Saad Gishra Musings

Everything one wishes for in life.


I went to Sa3ad Gishra last weekend to get a few things fixed. For those who don’t know, Sa3ad Gishra is sort of our local shopping center. It’s basically a few hundred shops and tents set up and named after some guy (Sa3ad Gishra) that sell and fix everything and anything for a wide range of prices. I don’t buy stuff from there (or anywhere else in Sudan) because I can’t haggle with sellers. The negotiation usually goes something like this:
Me: how much is that??
Guy: 100. (The thing looks like it costs not a dime more than 15)
Me: I’ll take it for 45.
Guy: Yefta7 Allah ya okhot.
Me: MA DAYRAHO ZATO. (storm out of the place and end up going home empty handed. Every. Single. Time.)
Anyway. I had a handbag I bought ages ago from Oman and the zipper had broken, so I thought I might as well get it fixed there because it was a nice and relatively expensive bag and I wanted to use it for the Port Sudan trip. So I drove down Africa Road, past the airport, over the railroad tracks, past the ginormous government and army buildings, crossed over the 100+ year old bridge to Bahri, stopped at the roundabout that gets renovated 6 times a year, where a traffic officer named Nimeiri has been stationed for the past 18 years, and whose lungs I’m pretty sure are as black as the carbon he inhales from car exhaust day in day out forever. Down Alinqaz Road, cross over to Almazad road, then again to Alma3ouna, and finally park in front of Sa3ad Gishra. I am immediately approached by an elderly man who asks me if I want to wash my car, and I decline. If the man knew how much money I had in my wallet, he wouldn’t have bothered to ask me anyway. I know the people who fix things are at the back of the market, an area I haven’t been to before, and I head there directly. I locate one small shop, am told that my bag cannot even be looked at before tomorrow, and am then director to another shop, where I find a man surrounded by old and broken bags, suitcases, shoes, and other unidentifiable objects. He’s sitting in front of a sewing machine and is fixing something or another. He doesn’t even look up at me and looks so bored and uninterested he isn’t even breathing. He looks at my bag with half an eye and tells me it can’t be fixed. I insist that he try, and after nagging for a while he finally looks up, looks around and calls to some other guy to have a look. The other guy comes over, and says something about finding a zipper somewhere, and stalks away with my bag. After waiting for some more time, he shows up with a different coloured zipper, and motions me to sit down while he and a third person fix my bag. I watch them for a while as they push and pull and crimp and oil and do all sorts of things to the zipper. The first man is wearing an old torn shirt, has dirty hands and finger nails and is wearing a sifinja. The other man is better dressed, with shoes and socks. I’m not sure if they both work with the shop keeper or are just friends or have some agreement going on. What I do know is that the bag they are fixing costs more than what all three of them make in a month, and don’t know what to make of this piece of information. As they go along with their job, I look around me. There are tailors and carpenters and people with high tables on which are objects for sale. Dozens of people walk back and forth, into and out of shops, everyone is talking or complaining or laughing or working. An old lady appears carrying a low table that she gives to the carpenter and disappears. Another lady, much younger, pulling her daughter behind her, passes in front of us in one direction then again in another direction. The little girl, who looks about 5 or 6 years old, has black shiny henna on both her hands and feet, in a zig zag design that matches her mother’s. I regret not having my camera at that moment to photograph the matching pairs of feet walking away from me. An old man who looks Egyptian walks past, carrying horrible sculptures of eagles and mountains and other things, and I wonder who on earth would want to buy something so hideous to put in their homes. He looks tired and annoyed and sweaty. I wonder if he managed to sell anything today, and how heavy the sack of sculptures are, but also carefully avoid making eye contact so that he doesn’t spot me in the midst of all those men and tries to sell me something. I look instead at a group of men collected in front of a shop a couple of meters away. They’re all leaning on each other and looking at something on the ground, deep in discussion. I try to see between their legs but can’t for a while, then someone moves and I see the cards. Is it a poker game? It must be, since everyone seems so interested. I don’t see any money though, and no one in the immediate 100 meter radius looks like they can afford their next meal, let alone bet on a poker game. The old lady appears again, picks up her low table that has been fitted with some extra limbs, and walks away. She must be a tea lady. I can’t see the henna on her feet because she’s wearing black socks. As she walks away between the shops, I catch sight of the Egyptian man again. He’s standing against a wall smoking a cigarette. I look away, irritated that someone so hard off he has had to leave his own country and come to Sudan, of all places, to sell eagle sculptures, is wasting precious money on a stupid cigarette. Then I notice that he is standing next to a couple of boys who are seated on the ground. Shoe shiners. In the midst of his misery, the Egyptian man is smoking a cigarette and getting his shoes shined. I wonder at humans and their primitive needs: at their lowest times, the need to satisfy their hunger for food, drink, smoke, and the need to look good, stand out. Reminds of something my friend once said about a woman who was begging on the side of the street, but whose face had the tell-tale colour of whitening cream.
Anyway. My bag is getting mutilated by the 2 men, but the zipper is finally in place. They slowly pull it back and forth a few times, and pronounce the bag fixed. I am delighted, and take the bag to try the zipper myself. Less than a minute later, its stuck, and the men are back at square one. They blame me for pulling it too hard, too far, too everything, and I silently thank God that I pulled it too hard and too far before paying my money and going home. As they go back to pushing and pulling and crimping and oiling and doing all sorts of things to the zipper, a young boy standing next to me catches my attention. He’s talking to a man who is sitting on the ground and fixing his sleeves for him. The boy has 6 long fingers on each hand and no thumbs. He looks about 12, and I wonder he manages on doing anything with his hands. The kids probably tease him endlessly at school, and he probably walks around with his deformed hands in his pockets to hide them from view. However, looking at the boy’s badass stance and confident posture, as he stands on the side of the narrow street with his hands open at his sides, I then wonder what hedoes to the kids at school, and laugh to myself at his cocky attitude. He doesn’t look bothered at all. I look back at my bag and see that the guy who looked so bored he would drop dead any minute has gotten up, walked around the table and came to have a look at the troublesome bag himself. A short while later, the man in the sifinja gets up and walks away, having given up. The shop keeper goes back to his seat, and the man with the socks gives me my bag back, unfixed. I don’t get charged anything, and I get up and walk away, down the narrow streets with shops and shacks on both sides, filled with men with and without educations, supporting families of one or a dozen, with rough hands and unshaved faces. Men who have no health insurance and who cannot guarantee that their children will not grow up to a better future. Who joke with each other and ask about sick relatives, tease small boys selling mineral water and sponges, complain about the government but do nothing about it, and who may or may not be satisfied with their lives. 

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  2. Loved this piece, u put into words what is difficult for me to articulate when someone asks "whats that look on your face?"

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