This is my second post on freedom, which will look into the ways that people rise above and achieve liberation in Sudan. I wrote this a few months ago but at the time was unsure whether it would be safe to post; I have since been reassured about this.
‘If you don’t like the culture you’ve got, then the only people who can change the behavior, change the culture, are yourselves.’ – Bob Garvey
In my previous post I talked about there being no Western music here, but have since learnt that a digital radio station named Capital FM was launched fairly recently, playing exclusively Western pop songs. That is at least a start! In addition, I have discovered that a lot of Western TV programmes are shown on satellite TV, including, surprisingly, The Simpsons and Family Guy, which are controversial even in the USA. Furthermore, most Hollywood films are available as pirated copies, or people will simply download them from the Internet.
Last night I went to a reggae concert. Such an event is a rare occasion in Khartoum, and my whole circle of acquaintances had turned up for the occasion. The band was called Mohammed Ali & The Nile Riddim. The front man, Mohammed Ali, seemed to consider himself something of a Sudanese Bob Marley and to the girls, was a clear sex symbol. The mood of the crowd was electric; they jumped and skanked to openly anti-government songs, such as ‘Sudan put your guns down’. Mohamed Ali then paid tribute to the King of Reggae himself with Redemption Song. It was extraordinary and emotional to hear this song somewhere where the lyrics are still so potent: ‘emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds’.
I also mentioned art in my last post, and have since discussed this topic with the Project Manager of the Goethe Institute, over an unlawful glass of wine. He was adamant that there is a vibrant and growing arts scene in Sudan, which the Goethe Institute aims to encourage through their current projects, which focus on Sudanese photographers and film-makers; Sudan Film Factory is an initiative giving young Sudanese people the chance to direct short films. He also told me about the month-long Port Sudan Festival at the Red Sea, which is held every year to encourage tourism in the seaside town. It is a honey pot for Sudanese artists, and I intend to visit for the festival in January to see for myself. Sudanese poetry is also a flourishing art form, but sadly, the lack of good Arabic to English translators in Sudan makes it almost totally inaccessible to me.
Another of my favourite projects is the Rashid Diab Arts Centre. Rashid Diab is a prominent and internationally successful Sudanese artist. Although he lived in Spain for many years and could easily afford to live in Europe, he chose to return to Sudan to do something positive for his country, and thus not be part of the country’s brain drain. His centre promotes young Sudanese artists, arranging workshops for them, providing them with studio space and even the opportunity to learn English. The building has been designed entirely by Rashid Diab himself, and the result is a stunning creation. Each room is unique and intriguing, painted in bright colours and decorated with interesting artifacts. The garden is one of the most beautiful I have seen in Khartoum. Inspired by nature and recyclable materials, his style struck me as very reminiscent of Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
Before the Eid holiday, there was a lot of mention of a drink called sherbot, which was always followed by excessive giggling. It is a local beer made from dates, which is brewed under the ground. Apparently, the longer it is left to ferment, the more alcoholic it gets, and adding baking soda will speed up the process. The vapour can be filtered off during the brewing process to make Aragi, a powerful liquor. Consequently, a lot of Sudanese people get drunk around Eid. When questioned about how this behaviour is justified, a Sudanese friend told me that Sudanese traditions often outweigh Muslim values. This is a fascinating concept which I intend to explore.
During a ‘girl talk’ between two French girls, a Sudanese male friend and myself, I gleaned a lot of interesting facts about the inner workings of Sudanese sexual relationships. These days, it is not uncommon for Sudanese people to have sex before marriage, although of course it happens in total secrecy. People have partners; some students in my class are also dating, and I often wonder about the logistics of it. Many complications still exist, however. The family would be shamed if a girl is not a virgin when she marries, causing many women to opt for an operation to close themselves up again. Another horror story tells of a man that waited so long to lose his virginity, that when it came to the crunch this was such a shock to his body that he had a heart attack and died. Bizmillah!
Last week we went camping with a group of extremely liberal, Westernized Sudanese people. A lot of them work for NGOs that are in constant conflict with the government, or have been shut down entirely. Through meeting them, I have come to realize that despite living under an extremely oppressive regime, there are loopholes in every religious and political law. These people have obviously ‘freed their minds’, and are refreshing and inspiring to spend time with, in such a conservative climate. It is no easy feat to become open minded here, and indulging in a more liberal lifestyle is a constant challenge, but clearly possible.