(Written a couple of weeks ago on a bad day. Part II will be more positive!)
I had a dream last night that I had returned to Berlin, and it was a relief. I could breathe again. There are many cultural differences to get used to here, but one thing that I think I will never be able to stomach is the restrictions on my freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of self-expression, freedom of press, freedom of creativity. In Berlin, you can be whoever you want to be, regardless of your age, gender or sexuality. You are free to express yourself and there is very little stopping you. I find Sudanese society therefore stifling. It restricts creativity and does not promote individuality whatsoever; it is so conservative that you can do little more than make eye contact with your boyfriend (no touching is allowed, especially in public). What goes on behind closed doors is of course another matter.
Recreational activities are limited, especially for women. It is unusual for women to participate in sport and it is frowned upon for them to be out by themselves. Once they are married, most will remain at home and give birth to a large family. Women rarely drive cars and never ride bicycles. After sunset, I frequently wonder where all the women have gone, as apart from the sita shay, the streets are populated only by men. Clothing is limited to that which conforms to Muslim values – the obiya, the tobe and the jelabiya. The result is a relatively uniform look, and, although the women dress very colourfully, it is difficult to distinguish fashions or personal style. There appears to be only one genre of music – Arabic pop – as much of Western music has been pronounced illicit. The cinemas show only Bollywood and Egyptian movies; the population has no access to Hollywood film. I have seen little art although I am assured that the tribes around the country have inherited vibrant art and music. When questioned about it, the students in my class informed me that Sudan has no art; I hope to be able to prove them wrong.
Even at Khartoum University, supposedly the most liberal university in Khartoum, people are not free. Peaceful protests by innocent and idealistic students are regularly intercepted by the police and broken up by attacks of tear gas.
These limitations are the most frustrating aspect of Sudanese society for me, and one that I’m not sure I will ever get used to, let alone accept. My Iraqi friend in Berlin once told me that the reason he loves being in Europe so much is that we are free. I could not fully understand his experience until now, where I am going through the opposite in Sudan. I can’t wait for the moment when I eventually return to Berlin, as I will appreciate it so much more than I have done.