Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Yesterday morning was a nightmare come true for me (here in Khartoum, that is). There is an outer door on the flat leading onto a small porch and then a security gate which you have to unlock before stepping out onto the courtyard. I am always very careful to take my cell phone and keys when I go out the [first] door.

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...

The porch where I was stuck between two locked entrances

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

For more scenes and stories from around the world, click here.


  1. I'm glad you're not locked into the small space until February 6th. Thank goodness for your quick-thinking husband, telling you how to break into your own apartment. Funny cartoon on top, especially after reading the story. So glad you're OK-OK.

  2. Poor Jo, what a horrible experience. Just as well you could awaken Achmed. I bet you never go there without your keys again. I guess youare having a big clean up after the dust storm.

  3. Funny but scary, Jo.... I love hearing the way you portray it. You are such a great writer!!!!! Glad you finally got back inside... Glad you gave Achmed a small gift. He really did help you!!!!

    Cute post.

  4. Oh, Jo! I agree with Janie, so glad for your quick thinking husband!! Love the cartoon! Really glad that you're ok! Guess we've all had those nightmare experiences somewhere along the way!! And what a dust storm! Hope your week goes better from here!


  5. Well Jo, it's nice to know you can break in, or is that out. So glad Achmed heard your call. Lesson learned I'm sure. And if your cell phone has a camera you could always send pics of the next adventure along the way. I'm happy you're OK. Hugs.

  6. I agree Janie, that would have been a long wait (LOL) I was hoping the cartoon portrayed what I must have looked like peering out of the bars. Only glad Achmed didn't sarcastially offer me a cracker! Yes, I'm OK-OK!

    Hi diane;) it seems funny in retrospect. I don't know about you, but I could KICK myself when I do something stupid like this (leaving my keys in the flat) Mirriam did clean up yesterday and I've swept a little today. Hopefully hubby will sweep the next lot. It continues to come into the flat.

    Thanks Betsy;) yes, without Achmed, I would have been stuck there for at least three hours before my husband came home.

    Thanks Sylvia, all's well here now.

    Gaelyn, while I was jimmying the lock, I thought how easy it is to break in through a wooden door. later when I went down to photograph the porch and two entrances, I had my cell phone and keys in my shorts pocket!

  7. Oh my, I really empathize with you. My heart is racing today also for other reasons that shock the system. So when I read your post,I could really relate. I too have been stuck outside my apartment on more than one occasion, sometimes not knowing how I would get in. But thank God, He always seems to make a way. So glad you got out and so glad that Achmed was there. Don't feel stupid Jo, most, if not all of us, have left our keys somewhere else from time to time.

  8. AWWW! That sounds like SUPER tough minutes! (I get claustrophobic very easily!) Make a duplicate key and wear it permanently around your neck!!

  9. Oh goodness - Jo, the way you described this ordeal felt like I was there with you - how horrible it must have felt, but thank goodness you managed to 'free' yourself. Mmmm .... hubby had some good tips there - do you think he'd been in that same situation before ?! I'm sure that's the last time you'll ever set foot outside without your keys, cellphone and a tool box, 'eh ?!

  10. Sorry but I must admit that I smiled reading your plight. Do take care and I am sure you will never be in a similar situation again.

  11. Hi Jo,I was holding my breath while reading your post!You have a great way with words and can paint a picture.We have all been in a similiar situation and felt silly but thank God you did not spend too long incarcerated!
    Curry looks sleek and healthy form regular feeding.
    I must compliment you on your new profile pic..very Grace Kelly, elegant and stylish

  12. Hello Jo:)It happens all the time.
    Gret post. Thank you for sharing.

    Take care.

  13. oh my gosh...what an ordeal that must have been. i suppose you now are wearing the key around your neck 24/7...
    thanks for sharing your NIGHTMARE with us.
    take care

  14. It must a horrible experience....and thanks to Ahmed ( Jo, Ahmed is usually pronounced as Achmed.... I have few South Africans colleagues).

    Glad that you're okay.

  15. Jo, what an awful experience but it had a good ending. If you call a dust storm a good ending. I am glad you are OK.


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo