Saturday, July 21, 2012

Da Mostawa Lekom?

My sister was sitting up in her bedroom one day working on something or another, with the windows open and the sounds of the street outside floating in with the afternoon breeze. The sounds of dogs barking, leaves rustling and children playing. A group of the latter were in close proximity to our house, and the sound of their off-key, broken and out of tune singing floated in with the rest of the sounds, as they engrossed in what small children usually do as an essential part of passing time. Maybe they were singing some annoying poem from school/kindergarten, or possibly an advertisement. Whatever it was, they were enjoying their time, albeit at the expense of any sane person who was unfortunate enough to listen to their horrible voices. Then suddenly, like a crack of thunder in the midst of daylight, the sound of a woman cut through the afternoon:
Needless to say, the singing stopped immediately, and did not resume. I have an idea who those kids were (3 small boys who live across the house opposite ours and practically live on the street 24/7), and another small boy who is, indeed, walad alghafeer posted in an empty house at the end of the block. I have no idea, however, who the woman was, and I’m quite curious as to her identity. Because she can’t be from outside the neighbourhood otherwise she wouldn’t know that fourth child was walad alghafeer, simply because he looked like all the other kids (in terms of colour, clothing, etc). She also couldn’t be the children’s mother or grandmother, because these children are, as I mentioned, on the streets 24/7, to the extent that anyone who didn’t know who they were would assume they themselves are ‘awlad ghofara’, or at least street children (no offense intended here). Based on which, the fact that they occasionally play with walad alghafeer who lives 2 houses down the street from them (and who incidentally is a very cute, VERY friendly and very clean little boy, whose name I don’t know but who sometimes stands next to me and chatters about life in general as I top up the water in the car) is nothing new. I also doubt that she was one of the other women in the neighbourhood, because people around here couldn’t care less what their neighbours’ kids are doing, as well as the fact that their grandfather (whose house they live in) is not someone that any sane person would cross in any debateable issue, no matter how small. So, who was she? And more importantly, what in God’s name was she thinking?!
                Of course, we don’t need to think too hard about the second question. Because this attitude is one that is not new to us no matter what we choose to believe. It’s also something that, try as we might, is not going away anytime soon. However, I still find it disquieting that she should choose to portray her primitive and ignorant beliefs and methods of instruction on a group of children, and directly to one of those children’s face (walad alghafeer). Although too young to feel hurt or ashamed, the insult is still one that must have reached a certain depth. Also, the terror of being screamed at by a much larger person is something that ALL children are affected by, and probably carry with them for quite a while. And I’m pretty sure that the child’s mother who was probably at home just 10 meters away from the incident, heard every single word.
A few days later I was driving home from work, and passed by the same collection of kids. The boys were playing on one side of the street, and walad alghafeer was standing on the other side looking at them. At one point he attempted to come over and say something, only to be snapped at by the other boys, an act that made him abruptly turn around and run back to his house. If I hadn’t heard the above mentioned story, I would’ve made nothing of it. But I had, and so couldn’t help but feel sad and angry and helpless at this expected outcome: the boys, acting more out of fear of reprimand rather than an actual understanding that this child is beneath them and hence should not be seen with them, now actively shun him. And the child, whose crime is nothing more than being born into a family that, out of crushing financial circumstances have nothing better to do that guard houses and live in rags rather than beg, has now been introduced to a reality that a few days ago was beyond his wildest imagination: that he is a) a 3abid, and b) walad ghafeer. Two things that will define him for as long as he lives. The fact that his mother probably has and will continue to raise him with better manners than those far above him is irrelevant. The fact that he might grow up to be a responsible and hardworking man, may even break through the norms of his ‘class’ and get an excellent education and probably even a well respected job, is even more so.
He is now a part of our society that is beneath us, is to be avoided, and is no longer allowed to play with not-3abid, not-awlad-ghofara children.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kill The Kumsari!

As it is impossible to come to Sudan without brushing with the reality of the current situation, I found myself at one point floundering in the public transport system for a week (after regressing from driving our air conditioned family car, to a small amjad with my friends, to finally roaming the streets and bus stops). It wasn’t such a big deal since I used to take public buses to and from college when I was 'younger', but that was almost 6 years ago. I wasn’t bothered about the standing in the sun and dust for varying periods of time, or walking for long distances until finally surrendering to a raksha or calling someone to pick me up. I wasn’t bothered by the state of the chairs or the million stops between my origin and destination. What bothered me was that every single bus ride had the same scenario played over and over again, with differing ranges of intensity: the kumsari clicks for money, the passengers hand him the old fare, the kumsari asks for more since all prices went up with the oil hike, the passenger refuses, they get into a fight and the whole bus beats up the kumsari.

The last bus I took I had to restrain myself with much difficulty from jumping off the bus and into the middle of the fight as I watched a tall middle aged man try to punch a 14 year old boy for his insolence and insistence on the new fare. It also took all self control not to stand up and scream at everyone on the bus (who all agreed with the tall middle aged man that the kumsari had no manners and no right to ask for more money and that they weren’t going to pay him) that for the love of God, the price of oil went up SEVENTY PERCENT you idiots! Where the hell do you think the petrol for this bus you're on comes from? The sky?! You think it’s a laughing matter that now these people have to pay 70% more for their livelihood as well as try and make up for the price of everything else that’s gone up? La wu Kaman you're complaining about it AND being verbally and physically abusive! Unfortunately I can't say I was any better than those fools on the bus because I just sat there with my blood boiling and watched as one guy (who was also complaining and telling the kid off) saved the kumsari from getting his face punched in by a much older and much bigger man. And I listened as everyone else talked loudly about his impunity, even the bloody bus driver, who didn’t have the guts to turn around and tell everyone to either pay up or GET OFF. And I just looked at him sadly as he got back on and clicked his fingers and collected the reduced fare from everyone without opening his mouth again until the end of the ride, as we both simmered in our rage and shame.

But then I looked at those same people around me: scuffed shoes, sweaty brows, dirty clothes. Tired looking faces. That 70% hike had hit everyone. They were suffering just as much as the kumsari. They also had mouths to feed and were also still getting paid the same meager salaries, if they were lucky to have salaries at all. Many of them wouldn’t pay the increased fare simply because they couldn’t. So who's wrong and who's right? No one is.
And in this war we are all losers.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why Aren't These People in The #SudanRevolts?

Rifling through the trash
A question that baffles me. Just by looking at these people you can tell what kind of situation the country is going through; everywhere are men, women and children forced to take to the streets to try and secure some kind of income. And they don't complain. About ANYTHING. These are the people that should be leading the demonstrations, and I just don't understand why they're not even in them.

Selling corn and other vegetables

Homeless man walking barefoot on the side of the road

Little beggar boy

Kids selling tissue boxes

Collection of manual laborers advertising their tools

Kid pushing a wheelbarrow

An elderly man sitting on the curb looking for a job

Tea lady

Washing cars

Elderly man cleaning the road

Piles of trash in front of Khartoum main referral Paediatrics Hospital

Piles of trash in front of Khartoum main referral Paediatrics Hospital

Selling sugar and sweets on the side of the road

Kid selling bottled water in the afternoon traffic

Lady selling nuts on the side of the road

Elderly man selling cigarettes and tissues

Little beggar girl

Advertising tools for work
And on the other hand you have these fools who aren't much better off than anyone else, but still insist on serving the regime that doesn't pay them enough to feed their families for a week.
يا بوليس ماهيتك كم؟ و رطل السكر بقا بكم؟

One of a number of trucks full of riot police parked around Khartoum University

Wad Nubawi

NISS in Wad Nubawi

Wad Nubawi

Wad Nubawi

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Riots? What Riots?

I'm sure everyone saw, or at least heard of, the showdown on AlJazeera last night between an advisor to the ministry, a member of the NCP (naturally) and a university lecturer who is also a member of the opposition. Those 46 minutes or so were the very epitome of what is going on in Sudan today: people complaining about what's happening now, and people totally denying it and calling the other side delusional. I didn't know if I wanted to laugh, cry or vomit. I just couldn’t believe my ears as the NCP dude kept saying over and over again that there are no demonstrations, there are no financial difficulties in the country, we don’t owe anyone anything, we built this country from scratch, what little rioting going on nowadays is just a bunch of kids whose only aim in life is to 'burn and ruin people's property'. I mean, seriously? Don’t you people get tired of this? The only reason I can think of that makes them keep saying that is that they really believe it. And I think they do. Because I'm pretty sure that planet of theirs that they live on is very much demonstration-free.

General Aboud swearing in Dr. Bashir Arbab & Prof. El-Sheikh Mahgoub
There is one thing, however, that bothered me about the discussion. It bothered me because it was true. As a comment on how small and one-sided the demonstrations are, the advisor said that if he wanted to organize a demonstration aiding the current regime, he could do so in a day and there would be millions of people in that demonstration shouting in support of the president. And he's right. The same people grumbling about how their salaries aren’t enough to buy bread for a week would be out on the streets in seconds, calling his name. Just look at the 2010 elections: Al-Bashir won by an overwhelming majority, and for a number of reasons:

1.       The majority of the opposition boycotted the elections with the excuse that they were a farce and there was no point in taking part anyway

2.       There were widespread allegations (and some questionable videos) of forging and swapping votes (for the NCP). Some people claimed their names had appeared on poll lists when they hadn’t even voted

3.       The NCP went through the process of recruiting every man, woman and child in the country by taking them from their homes to register, and then again to vote. There were massive rallies, millions of posters (the only posters to be seen on the streets, actually) and a campaign that cost millions (of the country's money). None of the other candidates went to such measures. Probably because they didn’t have that much access to the national funds.

4.       Lack of interest/apathy of a huge portion of the Sudanese community inside and outside the country, with the excuse that, again, the elections were going to be a farce, and that 'Al-Bashir is going to win anyway, so why bother?). The average age of people who registered to vote was 50.

5.       The most important reason Al-Bashir won the elections, was because that everyone voted for him. Really.

So when the advisor for the ministry talks about demonstrations supporting the president in the millions, you better believe him. The Sudanese people are either hypocrites (which they area), amnesic (which they seem to be), cowardly (which they also are) or just stupid. They can talk to you for hours about the atrocities of the regime, the impossible prices, how their kids are insulted and kicked out of school for not paying up, and how they wish they could live anywhere but in Sudan. And then they go and vote for Al-Bashir. Those elections didn’t need to be forged, he would’ve won anyway. Also, the fact that no one stepped up to run against him, from the opposition or otherwise, really helped, since there was no real alternate option. The same question people keep asking now: if not him then who? That along with the common statement that if Al-Bashir leaves then we'll end up like Somalia, with militias roaming the streets and chaos taking over.

I wonder though: if there were to be elections, how many people would actually register and vote against him? My past experience tells me that no one under the age of 40 (unless they're NCP or members of opposing parties) will even bother. Why must we be so apathetic? It's not just about riots and shouting slogans. We can't so easily overthrow someone whose been sitting comfortably for the past 23 years and whose roots go so deep into the structure of the country it's like a cancer that’s spread and spared nothing and no one. We need a plan, and more importantly, we need to stick to that plan. Or else people like that ignoramus who claim that the average Sudanese has an income of $1800 (per month? Per year? Per lifetime?) will have the last laugh.

Any suggestions?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Revolution? What Revolution?

Apparently, the country is going through a revolution. I'm not sure exactly what the definition of 'revolution' is, because what I see going on these days sure isn't what it's supposed to be. Yes, there are scattered demonstrations that get squashed in 10 minutes flat by the riot police with the least possible effort. And there are burnt tires and traffic lights on 1 or 2 streets. There's a Twitter marathon of news about people 'breaking through the band of fear' and taking to the streets, much of which is either not big enough to be seen by the naked eye, or simply not true. However, I am not here to discredit the revolution, because regardless of the fact that it's such a tiny thing, it's still a start. And the fact that hundreds of people are being detained in known and unknown locations alike means that they're making enough noise to make someone uncomfortable about something that isn’t right. My problem is this: why ISN'T there a revolution going on?! I mean, what are all these people roaming the streets to and from their jobs and homes and whatever doing? Why aren’t they protesting? Maybe where they come from 1kg of sugar still costs 3.5 pounds, or even less. Maybe they have running water and electricity all day and all week. Maybe their kids study for free in clean and cool schools, taught by teachers who know what they’re talking about, and eat enough food during their lunch breaks to keep them satisfied. Maybe health care where they are is also free and the equivalent of a 5-star hotel service. And they all drive cars to work which they fill with 8 pounds per gallon, or less. And they have dreams and aspirations to pursue studies and careers that will take them places; not places abroad, because they don’t need to go abroad. Nope, right here in Sudan. Because apparently, Sudan is the place to be these days.

Every day I am on the streets looking at the sights of this country around me. There are beggars EVERYWHERE. And walking alongside the beggars are children, CHILDREN selling tissue boxes and chewing gum. And standing alongside those children are aging men selling pre-paid phone cards and cigarettes. And standing alongside those aging men are traffic officers whose clothes are so choked with exhaust smoke that they're all sorts of colours except white, and whose faces are tanned black from standing in the sun hours on end. And standing alongside those traffic officers are the bulk of the nation trying to get on a bus to work, who have to push and shove and get knocked over just to get on, whose shoes are scuffed and dirty and whose clothes get caught in the doorways and windows and get torn, and who sometimes stand for hours in the heat waiting for a bus that, if it does show up, is almost always full of people who look just like them. And standing alongside those people are the bus drivers and conductors who work from daybreak to midnight, who have to pay for petrol and for fines and for taxes and for repairs of their aging vehicles, and who have children to feed and houses to support and illness to pay for. And standing alongside those bus drivers and conductors are every member of this nation: teachers who don’t get paid for months; doctors who are forced to treat patients with nothing more than their hands and wits; homeless men, women and children walking the streets barefoot and bare chested, sleeping in doorways and under pieces of cardboard, rifling through trash for whatever crap they can find to fill their growling bellies; school children who are learning nothing but that discipline is enforced by whipping; veterans who have burned their lives for this country and ended up with nothing; people returning from the Diaspora fleeing the unjustness and suppression of those nations that treat them like slaves, only to come back to a country they thought was their own, but realized they are slaves here of a different kind. And worst of all: people who are listless and dead on the inside, who have grown skins too thick to feel the hunger and cruelty, who have lost the ability to feel what they should be feeling: humiliation, dissatisfaction, exhaustion, anger, and that realisation that this needs to STOP once and for all!

These people are not protesting against anything. They go on with their daily lives, grumbling about 'the government' and 'the current times' and wishing the glory of the golden days could somehow return. They turn up their noses to news of college students shouting slogans about how their nation is hungry but cowardly, and scoff at their immaturity and naive optimism. And they ask the question that never grows old: if not them, then who? If not HIM, then who? Since there's no ready answer to that question, then why bother? Let them crush the life out of us, bury our children in this despair, blast our country to pieces as they sleep on their silken beds and drive their custom made German cars. Cars they bought with OUR sweat and blood, OUR freedom. We don’t mind. We just want to live to see tomorrow.

حسبي الله و نعم الوكيل على كل ظالم، إن الله يمهل و لا يهمل و هو شديد العقاب.