Thursday, May 24, 2012

السؤال لغير الله مذلة

For as long as I can remember, my grandparents' house in Alsafia had been a hub for beggars of all styles and backgrounds, whom my grandmother Zainab Rustom (Allah yer7ama) entertained with all possible means; money, meals, clothes, etc. No one was every turned away (except when my grandfather came home). I remember one stormy night she heard a child crying outside around 3 in the morning, and dragged our maid out of her bed to help her search the street up and down, until she found the homeless boy, crying and trying to find shelter from the rain and wind, and brought him into the house to spend the night. After she died they all disappeared, except for an occasional old woman probably drawn to the house by the memory of the kind old mashalakha lady, only to find her place empty. When she died there were 2 funerals; one was ours as we mourned the loss of our last grandmother, and one was the beggars and shamasa's as they mourned the loss of their friend.

The country has always seen swarms of beggars going from door to door, standing at traffic lights, pestering people outside (and inside) restaurants, supermarkets and wedding halls. However, now they are flooding the place. I left the country 5 years ago, and now that I'm back I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of beggars I am seeing, and their attitude about begging. The vast majority is not even Sudanese, and around 90% of them don't need to be begging anyway. I can see children with and without amputated arms and legs, and women carrying sleeping babies, and old men who look like they belong to a family and yet are sitting on the sidewalk with a tin bowel in front of them. And, the most irritating and annoying of all, is the grown men who are dressed up and have shoes on their feet, perfectly normal limbs and have NO REASON whatsoever to be begging, and who demand that you give them money. These men have held onto my side mirrors, attempted to open my car door and even slammed the car when I adamantly refuse to pay up. On the other hand, you see children of all ages and backgrounds standing in the scorching sun surrounded by exhaust smoke, selling tissues, expired chewing gum, prepaid cards and toys. They should be in school somewhere or being taken care of by other people. However, they choose to do this rather than stand and beg on the street. And a fully grown man with absolutely nothing wrong with him holds his hand out and demands that you give him money? Yeah right. Not in a million years.

There is no excuse for begging if you are able to work. Don’t tell me the government won't give you a job: the same hand you hold out for money you could use to wash someone's car, carry a pile of bricks or even clean up the streets if you're so desperate for money. What makes those people selling stuffed toys and broken kits at traffic lights any different than you? Why do they prefer to do what they do for hours on end, in this heat, being turned away again and again by people sitting in their comfortable air conditioned cars? What makes an 80 year old man sit at a small rickety old table on the side of road and sell cigarettes and tissues? Why aren’t they begging like you? There is no excuse, so don't try. There are people who don't see food on their tables for days on end; who's children eat dirt at school just to get some energy to get through the day; who don’t even know what it's like to have new, warm clothes, and who can only dream of what it would feel like to go to bed with a full stomach. Do you see these people begging? No, you don’t. Their women sell kisra and nuts, their men carry sacks and bricks in the market, and their children wash cars and sell plastic bags to passer bys. And by the end of the week they might just have enough money to pay the tax man; and if they’re lucky, a little left over for a meal that will silence their growling stomachs. Tagol ley ash7ad? Yakhi ma tikhtashi!

اللهم ارحم زينب حسين رستم و جميع أموات المسلمين
I miss you terribly.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

هادم الملذّات

Death is a strange thing. It happens to everyone, and yet not to everyone. It takes so many guises and travels through so many media, and yet, the end result is the same. It is so final. And yet, it is just the beginning. We hear about it all the time, every day, from friends, on the news, in history books, in the Quraan. And yet! When it does eventually come, it's always unexpected! You plan as fast and as hard as you can, but it's always one step ahead. You think you know when it is coming for you, but in the end it always takes you by surprise.

I thought I was going to die once. As in, I was sure this was it. In August of 2009, 3 days before my birthday, I came down with the flu. It would have been no big deal, except that it was the swine flu at the height of the H1N1 global epidemic. And to make matters worse, I was the first confirmed doctor casualty to get infected from a patient despite full contact precautions. I remember every small detail that happened before the fever started. I remember that Salim Almazroui had had a massive stroke and was lying in the ICU, with dozens of his relatives and friends coming to visit every day, myself one of them. I remember seeing and talking to people I hadn’t met in years. And that Farida was one of the medical residents on call that week. And I remember the 2 boys who had arrived from Iran the night before, who had sky high fever and were coughing so much that when I entered the room I could actually see all the droplets in the air. The interesting part is that my shift was about the end 5 minutes later, but I preferred to see and swab them because otherwise they would wait for another half hour until the new shift had received and reviewed all their patients before getting to them.

Long story short, I caught the virus. The mask I was wearing was already moist from use, and was penetrable. And I wasn’t wearing goggles. I saw the boys on Monday night; the cough started on Friday, and Sunday morning I woke up at 6 am with my heart racing and my skin feeling like it was on fire. Not being used to having a fever, I didn’t know what was wrong with me until I checked my pulse and found it in the range of 120-125. When I measured my temperature later in the ER (to ask for the first and only sick leave in the history of my career) it was only 38.6, but it felt like 40. It stayed with me until Tuesday, during which I couldn’t sleep, and what little sleep I did get was fitful and interrupted by hallucinations and nightmares. I couldn’t eat anything solid, and what little I got in passed out almost immediately. On day 2 I started to bleed from the nose, and was nauseous all the time. The cough was the most irritating thing. And the fact that I knew I was going to die.

I don’t know what goes through people's heads when this fact occurs to them. To me, as I lay sweating on the couch too weak to answer the phone that was ringing nonstop, I thought about what to do about this realization. I didn’t mind dying, that much I knew. But I was worried. Because whichever way I looked at it, I knew that if I died I would go to Hell. There was nothing that I had done in my life that would even give hope that I might end up in Heaven. Yes I wore hijab, I prayed and fasted and I tried to be a good person in general. But that was it. I had done nothing in my life to deserve mercy from The Most Merciful, and to escape those flesh-eating flames for all eternity. I tried to write a will, but didn’t have anything to give away. The only thing I could remember was the 35 pounds I owed Esam from Mix Max 7 years ago and which to this day I cannot for the life of me remember if I had paid back or not. When I had thought about it long enough, I tried to prepare myself for death by washing my hair and cleaning up, but just standing in the shower for 5 minutes was exhausting and I couldn’t even do that. In the end, I succumbed to my fate, and just prayed that my illness wipe away all my sins, and that my useless and shameful existence in this mortal world be forgiven and accepted. I didn’t think much about what it would actually feel like; I just knew that it was coming. And I vowed that, if I lived through this experience, I would be a better person.

Well, obviously I didn’t die, and felt like I had been given a second chance, which I shamefully admit I am not making much use of. I did contact a couple of people whom I felt I had wronged and apologized to them, and I went to Hajj. I am genuinely trying to improve many other things. However, man has a bad habit: no matter how close you get to death, you eventually forget about it. I do wonder, though if when it happens, would I go out with a bang, like Wardi, Imam Ali El-Sheikh and Princess Diana? Or would I just fade away out of existence and memory, like those figures on the list of a terrorist attack, or a lizard in the middle the desert? I don’t want to pass through this life, mortal and useless as it is, as a nobody, touching no one's life, improving no one's existence, changing nothing in the world, and leaving behind no good memory or legacy.

It's never too late. Tomorrow, the rest of my life begins.

اللهم اهدينا في من هديت، و عافنا في من عافيت، و تولنا في من توليت، و بارك لنا في ما أعطيت، و اكفنا شر ما قضيت، انك تقضي و لا يقضى عليك، اللهم ارحم موتانا و ارحمنا اذا صرنا الى ما صاروا اليه، اللهم اجعل خير أعمالنا خواتمها و خير أيامنا يوم نلقاك يا كريم يا غفور يا أرحم الراحمين، امين

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hello Kitty!

This is a story that happened quite a while ago, around 2-3 years kida. I was on my way to Dubai and flying British Airways because they used to have the cheapest tickets. Their planes suck and they don’t serve you anything on the short haul flights, like Muscat-Dubai. Anyway, we were on the bus taking us to the plane. I parked myself at the far end of the bus where there's that elevated area just low enough to sit on, and faced the rest of the bus to observe those coming in. It wasn’t a full flight, and eventually a family of Brits containing one set of parents, one pair of boys and one pair of girls boarded the bus. The dad was a thin, tall guy with greying hair, and his wife had those Samira Donya eyebrows going on. The boys had their backpacks on and looked cool and bored. The girls looked younger; one looked around 8-ish and was pulling a bright pink Hello Kitty bag behind her. Apparently her name was Olivia, as her mother called her. The younger girl looked like a slightly over-grown doll with pale blond hair all done up in curls and pale blue eyes, and wasn’t pulling anything.

'Olivia, you were very strong lifting that bag all by yourself!' The Brits are all about praising their kids. The boys ignored Olivia and continued with their chitchat, as both parents beamed down on their pretty little daughters. Naturally, it was important to praise Dolly as well.

'Dolly, you also did a good job-' Samira stopped in mid-sentence.

'Sajami! Where's Dolly's Hello Kitty bag?!' Everyone looked around, and then at Dolly-without-the-Hello-Kitty-bag. There was no Hello-Kitty bag anywhere to be seen.

'Dolly? Where's your red Hello-Kitty bag?' Dolly looked clueless and lost. She didn’t know where she had left the red Hello Kitty bag. Parents started to get agitated, wondering if they had left it in the bathroom? At the waiting hall? Near the cafe? Where could it be? And the plane was taking off in a very short while! Sajami sajami sajami! Samira started gesturing wildly to the lady who was checking the passports at the gate hall, shouting the way people shout at people who they think are deaf or can't understand what language you're speaking. The lady was Philipino.

'Excuse me! We are LOOKING for a RED Hello Kitty bag! We MIGHT HAVE LEFT IT in the BATHROOM or in the HALL or NEAR THE CAFE! Excuse me!' The Philipino lady looked back and tried to hear what Samira was saying about the lost bag, and Samira continued to shout out descriptions of the red Hello Kitty bag, as if thinking that the bag, hearing itself being described so clearly, would get up from wherever it was sitting and wheel itself into view. Meanwhile, tall thin Dad was trying to get Samira's attention to take his passport, get off the bus and go look for the bag. All this time, Dolly was looking fearfully along, her blue eyes getting bigger and bigger as the problem finally sunk into her blond little brain. Her Hello Kitty bag had gotten lost. The red one. And she had lost it. And now everyone was so upset! Obviously, it was too much for one pink/blond little Brit to handle, and she burst out crying.


It was horrible, and that voice was something that would come out of a 60 year old man being exorcised from an evil spirit.


Of course, being British, the 'kitty' in 'Hello Kitty' was pronounced without the T in the middle, coming out as 'Ello Ki'y instead, making it all the more dramatic. Dad had finally gotten Samira's attention, pulled his passport out of her bag and heroically jumped off the bus, rushed past the Philipino lady and out of sight. Samira thought it necessary to comfort her hysterical little Dolly and kneeled down next to her, smoothing her hair and saying: 'it's alright, Daddy's going to get the Hello Kitty bag, it's alright', in a loud dramatic voice. The brothers leaned against the posts looking on at this elaborate show, obviously unmoved. They coolly discussed all the exciting events that had happened to them throughout this trip, counting them off their fingers. It sounded like 4 in total. All this time, I had been perched on my counter, trying (and failing) to hide my laughter at these events. And then suddenly, the doors closed and the bus started moving. Dolly, who had not stopped crying since she had started, almost had a heart attack.


Apparently she thought the bus was whisking them off the England and her daddy was being left behind. Him and the red Hello Kitty bag.


I think I fell off the counter min shidat aldi7ik alkan shari6ni. Remember the British accent: no T in the middle!

Anyway, Dolly was eventually calmed down after we had arrived at the plane and they had gotten into their business class seats while I trudged towards my usual location at the back of the plane with my fellow economiers. Being on a fixed budget sucks. I've been on a fixed budget my whole life, walbusiness da binshimo saaaakit! Quite a while later, Dad appeared on the plan, red Hello Kitty bag in hand. I was too far off to see Dolly's reaction, but could pretty well imagine it.

And that was my adventure on British Airways, which turned out to be the last time I ever flew BA.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bala 3awaleeg!

This is dedicated to the guy who called me ‘3awaleeg’. For those of you who don’t know the story, my last blog was about my observations while chillaxing in the ‘main’ in Khartoum University college of medicine. These observations were comments about college students in general, but happened to be ‘observed’ in the U of K. A graduate of afore mentioned university (year of graduation unknown but prolly late 90’s kida) felt offended after reading my post, and asked his friend where the writer had graduated from, and received the answer: Juba University. Hence the reply: ‘bala 3awaleeg’. I don’t usually care much what people think of my posts because in general I write them for myself rather than for my audience. It is my space, on my page, for my thoughts. Naturally, I am flattered when people read, comment and appraise. It is even more flattering when people follow. It’s annoying when people make stupid comments, but that is expected, and many times has provided food for thought (and in rare cases, doubt). However this particular comment I disliked immensely because it was a reply not to my opinions or style of writing, but to my background; i.e. the place I graduated from.

It is well known that graduates of certain universities have a sense of superiority and grandiosity, and a little bit of what we call ‘waham’ about them. They feel it necessary to push the fact that they have graduated from so and so university in people’s faces, and that graduates of other universities are by no means at their level in society or profession. It doesn’t matter whether they graduated top or bottom of class, how many years they had to repeat, or whether or not they got anywhere in the world after graduating. And it certainly doesn’t matter where that university stands compared to other universities in the present, since in the past it was the one and only. One of such universities is the University of Khartoum. Take note: I am not generalising. I have many friends who graduated from U of K who are down to earth, hardworking and good friends. U of K should be proud of having produced such people. My own parents graduated from U of K. However, what they are now is not at all related to where they graduated from. I’m pretty sure they would have turned out just as cool if they had graduated even from the lowest of the low universities, e.g. Juba University.

I don’t feel it necessary to defend my old school especially in such a context. I admit I hold no old sentiments to it at all, and have no intention of portraying any false impressions of pride or loyalty. In fact, there was even an attempt to transfer me to U of K during my first year in Sudan. However, I still find it annoying that people still hold on to the mentality (or lack of) that your status in the world is related to the place you had the luck to graduate from. And that this mentality has managed to find its way and applied itself to me, albeit by someone who has no sense of humour. I also don't feel it necessary to portray my (and my fellow Juba graduates) accomplishments in life which are easily more than many graduates of U of K have managed, despite having the ill-luck to be a Juba graduate. Let it be enough that I have taken on 2 demanding tracks in the field of medicine, have taken and passed several specialisation and licensing exams, travelled all over the world to attend international conferences and workshops, and have come back home out of my own free will to pursue my career in a fashion I feel appropriate. I also have a blog that people read occasionally and that sometimes finds it's way to the eyes of people who have prehistoric standards of judgement.

And so, to the guy who called me 3awaleeg, I have this and only this to say to you: Heeeeeeey wu heeeeeeeeey wu taaaaaani heeey! A3mal LINE wu ageef BEHIND! Bala 3awaleeg!