I departed Ankara, Turkey for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in December 2013. It was a 13-hour overnight journey with stops in Istanbul and Khartoum, Sudan. While checking in for the flights in Ankara, the agent told me that they could only check my bag to Khartoum. My connecting flight was on Ethiopian Airlines and their system wasn’t connected to Turkish Airways. I thought this was strange given that they are both members of the Star Alliance, but fine. I was tired and didn’t think much about it. I’d have to get a Khartoum-Addis Ababa boarding pass in Khartoum as well.
After I went through security and everything, I realized what a mistake I had made. Sure, I should be able to get a boarding pass for Khartoum to Addis Ababa but what about my bag? Who would rescue it from infinite loops around the baggage claim if I’m not allowed to be on that side of the airport (the side after you go through immigration and claim your bag – not an option for me since I have no Sudanese visa).
Before boarding my flight I pleaded my case to the gate agent and she called someone. They were able to force my bag to be checked all the way to Ethiopia. Great.
I got a little sleep on the Istanbul-Khartoum flight with many awakenings along the way. I woke up just before landing and got to see Khartoum from the air. The city lies at the junction of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers, which I saw cutting through the city and offering the smallest amounts of greenery compared to the harsh Sahara everywhere else. These two rivers combine to form the Nile which flows northward to Egypt.
I landed in Khartoum at 2:20am on December 3, 2014. I left Ankara where the high temperature was 37F/3C and arrived in Khartoum in the middle of the night, where the temperature was a steamy 30C/86F in wintertime!! What a difference a few hours in a plane makes!
We deplaned using roll-up stairs and got on a bus. The bus dropped us off at the arrivals hall of the airport. There was no transit area and I was the only passenger on the flight who was making a connection. I had no visa for Sudan and thus could not proceed through immigration. There was a Turkish Airlines person there and I asked her for help. First she took me to the visa area as she thought I could get a visa on arrival. Americans can’t. I knew that, but I thought maybe some arrangement would be made so I could transit through the airport.
When that didn’t work, she took me to an immigration policeman. I showed my ticket and explained that in Ankara they couldn’t give me a boarding pass for my connecting Khartoum-Addis Ababa flight on Ethiopian Airlines. He understood and there was a lot of talking in Arabic until they finally told me to have a seat in the immigration lounge.
30 minutes later, an immigration policeman approached me with my passport and some paperwork and asked me to come with him. A van was waiting for us outside and he told me to get inside. The van drove us to the departure gates. You can see this below.
When we got to the departure gates, we had to go through the airport in reverse. We entered the gate, then the waiting area, then passed the security check area, and then got to immigration. My escort (the immigration policeman) handed my passport and the paperwork to an older guy, definitely the boss of the immigration area on the departure side of the airport. He explained the situation and some more paperwork was signed. He was nice and told me to have a seat while they took care of these formalities.
As I sat there, I realized my passport had clear, obvious evidence I have been to Israel. Though Israel doesn’t stamp your passport anymore, it does place security stickers on the back that say “Israeli Airports Authority” also bearing Hebrew letters. My passport was upside down on his table, the sticker being an obnoxious red, and I wondered what would happen if he discovered it. I was not trying to enter Sudan, but I technically had to enter the country to get my boarding pass. Entering Sudan with evidence of visiting Israel is illegal. In the worse case they’d arrest me and it’d be a diplomatic game to get me out. In the best case, which is what happened, he didn’t notice. I was kicking myself for not peeling off the sticker at any time in the ten days since getting it while leaving Israel!!!
Luckily he didn’t notice it. He signed his name on a few papers over the course of a couple minutes and then my escort and I went to the check-in area to get my boarding pass. My escort asked if I had ever been to Sudan before and I told him no, but I hope to visit someday. He was extremely nice, as was the immigration policeman I first dealt with as well as Sudanese people I worked with in Qatar and UAE.
Once I had the boarding pass in hand, we skirted past immigration again, past security, and then my escort bid me a bon voyage as I waited in the lounge for my flight.
I’m lucky there was a 2 hour layover so there was enough time for this all to play out. I’m lucky the immigration police never noticed the Israeli sticker, though perhaps they wouldn’t have said/done anything about that anyway. And I’m lucky I got to have a positive experience with very nice people I can share with all of you in a country that has been so troubled for so long.