Before coming here I read in the Lonely Planet guide that Sudanese people are probably the most hospitable people in the world, therefore it might even be the cheapest country for travelers as they can knock on the door (especially outside Khartoum) and can expect receiving accommodation and food without paying anything. They say, Sudanese people consider foreigners as guests and treat them as a God’s blessing. And, indeed, during my stay here I have experienced very welcoming, hospitable attitude and willingness to help as much as they can. It is amazing to see that despite not so excellent economic and social conditions they have not lost the human’s face. Also, it might sound strange, but in general i felt here safer than in Nairobi. Something here is different. Maybe it is culture and their mentality.
Though there are so many things which are purely local, globalization and especialy media and consumerism has made already its footprints in Sudan. Shopping malls with Western style shops and goods try to make this place like any other place around the world which at times looks like an imitation and artificial development. It’s based on imported concepts rather than local culture and traditions. I am very surprised about the popularity of English Premiere League here in Sudan (and well, also in Kenya) which becomes often a topic for discussions among people (dont know why, but most of the people are supporting Manchester United here). In every restuarant there will be at least one TV showing football games, either live or recorded. I wonder if this is this uncut bond with England as a heritage of colonial times..
Whiteness. Khartoum will stay in my memory as the city of white. White galabi (long dress worn by men), white trousers and shirts (for those less conservative), white cars, whilte buildings and even white donkeys. In order to adapt to the local culture and to fit into it most of the days I also tried to be as white as possible. I asked the Sudanese isnt white actually an impractical color? Apparently for them, no. any color if it is dirty does not look good. The real practical reason why they prefer white clothes, white cars, white buildings etc, is that white color reflects the sun and therefore the object does not get that hot as it is in case of black color for example. However, i should note here, that it is culturally accepted to wear loose clothes and tight tops should be avoided, unless, as i was told, i am ready to receive offers to get married. 🙂 Funnily enough, but white cars in the market also cost more because of the higher demand. Regarding cars as such, you may feel surprised to see so many very new cars, but apparently one can not import the car which is older than 3 years. I am not sure, whose interests such a law is defending, but interesting.
I have always been curious about the ban to drink alcohol; do people really never try or drink in Muslim societies? to my great surprise, i was told that some centuries ago alcohol actually has been part of Sudanese culture, however it is now more like a government policy rather than religion or culture which forbids Muslims to drink. Nowadays, if Sudanese police find you using alcohol, you may be beaten up therefore fear is great. You cant neither buy alcohol in Sudfan nor bring it in the country from elsewhere. The only option is to be in good friends with diplomats, but here I will stop this story.
Sudanese drink coffee and tea. This is what they do, when they go out. One evening we like hundreds of local Sudanese were going to the riverside of Nile to just sit on the chairs and drink some strong traditional Sudanese coffee, test some local nuts and seeds and talk about culture, politics and Africa. Coffee being served by mobile ‘coffee shops’ is a very good refreshment despite the +30C even in the late evening. several kilometres along the Nile which is flowing through the city people would be sitting in smaller or bigger groups and enjoying the evening. My immediate first thought was that this is their alternative to TV. I dont know many of them would have TVs at home, but i guess this phenomenon is possible because of (still) relatively weak Western media influence and cult in society. I might be wrong, but i think, for Sudanese people contacts with family, friends and other people in general is extremely important part of their lives. They are very open, social and ready to engage with other people. While enjoying the night by the river Nile we somehow got into this deep discussion about democracy. Can it be taught? But then how so many proponents of democracy can appear in oppressed societies? Is it a culture? a certain level of wisdom and maturity of ones mind? Nevertheless, we agreed that education can be the true empowerment. A freedom of ones ability to decide upon its destiny and future means ability to take responsibility of ones own life and its path. Without education one may not be able to realize that he has choices. In Sudan, education seems to be a luxury as it is relatively expensive and depends on ability to go to the private school in order to be accepted to the University.
For a foreigner not knowing local Arabic language might become a problem. One of the nights we went for a dinner at one Egyptian caffee and it took as quite a long time to understand what they are offering (menu was in Arabic) and what are the prices. Also, today when i was going to some souvenir shops, i was going there with my Sudanese colleague who could help me to interact with sellers and discuss the price (you would never see the set prices) of the items i was interested in. I was quite surprised when i was offered to buy a stuffed crocodile. Though it was cute, i said – thanks, no. Why one would buy a stuffed crocodile? later on i am told that it is for showing the power and status. Instead of stuffed animals i bought some wood decorations, jewellry made of camel bone and ebonite and some other local materials. To strengthen the thesis about the hospitability and generosity of Sudanese people, i should emphasize here that half of the things i got from the souvenir shop were actually given to me as gifts.
during this stay in Sudan, i have missed several holidays: as you may know, on Sunday people work here in Sudan, so i was working too though formally it is my holiday. On Monday, which was a public holiday in UK, i was working as i am in Sudan. On Wednesday there was a public holiday in Kenya, and again, i was in Sudan not in Kenya and missed that too. So, as a little compensation, i am taking a day off on Friday so i can go on little safari tour as i am tonight saying goodbye to Sudan and returning to Kenya.
We had a little farewell dinner tonight with Latvian, Pakistani and Kenyan food. As international organization with international staff we should have international dinners. And food is always something which easily unite people. All but one Latvian pancakes were gone…
…feels like this week in Sudan was a kind of a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. i dont know if i will return here again, but i know this is only the first trip to Africa, and no way the last one.