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500px Global Photo Walk-Sudan

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Take a look around you, what do you see? A golden sun collapsing into the dark dusty clouds below. A woman carrying a large plate on her head filled with tied plastic bags of popcorn, peanuts and seeds, her red and orange tobe flapping in the wind. Sudan is a place of beauty if only you take a closer look.

This is what photography teaches us. To look at the world as if you were capturing it forever on a piece of paper.

A growing number of people in Sudan are seeing photography as an art form. Aside from advertising, family portraits and weddings, Sudanese are not known to use the camera. Today, however, there are young photographers trying to show this country and it’s cities in a new light.

The annual 500px Global Photo Event showed some forty or so camera enthusiasts make their way to Manshia to take part in a photography event aimed at highlighting Khartoum’s burgeoning photography scene.

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“I like to photograph weird things,” said Abdelrahman Hejjai (pictured above). “I want to participate in international events, to enter competitions, I want people to pay attention to us.”

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If the international community is looking away from Sudan these days, the people are looking inwards.

“Photography is awesome. I take a picture every day, everything I see.”  Mazen, a student using his phone to photograph patterns on a wall said.“Cameras are expensive, but everyone has a smart phone”.

Mazen uploads his images to online image sharing programs like Instagram. Without instruction, a decent SLR or even a computer, Mazen can share his ideas to the entire world without ever leaving Sudan.

“What we need in Sudan is a place to teach photography, and more events like this,” he said.

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Boat rustlers!

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This is the story of how I ended up floating down the Nile in a leaky, wooden dinghy and had to be rescued by Sudanese fishermen.

Climbing down the steep brick steps to the muddy water of the Blue Nile below, the first thing I noticed was the floating jetty was neatly tucked away on the shore. The boats were still tied to it though and with a bit of clambering and a small jump it was still accessible to our party of six.

We were celebrating the breaking of fast one muggy Ramadan night, with a picnic by the famous waters of the river, Blue. Sudan has both the White Nile and the Blue, converging in the capital Khartoum.

Someone has the bright idea of climbing into one of the boats. We pick, amongst an array of motor boats, water homes and the like, a small, white, paint peeling dinghy. Immediately our shoes are soaked from the brown, murky water swooshing around inside the vessel and we laugh as it sways precariously back and forth, desperately trying to hold our weight.

Then someone has the even brighter idea of untying the boat. ‘Why not!’ we cry, and I think to myself, ‘What a great photo opp.’

As soon as the rope is untied the once sad, unassuming dinghy leaps into action. It pushes away from the ledge and catapults itself into the oncoming current. Still laughing we realise the paddles on the boat are actually just two long wooden sticks that fatten about two inches at the end. The guys heave and push and throw water about until we are spinning round and round like a ballerina, all the time rushing further away from the shore and faster along the Nile.

There is a point here, were the laughter fades away and we gaze around at the dark rippling waters sprayed with reflecting specks of gold from the lights on Tuti Bridge. The giant egg-like shape of the Corinthian Hotel (formerly Gadaffi Hotel, but recently changed) looms in the distance and the air is filled with the shrieks of tiny birds and bats. The full moon lights the dusty sky and for a moment a look of awe crosses every face huddled on the creaky, wooden dinghy.

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And then, reality: ‘Shit! How do we get back? Guys row in time!’ More sploshing of water around, more spinning, desperate grabs at passing reeds and tree branches, more laughter, although this time there is a hint of anxiety in it. What we don’t know at this stage is that the jetty was tucked away because of a no-row policy in place. After rains the Nile expands rapidly, stirring the thick, gloopy mud to the surface. It is extremely dangerous to swim at this time as the mud weighs down on people and can pull them under. It is fortunate none of us got in the water, although it was heavily discussed. Turns out later, the reason for not swimming was due to my good friend wearing a thong. A thong may have saved her life.

The Nile is filled with sediment washing down from mountainous regions (the Blue Nile starts in Ethiopia, the White through Uganda, as far down as central Africa) and bringing with it nutrients and minerals that are integral to desert civilisations such as the Sudan and Egypt. It can be said, that these civilisations existed for hundreds of years purely on the fertile sediments flowing in from the Nile.

It is this, life-sustaining sediment, which could have easily drowned the lot of us.

A fishing vessel from Tuti Island, warned by our anxious picnickers back on the shore, hurries out to meet us. They have a large boat with a roaring motor, which still struggles against the heavy current of the Nile. We bring back our now water logged dinghy safely to shore and apologise to the owners, who accept with gracious good faith, our foolish endeavour.

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