When I got into a rickshaw and the driver turned on this song….it was indeed a Bumpy Ride!
When I got into a rickshaw and the driver turned on this song….it was indeed a Bumpy Ride!
So I’m back in my European paradise. Adjusting is taking longer than I thought it would. The best way I can describe it is like moving from one planet to another. I am really feeling the cold: stepping off the aeroplane in England was like stepping into a fridge! And I’m still wondering where the hell the sun has gone?
Immediately after I’d left I heard the news that a student had been shot at the University of Khartoum during a protest about the government’s lack of action in Darfur. This really hit home as I realized it could have easily been one of the students I had got to know and love. In a way it also made me feel how unfair it is that I could just take my fill of the developing world and then leave, whereas others are stuck there permanently.
Everything here felt like a novelty again, from a hot shower and drinkable tap water to a good mattress, pavements and orderly roads. Opening my wardrobe, I saw that I already had a huge volume of nice clothes and was still previously addicted to buying more.
While living in Khartoum I was irritated that everyone had automatically thought I was rich, but now I see that they are right. As a whole, we are rich. We benefit from fantastic infrastructure, technological innovation, amazing healthcare and benefits and an overall excellent quality of life. Look around and everyone is driving a nice car; nothing is broken or falling apart and the streets are spotless.
Today I heard Phil Collins’ Another Day In Paradise on the radio and think I finally understood the meaning of this song.
Up until now I have not published anything about the recent protests in Sudan, which occurred at the end of September 2013, a few weeks after I had arrived. I am no longer as worried about the tracking of information, which is why I have finally chosen to post something about my experience.
The day after a spurt of violent anti-government protests brought on by an unwarranted increase of fuel prices, the city was eerily quiet. I sensed that the people of Khartoum had been defeated by the state’s extreme retaliation.
As in previous years, the protests had originally been motivated by smaller demonstrations at the University of Khartoum, where I was currently teaching. I knew something was wrong when my boss, the dean of the Geography Department, arrived to our meeting with his eyes bloodshot and streaming from the teargas. Soon after, the general population joined in, which is when things went a lot further than teargas. The government brought down its iron fist and killed many innocent civilians, peacefully exercising their right to speak their mind. The state national security or secret police had been given orders to shoot to kill, and were aiming at protestors’ hearts. I was amazed at the civilians’ willingness to risk their lives out of fear and desperation, and such a strong urge to bring an oppressive regime to its knees. Later on a friend shed some light on this. According to her, although bringing down the regime would cause deaths, keeping the same government in power would do the same.
During this frightening time it was hard to any acquire information, due to both my lack of Arabic skills and the extreme media censorship. Once the government had clocked that the protests were being coordinated through social media they blocked the internet connection, thus Facebook and Youtube were inaccessible. I relied on random updates from Sudanese friends and the British Embassy, who disclosed information on which areas of the city were unsafe. The media failed to report on what was actually happening. Sudanese newspapers were only permitted to publish information approved by the police, and the government generally try to prevent international journalists from entering the country. The opposition party reported 300 people dead, whereas the NCP denied these claims, stating that a mere 30 people had been killed. Furthermore, they maintained that the photos shared on social media were in fact of the recent protests in Cairo. The same clip was played over and over on Al Jazeera, while there was nothing at all reported on international news channels. Several Sudanese acquaintances had lost friends and family members, which was more than enough evidence of how many people had been affected by the crisis. “We kill people like chickens here”, explained a friend matter-of-factly. Tragically, several schoolchildren were amongst those killed, and schools were closed until the end of October as a precaution.
Although as foreigners, we were in considerably less danger, we had been told to remain indoors and refrain from observing any of the protests close up. We would have been putting ourselves in danger as the state is ever wary of foreign spies. Of course had things escalated, our respective embassies would have stepped up and escorted us to safety. Still, for many of us it was out first experience of violent political unrest, and we ended up barricading ourselves indoors, more as a precaution than a necessity. We spent a few tense days up on the roof terrace, scanning the skyline for signs of activity. Smoke billowed from various districts, where petrol stations had been set alight or piles of tires were being burned as a sign to fellow demonstrators. We had been warned that a revolution or Sudanese Arab Spring was predicted to take place after Friday’s 2 O’clock prayers. We sat in wait with our hearts in our mouths though sadly for the Sudanese, this revolution was never realized. That night, evidently with violent images on his mind, one of us had a nightmare and began punching a friend in his sleep. I awoke to bloodcurdling screams and felt that Armageddon had come.
Not having witnessed any of the violence first-hand made mine a very surreal, skin-deep experience. We watched from the sidelines with mere illusions of danger, and of course we were never really in jeopardy. The people whose lives were at risk were our friends, colleagues and neighbours, fearlessly standing up to the powerful and unrelenting monster of the state. A week later, I marvelled at how things had gone back to normal as if nothing had happened. Yet we were still on edge, and there were a lot more rifles around; another novelty for me. Police and guards cracked the safety latches threateningly and the hairs stood up on my neck.
So I’ve bought the ultra-cool must-have leggings from Topshop. What’s next?
Last night I was talking to a French friend about how our lives in Europe differ from in Sudan, and she made me realize that I did actually achieve my main goal in travelling to a Third World country, which was to remind myself of what is truly important in life.
In England and other countries whose culture has being dominated by consumerism, we are constantly being bombarded with information and ultimately brainwashed into thinking that what is important is money, new products and staying on trend. Unfortunately these convictions simply lead to a fruitless and frustrated search for fulfilment down the wrong alley.
I had never truly realized how much our thoughts and actions were being controlled by the media in Europe, as after all we generally consider ourselves to be free here. Being away from all of this; the media sources, celebrity and popular culture as well as the endless stream of consumer goods you are told you “need”, you can finally decide for yourself what your priorities should be. Unsurprisingly, these are quite different from those portrayed by businesses.
As my friend rightly pointed out, as much enjoyment can come from sipping an expensive cocktail at a trendy bar as from drinking a 3-guinee cup of tea with friends, sitting in plastic chairs by the Nile. After all, it’s not where you are but who you’re with that counts. On my last night in Sudan, we did just this, and had such a good time that we stayed on Nile Street until well after the tea lady had packed up and gone home. We laughed and joked until my voice was sore, then sang along to the playlist blasting from my friend’s car.
Moya – water
Shay bi nana/kurfa/zanjebeel – tea with mint/cinnamon/ginger
Karkaday – hibiscus
Assir – juice
Laban – milk
Jebena/gahwa – spiced coffee
Obasha – mix of 7up and yoghurt
Sherbot – local beer brewed from dates
Aragi – local liquor made from dates
Aaysh – bread
Rice – ruz
Tuffa – apple
Samak – fish
Fatura – breakfast
Fatira – Sudanese flatbread
Dakwa – peanut paste
Fuul – fava beans (dried or pureed as a dish)
Fatta – a mix of ripped up stale bread, tomatoes, onion, green leaves and stock
Kissra – thin pancake-style bread often served with lamb and a sauce
Gurassa – think pancake-style bread served with a sticky sauce made from spinach, okra, or meat and given its consistency from okra powder
Assida – porridge (moulded) and often served with a bread sauce
Tahina – sesame-seed paste mixed with spices, garlic and lemon
Baba ghanoosh – aubergine puree
Sharwarma – kebab meat in fatira/bread
Farowla – strawberries
Manga – mango
Gawafa – guava
Bateekh – Watermelon
Lamoon – lemon/lime
Tamatem – tomato
Chicken mandi – Syrian dish of spiced chicken with yellow rice
Om ali – Egyptian/North Sudanese dessert of flakey pastry, nuts, raisins, milk and spices
Addis – pureed yellow lentils
Fuul sudani – peanuts
Giddad – chicken
Tamia – falafel
Balah – dates
Sukker – sugar
Shakshooka – scrambled eggs with chopped onions and tomatoes (also has another meaning – prostitute)
Zalabiya – deep-friend dough, donuts served by tea ladies for breakfast
Salata – salad
Gibna – white cheese
Safari – take-away (food)
Sita shay – tea lady
Laziz – delicious
El hisaab – the bill
El menew – the menu
21 Wahid wa aishreen
Ahlan – hello
Salam aleikum – peace be unto you (response Aleikum salam)
Alhamdullilah – Thank Allah
Sabah al khair – good morning (response sabah al noor)
Masa al khair – good evening (response masa al noor)
Ma’a salama – goodbye
Inta kwayes? (m)/Inti kwayesa (f)? – How are you?
Izzeyak? – How are you?
Kaef – ok
Tamam – good
Miya miya – excellent, great
Aiwa/ai – yes/yeah
Min fadlak – please
Shukran – thank you
Low samahtee – excuse me/please
Inshallah – if Allah permits
Bizmillah – in the name of Allah
Ismuki? – What’s your name?
Aumri kam? – How old are you?
Min wen? – Where are you from?
Mafeesh – I don’t know
Mumkin – possible
Mumkin assiad? – Can I help?
Ana min Ingiltera – I’m from England
Arabee shwaya – I only speak a little Arabic
Bikam/kam – how much?
Shinu/fi shinu – what/what’s up
Malesh/ana asif – sorry
Fi – there is
Ma – not
Mafi – there isn’t
Bes – enough/all
Giddan – very
Dagiga – one minute
Masura – rip off/person who is always late
Mushkila (Kabeera) – (big) problem
Walahi? – really?
Yani – I mean
Mush – right?
Shufti – look/see
Mafroot – must/need to
Aswad – black/aubergine
Bossel – onion/pinky orange
Asfar – yellow
Ahmar – red
Ahdar – green
White – abyed
Jelabiya – Sudanese dress for men
Tobe – Sudanese dress for married women
Obiya – Sudanese dress for unmarried women
Tarka – scarf
Taggia – Muslim cap
Imma – Turban
Sibha – Muslim prayer beads
Hina – here
Hinu – over there
Helaas – stop
Tawali – straight on
Lif yemeen – turn right
Lif shimalak – turn left
Straight ahead – giddam
Marsha wen – where are you going?
Ana marsha – I’m going…
More useful words
Jama – university
Ustaza – teacher
Luhra – language
Englezeya – English
Britange – Britain
Hilwa – beautiful
Kateera – expensive
Haj – pilgrimage
Imam – essentially a Muslim priest
Sadig(a) – friend
Khawaja – foreigner
Bukra – tomorrow
Almaniya – Germany
Sharia – street
Hamam – toilet
Barra – outside
Garoosh – money
Guinee – one Sudanese pound
Om – mother
Bint – girl
Yoom – today
Arabi – Arab/Arabic
Gamal – camel
Maznoon – crazy
Mowa Salat – public transport
Habibi – baby/darling
Amir – prince
Haba Haba – little
Dukan – corner shop
Marwaha – fan
Cursi – chair
Tarabesa – table
In the weeks preceding my departure, I had mixed feelings about leaving Sudan. My experience has been full of highs and lows, and though I have adjusted and managed to reach a certain level of functionality in this country, what I have been unable to get past is the vast difference from my native soil. Some days I have suffered extreme frustrations, other times have shown me how magical Africa can be. In my head I have sometimes scoffed at those khawajas professing to love Sudan, as the quality of life is obviously lower here and one cannot pretend that is it otherwise.
However, I have come to admire many aspects of Sudanese culture, in particular those relating to Islam. Having been brought up without religion, I feel it is too late for me to adopt any faith, but I do respect those who are striving to life a pure life, free from crime, alcohol and drugs. I also like the consideration given to those less fortunate and the concern about waste and food consumption.
I will certainly miss the weather, which has been for me something of an “endless summer”, as I have enjoyed the effect it has had on my mood and health. There may have been other contributing factors, but it was difficult to ever really feel negative here. And after the fiercely hot days we would come alive during the warm, starry nights.
In this short time I have also made some of whom I hope will become lifelong friends. I could not have hoped for a better send-off, which simply highlighted their generosity and genuine intentions. I love the energy, charming sense of humour and overwhelming kindness of my African friends. They do not try to hide their emotions and wear their hearts on their sleeves. In comparison, Europeans appear cold.
I am deeply saddened to think that we will be parted by such a great distance and that it will be impossible for some of them to visit me even if they wanted to, due to the difficulty of procuring a visa. For this reason, I must make it possible for me to return to Sudan at some point in the future.
So Sudan, this is goodbye! It’s been a pleasure and I hope to see you again, inshallah!
(Ya Habibi – my favourite Sudanese song)