Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Invitations

A few days before our vacation from work for the celebration of Eid Al Adha, the children and I were invited to spend the first day of Eid at the home of one of my co-workers; who is also my neighbor.  I love when I get invitations.  It gives me another chance to learn more about Sudanese ways and culture.  What better way to learn the ways of a people than to observe a religious celebration.
Our day began at 5:00 a.m. at the time the morning prayer began.  We prayed and then prepared for our day.  Many mosques were saying, “Allaahu Akbar, Allaahu Akbar, laa ilaha illallah.”  Many mosques allow small children to say this over the loud speaker.  It is always a joy to hear the children early in the morning.  At 7:30 a.m. the boys and I left our home going to the next district for the prayer.  We met my co-worker and headed in the direction of the mosque.  I was expecting to go inside of a building.  However, we came to an open field with many men and women dressed in their best and sitting in rows waiting for the Eid prayer.     Everyone looked so lovely.  We prayed and listened to the lecture.  Once finished, we began greeting everyone and wishing them well, making du’a that the upcoming year is full of blessings.  No matter how young or old a person was, they attempted to hug everyone there and wish them well.
After worshipping Allaah in the prescribed manner that we have been taught, we left to have our first meal of the day with my colleague and family.  Although there are many words I could use to describe their wonderful home, I could sum it up by calling it HOME!!!  Immediately my children fell in love with this simple yet wonderful place.  There was a place for sheep and pigeons.  There was a big courtyard for them to run and play.  The Mother of the house was very loving and I was surprised in the course of a day just how much work she did.  A few men from the family took a sheep to the front door and slaughtered it.  They hung him up at the opening of the door and skinned him and began cutting him into pieces.
In the back of the house, me and the women of the home prepared the meal and washed the meat as it came back to us.  I had such an enjoyable le time bonding and learning to prepare Sudanese food.  I learned how to make a drink called Shurboat, salad with peanut butter, grilled lamb, fried lamb, lamb soup and a hot pepper sauce. (Just to name a few)  It was such a delight when I sat down to eat the finished product.  I had watched ad participated in the whole process from live sheep to very delicious, irresistible meal.
About one hour after the first meal, I made preparations to return home.  I thanked everyone for a nice time.  Everyone responded, “Where are you going?”  “Why are you leaving?’ “Stay for our afternoon meal.”  My children, who had made themselves very much at home said, “Please, please don’t make us go, we want to stay with Grandma.”  So, I accepted the second invitation and stayed a while longer.  Everyone lay down for a while to take a mid-day rest.  The children watched cartoons, Eid festivities from different countries and various Qur’aan recitations on television.
Shortly following our afternoon nap, the Mother of the home presented us with our late afternoon meal.  Just as the meal before, it was delicious.  We ate and reflected on our day.  The boys ran back and forth in the yard among the lambs and pigeons.  It was also their feeding time.  After our meal we drank more Shurboat and then tea.
By the time we had finished our second meal, I felt that I had to go home.   I could not eat ANYMORE, but as long as I stayed, I would be presented with more.  Sudanese hospitality is wonderful.  Once again I made the announcement of my departure and began getting my children ready to leave.   Again I was presented with another invitation.  “Where are you going?” “Sleep here with us.”  As if it was some kind of conspiracy, my youngest son had dirtied all of his changes of clothes late afternoon as the sun was going down, so I washed his clothes, hang them up and prepared to stay for the night.  I felt so comfortable and loved the hospitality I was being shown. The night went on and we ate more lamb and drank many cups of tea, coffee, and juices.  We drank to the point we took many trips to the bathroom.  The children professed over and over how much they loved Sudan and enjoyed their Eid.
After a lovely night’s rest, we awake to pray and prepared to leave. Guess what?  You guessed right, another invitation.!!!!  We ate the morning meal, thanked the hosts and returned home with an everlasting imprint in our minds of Sudanese hospitality and the invitations.

Ice Cream in a Bag

I am always trying to find productive and fun ways to spend my weekend, especially since I only have one day off per week.  Often I elicit ideas and suggestions from my students and colleagues who usually have some very interesting things on their lists.  When listening to ideas; I take several things into consideration.  I think of the cost for my entire family, the ease or difficulty in transporting small children, and whether this activity will be suitable and enjoyable for everyone.  So, when one of my students suggested we go to buy ice cream at a parlor in Bahri and then walk across the bridge into Omdurman, I thought it was perfect.  The trip would not be too expensive and transportation very easy. 

Friday came and the children were very excited.  We talked about different flavors of ice cream we had tasted before and the many types of ice cream cones that were available.  It had been over a year since we had a good ice cream cone.   It was winter last year when we left American, so no ice cream was available.

We had just about decided what cones we wanted when the time came to go.  We got on the bus and left Thawrah off to Bahri.  As we travel, I think of the many cone varieties. “What kind would I get: sugar, waffle, or plain?” We make it to the shop and I see BLOCKS of ice cream.  I have never ever seen BLOCKS of ice cream.  My children were stunned!!!  There were men cutting off smaller blocks and putting them in bags.  I was still searching for cones.  I was thinking this was some kind of factory and the people had special orders for some big event.  Finally, it was our turn in line.  The student accompanying us asked what flavors we wanted. After choosing, the worker started cutting blocks of ice cream, put them in four plastic bags, wrapped them in newspaper and gave them to us.  It was then that I realized we were about to eat ice cream out of a bag.

As we walked across the bridge, the Nile was unbelievably beautiful.  I looked at my boys faces.  They were going through some major adjustments trying to eat ice cream from a bag.  We were having an experience of a lifetime.  The ice cream was very delicious.  But the bag thing really made me laugh and say, “Only in Sudan!!!@$$#%.!@!!”

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Negative Side of the Media

Technology has really come a long way.  With the many advances in the internet and multimedia, the world seems like a much smaller place.  The technology we have available to us today enables us to make friends   from all over the world.  We can now conduct business without ever leaving our homes.  However, a lot of the advances in technology have been used to spread negative things about people and countries across the globe.  This has certainly been the case for Sudan.

Coming  from a western country, I know first-hand the image that the media has painted of the Sudan:  the country that hosted Usama Bin Laden and allowed him to establish training camps; the country that flogs women for wearing pants and keeps them uneducated; the country with the longest war in African history because  the people are extremist and fundamentalists and want to commit genocide of their own people who are of pure African descent .Well, because I am muslim, a lot of this fell on deaf ears so to speak.  But, I realized after moving her that some things had formed and shaped my opinion of the Sudan.

One of the areas that I found I had accepted the opinions of the media was in regards to the status of women in this society.  I did not realize that I had a negative view towards women in this country until I began working in a local school and started administering placement tests.  I would ask the question, “Do you have a job and what do you do.” I found myself being shocked when a lady, looking just like me, dressed just like me would say, “I am a doctor.  I am a dentist.  I am a pharmacist.  I am a lawyer.”  I thought to myself, “Me of all people, why am I amazed?  I am black, a woman, a muslim, and educated.”  But, after thinking for some time, I realized that I had never seen anything positive on TV in America abourt Sudan.

When I first arrived, it shocked me that the uniforms of the women working in the airport were pants.  What was all this media coverage about a lady being flogged for wearing pants?  Pants are worn by women on a daily basis with freedom and no condemnation.  Of course, they are not worn in the manner they are worn in the United States and other Western countries.  They are usually worn with knee-length or ankle-length shirts.  But, the reality is, they are worn; not as it is made to believe in the media.

Although many of this site’s readers are Sudanese, this message is for the non-Sudanese readers; my family, friends and acquaintances and anyone who dares care about justice and realities.  Think twice when you look at a news clip of Sudan on your televisions or the internet.  Think twice before you accept everything you hear on the radio.  Am I saying that everything you here about the Sudan is false?  Of course I’m not saying that.  Am I saying that there are absolutely no terroristic thoughts from anyone in the whole country?  No, I’m not.  There are extremists all over the world.  There are extremists and terrorists in places like America, Britain and New Zealand but no one labels them as a terrorist country.

Some may say, “She has moved to Sudan and become one of them, she’s just speaking from the heart.”  No, I am more American than many realize.  However, I speak from my heart and from the evidence that my eyes have seen.  The majority of Sudanese are: 1. Proud to be Sudanese.  2. Striving to make a good life for them and their families.

We Share the Money!!!

As long as I can remember, I have had the dream of having a good job, MY own house, MY own car, husband and children.  I have had this dream that I am successful.  If you notice, my success is MY success.  My dream did not include anyone but ME and MY own personal achievements in life.  Why?  This is how I have been conditioned.  I come from a society that teaches us to be self-sufficient and to possess a character of individuality.  We are taught not to depend on others for anything.  So, you can imagine my suprise when I experienced the unity between families here in the Sudan.  It is something I have never seen.  It has caused me to wonder how much we could accomplish in the West if we had more unity and cooperation.

Teaching in Sudan has taught me much.  On my job, I administer placement exams for English courses.  Two of the questions we ask on the test are, “Could you tell me something about your family?” and “Why do you want to learn English?”  The answers to these questions always leave me astonished and amazed.  It is Oh so easy for us self-centered and arrogant Westerners to believe that everyone wants to learn English so that they can pursue a life in one of the English speaking countries.  But, this is not always true.  Through asking these questions, I have learned how to be a better mother, daughter and neighbor.

There are sons and daughters here in the Sudan who want to learn English as a small step to accomplishing a larger goal.  Being English proficient increases your chances of obtaining a good paying job with stability.  So, some simply want to be able to pay their parents back for sending them to school or to take care of them so that they no longer have to work hard anymore.  One of my students answered, “I have a typical African family. I have many brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins who need to be fed and who need higher education.  I want to be able to contribute like everyone has contributed to my education and well-being.”  Another student was working in a high traffic tourist area during Ramadan and taking English classes as well.  When he found working, studying and fasting to be too difficult, he quit his job.  So, I asked him how he was going to pay his bills and eat for a month.  He responded with surety, “My brother will give me money for that.”  I sat for a moment wondering to myself how he could be so sure of this.  So, I asked him.  He said, “No problem, when he was in school to become a dentist, I always sent him money.  Here in Sudan, we have unity.  What is money?  Money is nothing.  You use it to survive only.”  I felt so ashamed.  People here would be shocked to know that I have a couple of millionaires in my family!!!  They do not and would not give to any of us and we would not dare ask them for anything.  My grandmother raised both of them and they have never reached out to help her financially. We really need a lesson in unity.

I have found myself doing so much self-analysis; teaching my children to function as a unit.  I hope that being here in Sudan will cause my children to have a personality of giving, sacrifice and love. This is truly one of the most beautiful things about Sudan and its people; a spirit of giving.