‘Silence gives answers’ – Rumi
I’ve had this plan since I was 14.
It seemed like a simple one; to go back and stay in Sudan.
Not as a bride or old & wanting to die, but young, unattached, and full of drive (HA! That rhymes). Am a firm believer that once you speak of an intention, it will never come to be. So many still think am on an extended vacation, or don’t even know that am in Sudan to begin with, which really makes no difference.
Predictably, I have received an arrayed look of puzzlement whenever I’d give an answer to a stranger as to how I am in Sudan. And once they mentally cross out all the viable reasons a person would want to be here (bride or ‘to die’) I could already see what sort of a story they had assumed for me; the expat hankoosha coming with her mama & baba, doesn’t need a job but is applying just to widen her hunting grounds for a 3arees (groom), has never struggled a day in her life & at the slightest turbulence can flee with her foreign passport. I was the immigrant, the ‘damn Western degree holder’ job/man/country stealer. Forever looking in from outside, but never really fitting the outside so stuck in this self made purgatory, the misunderstood child of globalization. The sensitive bourgeoisie who just wants to know ‘Whats going on?‘ in that perplexing yet so exotic part of the world her parents happened to be from.
Some of this is true.
Every year blowing off the dust from the projector, looking at slides of impish grins, short-short dresses, beehive hairstyles, crisp collared shirts, straight & proud postures, halo shaped afros, pristine landscapes that were simple & pure. It was the Sudan we all sat with mouths agape staring at, seething with jealousy at those who were lucky enough to experience it. And even when I visited Sudan in my early teens & saw what it had become, I was even more deeply in love, naively thinking that if I brushed off the surface of decay from this grimy version of Sudan, I’d find beneath it the glowing grandeur of it’s past. That with a bit of zealous scrubbing we could bring back Sudan to what it was.
I was sick with the savior complex.
I deduced that since I was blessed with a westernized upbringing, and education, and work ethic, and clear headedness of what was right versus wrong without bias armored with a storybook of Sudan stuck between the years 1899-1989, I thought I could descend riding Toruk Makto and beam to the young, the old and the in between the path to our former greatness.
But as it turns out… I dont know shit about Sudan.
Its like Sudan is that distant relative (bil lafa) that you’ve heard so much about, probably been in the same event now and then but were properly never introduced, and you think you know all there is to know from what others have told you but if you sat one on one you could only give a measly ‘Salam’ and have that awkward silence stretch into infinity with a fake plastered smile because she doesn’t know you even exist which you mistake for arrogance and before you could even give a chance for a real conversation, because of your discomfort & embarrassment, you get up all fed up & exasperated & offended and she’s left there baffled at this kooky stranger.
I am not here to act like I know all there is to know about Sudan’s past, present & future. I am not here to find my naseeb. I am not here to make a big hoopla of the ‘sacrifice’ of being here (and reminding you every second), or on a quest to reveal that ‘ta-daa’ moment of why everyone should come back.
That is for you and only you to pick, ponder and decide.
Am here simply to listen.
And I’ve been doing a shitty job of it.
I have this habit that especially became pronounced when I first came to Sudan. Wherever I’d go, walk to, be in a rickshaw, amjaad, car or sitting under the dryer in a hair salon, you’d be sure to find me with head phones blasting. Depending on the mood; whether I was happy (UB40), angry (Vivaldi), romantic (Al Kashif), contemplative (Sam Cooke) or just plain blue (Fairouz), I had a soundtrack for that moment. I was soothed by this habit because in a way I thought the dubbing of these everyday scenes with music made a sense out of the chaos & bewilderment I always feel when stepping out on Khartoum’s streets.
One day I lost my headphones, and since am picky at whatever goes into my ear, it would be a while before I could replace them. I was irked at how now I’d no longer be able to muffle out all that noise and static nonsense. I took my regular walk that I’ve been taking for the past year, down the same road, passing by the same houses, stores & alleys.
At first, I was pissed at the obvious; the sun, the heat, the lack of clouds, stubbing my toe on a protruding piece of rock, cussing at the lack of a simple sidewalk, glaring at the skeleton of a masjid they’ve been building for more than a year, and ugly monstrous apartment buildings that were built in less than half a year, feeling over dressed, or underdressed because it doesn’t really matter if I even wore a burqa, I’d still be violated with crude stares, and the assault of sights, smells, undiluted by music and…
I don’t remember this house.
Look at that design.
Look at that gate.
And I had to stop and really look, because I didn’t recognize a single thing. I had never bothered to notice the details and I pride myself in being able to be aware of the overlooked, appreciating the under-looked, the forgotten, the taken for granted and to realize I was unable to identify a single landmark in an area that I had been passing for almost a year… I was deeply mortified. Then I came across the most bewildering of sights.
There on a marble ledge of a house on the corner grew a tree. Some how, from some random wind, bird, leg of a cat, fell a seed on that marble ledge, and it found a crack, and within that crack it lodged itself and spread its roots and it grew, being nourished by the grace of rain that rarely comes, being beaten down by the suns rays, and no one living in that house really bothering with it because it was just a weed, but it still grew, and I just stood there asking it but really asking myself; why?
Why am I always angry and exhausted, and why are people so fucked in the head & heartless, and why don’t I call and keep in touch and leave you assuming I don’t care when I really do, and why have men transformed into these spineless pussies that are quick to woo but when it comes to losing interest would rather swallow molten lava with their manhood than simply say ‘Am just not that into you’, and why have women transformed into these skanky sirens that can easily befriend you and just as quickly stab you, not even with the courtesy to do it from the back, but smiling, shoving the hilt past your spine, and why are we like this when we deserve, are better than this, why have we become a sha3b that doesn’t understand when we were the only sha3b that had Nizar Gabani reciting poetry in Medani, claiming that while the rest misunderstood and wouldn’t listen, we were the only sha3b who understood and listened; we are the sha3b who hadn’t been listened to for so long we ourselves forgot how to listen.
We don’t listen.
And as I stood there, getting choked up in my own turmoil of being lost in such petty bullshit, asking why till it echoed and echoed and kept on echoing till it answered back;
Why does there need to be an explanation? Just as there is no logical explanation as to why that tree grew out of cement, there is no rational reason as to why people sometimes act the way they do, hurt the way they do. Somethings are just not meant to make sense. And I started remembering exactly why I came to Sudan. I closed my eyes and remembered how to listen.
… to the labored breath of the scrawny man lifting fresh made bricks with the snap of his safinja to the tut-tut then crack whip of the exhaust of a passing racksha to the smell of a burnt oven & the crackle of a plastic bag being overstretched with hot bread to the lazy buzz of a fly riding out these heat waves off of a sitat al shai’s coals as the scent of jabana & ginger mix with the rivulets of soapy water running down the smooth sides of parked cars and the drip drip of droplets off a zeer releasing a hiss when dry earth & water crash causing that bewitching scent and a breeze carrying Jasmine, and the whispering of leaves & branches creaking & heaping trash where there is the thunk from garbage being scavenged by little kids who chink-chink-chink kick at the rusted can and hoot and laugh and that melody intertwines with the call of the Azaan and the pressure of heat pressing down on your forehead to the nape of your neck down to the roll of sweat trickling between your shoulder blades leaving you transcending, uttering ‘SubhanAllah’.
Am not here to save, or change, or dissect, or appraise, or be disappointed in Her.
I invite her, however long it takes because she is quite flaky, but nevertheless am patient and I wait with an empty chair so that she can sit & she may fidget and avoid eye contact but I’ll be calm and just wait and she may false-start three or four times because she’s still not sure about me, anticipating my onslaught of accusations and pleas and curses but I say nothing, she then makes up her mind and begins to speak, I lean back and just…
So I say to my fellow readers: I hope you don’t mind a few more stories. I swear to God ya’ll, I tell them with love.