Two months ago, and after nearly five continuous years of being abroad, I returned to Khartoum for a short and much-needed visit that turned out to be rather rejuvenating. As soon as I was out of the airport cruising in my uncle’s pick up truck, the change was instantly noticeable.
It was already night time, and yet, it didn’t feel gloomy. Unlike before, most main streets were bright with lamps that stretched as far as the roads they lit. Most cars weren’t ancient moving chimneys anymore. The majority seemed to be Korean-made and manufactured within the last couple of years probably.
Everywhere I looked, there were new restaurants full of people. The few old ones I hung out in five years earlier like Amwaj and Steers were still in business and seemed overwhelmed by the demand of the endless hungry crowd.
Street advertisements launched by the new cellphone network provider Sudani One against Zain were hard to avoid. Anywhere you drove, there they were – again and again, in your face. Oh, and I also saw an Addidas store, and when I asked a friend about it later, he told me it’s genuine.
And it made sense. Addidas, after all, is a German brand. Hence, American sanctions have no effect on it.
It was a little hard to absorb everything all at once. My uncle was right. “It’s been five years since the last you came here. What did you expect,” he said.
Not everything was rainbows and butterflies though. Different things left me with different reactions. So without anymore further delays, yours truly will now begin sharing some of the many observations he’s made during his recent trip to the convergence of the White and Blue Niles.
Elections? What Elections?
Given that the elections are just around the corner, I was expecting to sense some excitement in the city. Posters everywhere for candidates, preparations, conversations centered around this historic event, something, anything, but soon, I found out that I had arrived with excessively high expectations.
“Here, in this part of Khartoum, hardly anyone cares really. People here just want to eat, dress nicely, talk for hours on their cellphones, drive nice cars, and live in comfortable homes,” my uncle began explaining the next day. “The ones who care about the elections are the people in Omdurman. You’ll notice the activism there,” he continued.
Ah, Those Pesky Turkish Soap Operas. Where’s a Fatwa When You Need One?
Arabic-dubbed Turkish operas spreading their “bullshit secular Turkish values” are the craze right now. Young and old, male and female, many just seem to enjoy watching them in Khartoum these days.
Where Did All the Southerners Go?
This one took me a while to notice. Five years ago, it was always so easy to spot crowds of Southern Sudanese walking around together in big groups in different parts of the city. Now, their numbers have dramatically gone down.
Drima: Where did they disappear to?
Friend: They were gradually pushed out of the city and forced to head to the South back to where they came from.
Drima: Interesting, I thought so. Well, there’s another reason to add to the list of reasons for why the South is going to separate into its own country soon.
Friend: Good, because I’m tired of this shit. Let them have their country.
The Jihad Lectures
So one day I got into a little amjaad van, and told the driver to take me to Solitaire to meet sommmmmebody. On the way there, the amjaad driver listened to some seriously horrifying shit preached by some seriously horrifying lunatic who probably escaped from a zoo.
“The infidels are the enemies of Islam. Everywhere, they are the enemies of Islam. If they respect the law of God and the rule of Islam in a country, they may go around minding their own business peacefully. However, if they transgress our ways and attempt to affirm their disbelief in the face of our creed, then we must fight them.”
Sigh. I thought this garbage lost its popularity within Khartoum after Turabi’s fall from power. Looks like I was wrong.
“Girls Who Smoke Shisha Are Sluts!”
There was this other time when another amjaad driver was listening to a lecture on some Sudanese radio channel. The whole thing focused on the “shisha-smoking trend amongst Sudanese university girls” and how it’s “a disturbing phenomenon that is spreading quickly within society.”
Sadly, the trend isn’t seen as a bad thing due to public health concerns, something which would be absolutely legitimate. Instead, it’s seen as a disturbing trend because ” a girl who smokes shisha, isn’t a worthy future wife or mother” because “she cheapens herself by engaging in such immoral behavior which is against our values” and “no wise young man would want to marry such girls.”
Meanwhile, the boys can smoke all the want. Yes, having a penis makes you exempt from criticism apparently. Not a single thing was mentioned during the radio lecture concerning shisha-smoking amongst young male Sudanese adults in universities.
The Other Side of the “Indecent for Wearing Trousers” Story
Drima: What a bunch of assholes. How can they do this to her just because she was wearing trousers?
Friend: Man, that woman is an opportunist. You don’t have all the facts. They bothered her and arrested her because she writes shit against the government in newspapers.
Drima: Oh, how nice, so now everyone who writes against the government should get harassed?
Friend: No, no, cut the crap, that’s not what I meant. The woman is an opportunist. She used her arrest to get media attention, and now she’s milking her fame for all its worth promoting her book in France. Man, she freaking met the former French president.
Drima: She’s sharing her story, what’s the problem with that?
Friend: Well, obviously you don’t know that she was married to a wealthy man who was over 80 years old, do you?
Drima: Eh, really? No effing way!
Friend: I’m telling you, it’s true, just ask around.
Dear Sudanese readers out there, can any of you confirm this?
The Day I Almost Cried Tears of Joy:
My First Visit to Burj Al Fatih
I’ve seen it in pictures and on video, but never in real life. The first time I entered the building’s compound, I was in disbelief. Finally, after all these years, a well-constructed large modern building worthy of admiration rose up from the sands of Khartoum. It actually happened. And days later, I saw more buildings rising up as I dined at the top of Burj Al-Fatih in the sky view restaurant and inspected Alsunut project.
For all of you dear non-Sudanese reading this blog (and especially you dear uninformed ones who think Sudan is all just about genocide, genocide, and more genocide), here’s a video featuring the plan for the ambitious project known as Alsunut.
While there is progress, it’s not going as well as expected at all. Insiders tell me Osama Dawud had a fallout with corrupt government officials who wanted to grab a piece of the action. Some of his companies also got caught up and paralyzed by American sanction restrictions. Although now, with the monumental Darfur peace agreement signed at Qatar, thanks to the efforts of the Qatari government and other beebull, I predict we’ll gradually begin to see positive changes in Sudanese American relations.
My Visit to Maygoma
This one is going to require a whole separate post. But I gotta tell you though, visiting shelters for abandoned children left to die by “mothers” who gave birth to them out of wedlock, is no fun experience. It was tragic.
Anyways, as a conclusion, and simply put, Sudan, (erm, actually Khartoum to be specific) has made some very real progress in terms of infrastructure, living standards, and a bunch of other stuff impacted by the oil boom. However, all of this has also created distinct differences in lifestyle. On the surface, Sudanese in Khartoum love to portray the impression that they’re conforming to long-accepted social “guidelines” if I can call them that. However, once you dig a little deeper, you begin to discover lots of contradictions.
Meh, I’m gonna need a whole separate post for this one as well.
More later ya 7ilween.