Friday, May 1, 2009

All the fun of the fair

Mr Bin Laden has done many things in his life. Arguably, one of his better acts was to build Child City, just south of the airport in Khartoum. During his five-year stay in Sudan in the early 90s, he seems to have been credited with a lot of building, but as the rumours on this one are more than usually persistent, we will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Khartoum is peculiar for its inordinately large number of funfairs and parks (though please don’t think green or trees), to which your Joe Khartoumer will flock of an evening. And Child City is one of the biggest and best – well worth the one pound entrance fee.

Before you get too excited, we are not yet at the level of Alton Towers. Or even Thorpe Park. Wide expanses of scrubby grass decorated with empty water bottles are punctuated with a fascinating collection of dilapidated fairground rides, from bumper cars to carousels. Buying tickets for each ride is an interesting process of finding the little kiosk closest to the ride (often a difficult judgment call), and trying in our broken Arabic to ask the man in immaculate shirt and tie what exactly we were paying for.

Pride of place is clearly the astronaut ride – a couple of massive metal arms rotating on a central pylon towering over the park, with a car full of passengers at each end. While suspended upside down 30 metres from the ground, I was hugely encouraged by my friend shouting repeatedly in my ear, ‘Chinese manufacturing, Sudanese maintenance!’. And the park must make a fair profit in the change and mobile phones falling out of pockets.

If you need time to build up to this climax, there are a number of more sedate options, though each with their unique selling points. From the Shetland pony of rollercoasters, where the slowness and flatness of the ride is more than made up for by the alarming creaking and uncertainty over whether your car really will turn the corner; to the spinning teacups, which a few people were manfully trying to master. Sadly their resolution didn’t last to the end. The insides of the nice man who told us he took his niece there every week, ended up in the lap of the niece. Not sure whether this was a deliberate strategy to get a night off next week.

Perhaps the only ride that struggled for value for money was the haunted house ride. The owner obviously very proud of the motion sensors his ride depended on, they were on prominent display and hardly upstaged by the papier mache snakes and crocodiles jumping out. Thirty seconds later, while we were trying to work out the significance of a colonial style man in hunting gear leaping out at us, the little cart arrived back at the beginning.

Add in forty degree heat, family picnics with little children running around (at midnight), men in flowing white jellabiyahs screaming like little children, and you have a very different and fine Friday night out.

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