Edward Tweedly

Battling the bureacracy in Sudan
In March 1980 I was in Khartoum, trying to go south. I had booked a ticket on the Tuesday train to Kosti and on by steamer to Juba; but when I arrived at the railway station they advised against travelling because the steamer was cancelled. Here's the next day's diary entry:

Wednesday 5th March 1980. Yesterday when I found out that I had to get a refund of the fifty Sudanese pounds I had already paid for my ticket, it was already too late to start the process. Today I went to the railway station and started trying to get my money back. I even hoped that I might finish, and get the refund, but thatís more than a one-day job.

After a few false starts and misdirections, I found the Commercial Office, the centre for all activities involved in obtaining a refund. Itís across the tracks from all the other offices. The Commercial Office sent me back across the tracks to the Accommodation Office to cancel my reservation. I hadnít thought it would be necessary to cancel a reservation on a boat which wasnít running at all, but a piece of paper saying I had done so was required. Then into the train which was by now standing in the station (it stayed there for the rest of the morning), and out the other side to the Commercial Office. Back from there to the Station-Masterís Office to have the Station-Master cancel the ticket (as distinct from the reservation I had just had cancelled). I tried in all the offices on that side of the tracks, but no-one would admit to being the Station-Master. Eventually someone relented and agreed to cancel the ticket (although he wasn't the S-M). Back across the tracks and through the train to the Commercial office. Not good enough Ė the ticket was cancelled with todayís date: I had to go back to get the date amended to yesterday, the former ticket's former date of validity. And amended by the Station-Master, please. I got the Commercial Office to give me a description of which office was the Station-Master's, and which man was the Station-Master. Thus prepared, I went into his office and faced him (I had seen him before when I was looking for the Station-Master but he hadn't admitted to being the S-M) and said, "YOU are the Station-Master!". "Yes", he said, and amended my ticket with a flick of a ball-point pen. Then back (across the tracks and through the stationary train) to the Commercial Office, who sent me out to get a five-piastre revenue stamp. At that point everything closed for breakfast. Even the buffet closed for breakfast, so I sat outside for an hour without a cup of coffee.

After breakfast it all came together Ė got the stamp, wrote a letter in duplicate (i.e. twice - no carbon paper) to the divisional traffic manager requesting a refund, and was given a completed Service Message form to take to the ticket office, where the clerk who originally sold me the ticket would give me an Adjustment of Charges form to take back to the Commercial Office for a signature, after which I could take it back to the Ticket Office for a refund of the money. But the clerk who originally sold me the ticket was on a rest day today, and only he could make up the Adjustment of Charges form. He was due to return at 1 p.m. tomorrow Ė by which time the only man who could actually dispense the money will have gone home. The next day being Friday, no-one would be there, so Saturday would be the earliest day I could pick up the money. Five days for a refund!

The Sudan was, without exception, the most fascinating country I've ever visited (out of about 40 or 50), and the one with the kindest people. Both of these aspects may have been connected with the country's physical isolation and real lack of tourists. In those days there was no Sudan Web Site!

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