Food & Daily life

Living along the Nile

A boat on the River NileThe Nile is very important in Sudan for watering crops and producing power. Most of the major towns and cities therefore lie along the river, including the capital, Khartoum.

Khartoum's name comes from the Arabic for ‘elephant’s trunk’; this is believed to stem from the narrow strip of land between the Blue and White Nile.

The Nile splits Khartoum into three cities – the old British-built centre, the commercial area of Omdurman on the west bank and the industrial Khartoum North on the north bank. Here, suburbs spread out into the desert. There are also shanty towns and refugee camps on the outer edges.

It is estimated that up to seven million people live in Khartoum. However, this estimate includes around two million refugees who were given land to settle on around the capital. Some of the refugees are groups who fled the fighting in South Sudan and many of these people are now returning home.


Eating Sudanese foodRefugee migrants to the capital can earn a living by offering cups of tea and coffee to passers-by on the streets. They often set up along the banks of the Nile. This is where business people take their breaks and families go for outings.

The Sudanese have a great sense of hospitality. It is not uncommon for lunching groups to invite complete strangers to share their food. Meals are set out on plates in the middle and eaten with fingers.

Along the red dusty streets of Khartoum, houses have large water pots standing outside (see the link above). These provide a drink for anyone passing by.

Going out in Khartoum

A woman shows off her henna patterns

It is common for men and boys to share meals and meet together in the city. But girls are expected to stay at home until they are married, supported by their fathers and brothers.

Married women meet up in henna salons. These are a kind of beauty salon, where henna is painted onto a woman’s hands, feet and legs. Popular designs are roses and symmetrical patterns. Finger ends are also dipped in the dye. The henna used in Sudan is black, but sometimes red and brown are used to shade inside a pattern. Because the henna fades away after two or three weeks, some women come twice a month to have fresh designs painted. Khartoum is seen as the centre of new styles.

The capital also has the latest fashions in clothing. A mixture of both traditional and Western style dress can be found in Sudan. For traditional wear, men put on a loose robe called a jalabiya. Women have a long dress called a thobe. For a more modern look, girls choose a long top from the market and wear this over leggings or trousers.