 20 minutes – little did I know that these few minutes would turn into a couple of hours!
Following the hotel managers’ instructions, I zig-zagged down and across for a few blocks, and I soon found a building which looked remarkably like the one in Ruben’s photograph – The Post Office. I wandered past the building a few times to make sure it was the right one, and sure enough, once I reached the appropriate angle, the buildings matched perfectly! Time to take the photograph, I reached into my pocket, located my phone, and did my best to pretend I knew what I was doing and lined up the shot as best as I could.
Chuffed with the day’s efforts, I returned my phone to my pocket and began to head back towards the hotel; I had barely taken a step before a very serious looking man on the other side of the road began shouting at me. I couldn’t understand everything the man was saying, but he certainly wasn’t very happy with me for some reason, and ran towards me at speed waving a very official looking badge in my direction. Without really having time to process what was happening, the angry man marched me around the corner, and into the yard of a police station where eight other very serious looking men in police uniforms were sat around a boiling kettle making tea. The atmosphere wasn’t welcoming in the slightest, and I began to feel very, very uncomfortable.
My adrenaline was pumping as I was asked to sit at the end of a long table and empty my pockets. I tried not to panic, but that was getting increasingly harder to do, so I engaged my chronic optimism and reminded myself that I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. All I had done was take an innocent picture of the old post office, and I had a photography permit which, despite having lots of other rules attached to it, didn’t say anything about documenting postal infrastructure – this was surely enough to exonerate me?
I needed to convince the gathered crowd that I hadn’t done anything wrong, so I began the charm offensive with gusto. I used all of the Arabic greetings I had learned to date; I smiled and introduced myself whilst trying to shake hands with as many of the policemen as possible. Although reluctantly most of the policemen did shake my hand, they still curtly demanded to see my paperwork, and then the apparently incriminating photograph. They did not seem very impressed with my architectural record of Khartoum I had spent the day collecting, and my attempts to regain ownership of my phone were unsuccessful – this wasn’t good, but I still didn’t understand the significance of the old post office until one of the policemen cleared his throat asked:
“Why did you take a picture of the Sudanese ministry of defence”
It turns out that the humble Khartoum post office of the 1930s now houses the offices of the Sudanese military and intelligence services, and there was definitely something on my photography permit about not being allowed to take pictures of those sort of things!
This wasn’t good, I began trying to explain, but saying “I was trying to match up old photographs” didn’t seem to be working, I needed to do something, and I needed to do it before I got myself in any more hot water. There was something which I thought could help, so without much thought, I lunged for my phone and managed to hold onto it for just long enough to open the folder containing all of Rubens original photographs of Khartoum, and the hastily created comparisons which, with hindsight, I had fortunately decided to make. A ripple of conversation spread through the gaggle of policemen, and their demeanour changed almost instantly with hard facades meting away into a sea of intrigue and smiles. The phone was passed between the policemen and they all took time to swipe through the pictures making approving noises as they recognised parts of their city.
The new atmosphere could not have been more different, I moved from the interrogation seat to a cosy one near the others, tea was poured and I explained my whole trip to date which everyone seemed to enjoy, with the exception of the original policeman who had marched me into the police station - he continued to watch me like a hawk!
Tea drunk I decided it was probably best not to ask for a photograph of the policemen, so I retrieved my phone and paperwork, and left the police station as quickly as possible before they changed their minds, and returned to the hotel as a free man!
But of course, this isn’t the end of the story. There was still one photograph which I wanted to try and match up, the original photograph which had started this whole adventure – I still needed to recreate the picture of Ruben standing at Khartoum train station with his bicycle, how hard could that be?