At 9.30am I thought I heard my maid arrive and that Achmed, the nightwatchman was letting her in through the security gate. As he doesn't have keys to my flat door, I ran down the stairs and opened the door. Nobody there. I leaned out - nobody. I stepped out onto the porch and going to the gate, tried to peep out. Then I heard the flat door slam behind me. I dashed back and tried the door. Sure enough. I had left the yale lock on and it was locked. I was locked out of my flat. Not only that, I was also locked in the porch area. You guessed it: I had not brought my keys or cell phone with me...
I began to yell for Achmed. After calling for what seemed like an eternity, he emerged sleepily from a door just visible through the bars. Wearing a long nightgown and rubbing his eyes, he approaced the gate. Greeting him, in a tone about four octaves lower, and apologizing for waking him, I asked if he could unlock the gate. I don't know how that would help me, but already I was feeling claustrophobic stuck between two locked entrances. He replied, wagging his forefinger; "La-la" (no-no) . No key - the boss man he take my key." The "boss man" is the general manager and he is in the USA until 6th February. I felt my panic levels rise another degree.
He asked if I'd like to phone my husband who was at work. (Praise God that cell phones have come to Africa. Everyone has one and Achmed was no exception) I knew it was hopeless asking my hubby to come home and unlock the door with his key, as he was having the vehicle's steering box serviced. When I nodded, Achmed dialled my husband's number and handed the phone to me. I explained my predicament to my significant other, and detecting a chuckle in his voice, I was just about to tell him not to make fun of the situation, when he said,
"No problem," (Why is everything in Africa "no problem" when here I obviously had a very big problem?) he said, "Ask Achmed to bring you a knife or a screwdriver. If you look at the door, you will see a damaged area around the lock. You are not the first person to lock themselves out of the flat. You can jimmy the lock with ease" He went on to explain how I should insert the knife blade into the gap between the door and the jamb and push it away from myself.
I passed the request onto Achmed who duly ambled off out of my line of sight. After this experience, I really sympathise with prisoners who cannot see any further than just in front of their cells. Once again I waited for what seemed like ages, when Achmed appeared through the street gate of the property. He was gleefully brandishing a knife. When he passed it to me through the bars, I noticed that it had some sort of congealed matter on it.
I approached the door and inserting the knife, turned it. Nothing. I jiggled the door handle, while I tried to turn the knife the way my husband had told me to. Nothing. (I need to explain here that I cannot fix a thing. I don't repair wall plugs, replace ceiling bulbs or change tires. My husband has always done all the maintenance in and around the house and in his absence, I've had two sons helping me when I needed it.)
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Achmed disappear again. A fresh wave of panic swept over me. I slid the knife blade into the slot again, turned it and still nothing moved.
Just when I thought that Achmed had perhaps gone back to bed, he appeared from around another corner, grinning from ear to ear, waving a HUGE flat screwdriver in the air. (See, I do know a little bit about maintenance tools: I know you get a star screwdriver and a flat screwdriver - this was a flat screwdriver.) Achmed passed me the screwdriver and I attacked the door with renewed vigor. This time, however, I added a little pressure by placing my foot against the door. (Ladies, especially mature ladies don't kick things. LOL) It opened with such a force, that with me standing on one leg, I had to scramble to keep my balance.
Behind the gate, Achmed called: "OK-OK, madam?" I looked back and asked him to wait while I fetched my key. Coming down again, I opened the gate and told him to come inside. I had a small cash gift for him upstairs. When I pressed SDG4/US$1.60, he said: "La-la madam, you my friend, no pay." But I insisted and he eventually accepted the money. Without this gentleman, who knows how long I would have been stuck on the porch?
At the same time, a huge sandstorm had built up during the night. The weather in Khartoum often turns from absolutely beautiful blue skies to blowing the Nubian desert into the city.
I went up onto the roof to capture the sandstorm but the photos don't do the storm justice. You have to live through a haboob to really experience it
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