As my time in Sudan draws to an end, I reflect on the people I have met and the friends I have made during my time here. I have ended up befriending a certain group of Sudanese people who it seems are either loved or hated in Khartoum society.
This particular community engages in Western philosophies and behaviours, at least when out of sight. Having either developed an interest in the West independently, through TV, friends or acquaintances; study abroad or living abroad as a child, for them this world represents freedom and a better quality of life. As there is little opportunity to travel or access the First World, their only option is to make acquaintances with the foreigners in Sudan. Their lifestyle goes against both the country’s strict regime and religion, and is a way of rebellion. After 5 months spent in this oppressive climate, I don’t blame them one bit.
As much as they have been criticized for enjoying the company of and perhaps even preying on foreigners that come here, I have been criticized for basking in their attention, as a “hot commodity”. To that I would say, enjoying attention is one thing, acting on it is another. I am also fully aware of the situation; I don’t doubt that being seen with me is a status symbol and that in some cases I have been viewed more as a trophy than a friend. Nevertheless, as the beliefs and practices in this country are so different from my own, it is a relief to maintain the company of other kindred spirits, whose perspectives are of course very different to mine but who retain an open-minded world view. Our friendship is both a form of escapism and cultural exchange, and is a marriage of convenience. As long as it keeps both parties happy, who are others to judge?
Furthermore in my defence, it has been impossible to form close bonds with any extremely conservative Sudanese. I have attempted to make some girlfriends, but have found it most unrelaxing having to be careful about everything I say, as talk of going to parties or listening to rock music is risqué to them, let alone men!