Friday, January 31, 2014

Say What?


All this talk about Albashir’s latest speech is annoying. We have turned into a culture that spends a remarkable amount of time and effort making fun of things, and technology has turned into a mere means of spreading idiocy and jokes. We’ve always made fun of things because I find that that’s one of the best ways to make life easier, but really, this is getting too much. Anyway, this is not a rant about the nation’s behavior, but simply a closer look at the poorly-worded speech that was delivered in such an interesting time and fashion.
I have noted several times that an obvious change is happening, albeit not as dramatic and as fast as we would like, and definitely not out of any change of heart (in a good way) of the government, but more as a last-leg-of-the-race scramble to fix what can be fixed now that the poop has hit the fan and everyone's gotten splattered with it. Tuesday evening’s speech was an example of just that. I’m not an analyst, and do not claim to have understood the entire 45 minute talk delivered; after all, it was badly written, with ridiculous and irrelevant words and phrasing, and poorly delivered. The general opinion is that this was not what was planned to be delivered in the first place, and it was obvious that Albashir was not familiar with most of what was on the 200 pages or so he was reading from. Anyway, at some point during the speech I somehow got the idea that this surprise everyone was talking about was going to be an announcement of cease-fire and general amnesty all over the country, especially in the Blue Nile and Nuba mountains. Actually, I don’t really know where this idea of a surprise came from; but it was obviously overplayed and highly exaggerated, leading to the anticipation of some kind of miracle delivered on-air to the nation. Personally I think it was someone’s stupid idea of a joke, and everyone fell for it. Anyway, what gave me that impression was what Albashir kept repeating throughout his speech: peace, and the Sudanese identity. For those of us familiar with Albashir’s way of speaking (which means everyone), we notice right away that this doesn’t look much like what we’re used to hearing. Throughout these 24 years of the ‘Islamic’ reign, we have always been hearing a racial and religious thread of speech; it’s always about jihad and martyrdom, about crushing the enemy/rebels and ridding the nation of stray trouble makers. Albashir does not usually talk about a Sudanese identity that recognizes all tribes and races as equal, and more importantly: as entitled to their rights of a share in governance. Because after all, isn’t that what it’s about? A president doesn’t talk about a unified and equal national identity just to make sure that everyone is represented in a children’s school play. And for someone who has always spoken with outright bigotry and falsely in the name of Islam about the nation’s enemies, this is a first.
The second notable thing was the audience. It looked like a group photo of a cross-section of the nation’s history. Everyone was there: and by everyone I mean everyone. Not a single political or religious party was absent. I’m not talking about Alsadig Almahdi and the communists: I’m talking about Hassan Alturabi. My second impression upon seeing that man sitting in the front row looking as snug as a bug in a rug, was that he and Albashir were making up and getting back together. Alturabi has never been seen attending a meeting since he fell out with the NCP in 1999, and has since been harassed incessantly by them and thrown in jail or put under house arrest every now and then, all the time delivering his polite yet poisonous opinions to the world in general. What in God’s name was he doing there? And he was sitting next to Gazi Salaheldin, also a (recently) banished member of the NCP. Despite being one of the oldest and most popular members of the party, Salaheldin and a group of friends (including his wife), announced their reform intentions and renounced the party’s violent treatment and stubborn attitude towards the people late last year, and were eventually kicked out. He was also sitting in the front row, with a look of what bordered on disgust on his face. The mere presence of these people and dozens others was a sign of something. Even if not explicitly mentioned or clarified in the speech, it was obvious that Albashir was reaching out to make some kind of a deal. With whom and on what grounds? We can only assume, and really, the options aren’t that many or that difficult to predict. Whatever it was, it had to be serious and genuine enough to convince these people to accept the president’s (and his party’s) invitation. Throughout the duration of the speech, these people maintained a poker face and it looked like they were waiting for some kind of surprise as well. However, I think they already knew what was going to be said. I doubt they would have showed up without some kind of briefing.
Also among the attendees were the latest subtractions from the government: Nafi3 and Ali Osman Taha. The former looked as irritatingly comfortable as always. The latter, however, looked terrible. Rumours of an illness, probably cancer, have been circulating, and I don’t know what it is for sure, but he looked really sick. I actually felt sorry for him. These 2 and others were recently relieved from their high-ranking positions (voluntarily) in the government and the move came as sort of a surprise: after all, those removed were always the ugly and most hated face of the party, and had especially come under fire in the recent few years during the revolts. Even inside the party they were by no means favourites. Removing them from the government was a big and questionable move: I myself thought it was just a sham to shut people up, and that they would either be brought back after the 2015 elections (or whenever), or would be operating behind the scenes some way or another. On the other hand, such a public move was sure to loosen their tongues and spark the fire of revenge, and probably even push them over to the enemy’s side. And there were so many enemies to choose from! 24 years with a government of death and destruction would definitely have enough secrets and strongholds to be of use. However, no such delicious drama was delivered. All relieved members emptied their desks and quietly went home. Was it loyalty to the party and the cause? Because we know there is probably no party in the world more loyal to their own than the Muslim Brotherhood. Or was it the more likely fact that they were just as responsible for the atrocities as anyone else? Or, was it the fact that they simply had nowhere to go? People close to the NCP believe that such a bold move of removing these people could not have been done without neutralizing any possible harm they could do. Including making peace with the enemy. Which would explain Alturabi among the guests of honour at the president’s most important speech in a long time.
There are many explanations and I’m sure people with more experience in these things will have something more to deliver. However, we can’t ignore the facts: things are changing. The cracks in the regime are becoming more obvious now, but who’s side is winning is still a question. The NCP is under pressure from both the inside and outside, and calls for reform are not falling on deaf ears anymore. However, what’s also obvious is the deficiency and poor abilities of the regime, and they’re remarkable ability to bungle up even the most basic things. This speech was a prime example of that: 45 minutes of nonsense that was supposed to deliver an important message that would be clear, precise and to the point. The president was talking to the nation; this was not a closed meeting with chosen individuals. What little that could be deducted from it all was important and thought-provoking and concerned each and every individual in this country, and it should have been delivered in a much better manner. On the other hand, each and every individual in the country is far less concerned with the Sudanese identity (although we definitely can’t deny its importance) than they are concerned with healthcare that doesn’t kill people and push them into bankruptcy, and employment with salaries that are not less than what Ethiopean housemaids get, and oil prices that don’t double every 2 months and push up the price of everything else. They want education for their children and to live their lives with some dignity for a change. They want their own countrymen to stop bombing their homes and chasing them into caves, calling them slaves and animals. They want to see their tax money coming back to them instead of portrayed on the streets as fancy cars and competing monoliths of marble and steel. When I sit down in my living room and listen to Albashir talking to me on live TV, I want to hear a clear commitment and plan to end poverty and corruption and racism, and a promise for peace and prosperity. A promise that he keeps for a change. Is that so hard?
All this aside, we should keep one idea in mind: change is coming. But it’s not going to ride in on a pink pony with fireworks and cake. We have to work for it, instead of sitting around complaining about everything or wasting our time thinking up stupid jokes and memes. People need to come together, because the main advantage the regime has over us is their unity and our fragmentation, even though we outnumber them a million to one. And it’s not just about riots and slogans; it’s about killing the habits they instilled into our culture which are our greatest weakness: slacking off at work, always being late, dishonesty and lying, demanding payment for jobs half-done or not done at all. If we want this country to heal and rise, we need to start with ourselves.

And most important of all: don’t lose hope.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thank You And Goodbye



The night Dr Amal Ziada died was a horrible one. We had been standing around the ICU all morning, afternoon and evening, crying and feeling helpless as she rapidly deteriorated, systems failing, and finally lost her battle with cancer. It was a little after Maghrib I think. I went down to the hospital cafeteria to get some juice for everyone, then passed by the ER to see what I could do about my night shift that I was supposed to show up for in less than 4 hours. I had been texting people all day trying to get someone to take my shift but (unsurprisingly) couldn’t. The hospital nursing coordinator running the evening shift was standing behind me, discussing some issues with the shift-in-charge when her pager called the code:
‘Cardiac arrest ICU.’
Before the message was repeated the second time I was already at the end of the corridor, bursting through the doors and up the back-stairs, running after the on-call medical specialist who happened to be standing around at the same time. When I reached the room door in front of which a crowd of people crying and screaming, I realized I was still holding the bag of juice bottles, and threw it onto a stack of carton boxes in front of the on-call anesthetist’s room. Half an hour later we were parking our cars in-front of the house that would now be called beit al-bika for the next few weeks.
At some point after that I went home and changed into my scrubs, went back and hung around for a while before heading off to work. The shift started at midnight and ended at 8 a.m., and it was a Wednesday. I was exhausted and depressed and had no idea how I would make it through the night. Getting some sleep wasn’t even an option: night shifts are just as busy as mornings and evenings, with half the number of doctors and nurses, and there wasn’t even a room for anyone to rest in. As we stood around the whiteboard receiving the hand-over, I looked at my team. There were 3 of us and the in-charge had swapped with someone else. I was the only girl which was always bad news: it meant I’ll be handling all OBGYN emergencies as well as the majority of female patients who generally refuse to be examined by male doctors. Although the new in-charge was nice, he definitely wouldn’t be cutting me any slack. I tested my luck by telling him what a horrible day it had been and that Dr Leena and Saria’s mother had passed away a few hours ago. He was sympathetic – with them – but ignored my hints that I wasn’t up for it. Oh well.
The patient came in a little after 1 a.m. I think; a fat, rosy-cheeked little lady who didn’t speak Arabic, and her husband who looked almost exactly the same as her except for the moustache. She had all the typical symptoms of an MI (heart attack), with a typical history of chest pain coming on and off for the past few months relieved by rest. She was diabetic, which complicated things: diabetics do not sense pain like everyone else; their senses are dulled not only at the tips of their fingers and toes, but everywhere else including the heart. So when a diabetic shows up with any degree of pain anywhere over the chest, upper abdomen or neck, it’s a heart attack until proven otherwise. My grandmother Allah yar7ama had had a mild heartburn for several hours which wouldn’t go away, and by the time she got to a hospital the damage was too great for anything to be done. Every diabetic with chest pain is my grandmother to me.
We ran the usual blood tests and gave her some mild painkillers because her ECG wasn’t very decisive, so she wasn’t a candidate for any drastic intervention at the moment. Since she looked comfortable, I went about seeing the rest of my patients, working with only half a brain as I grew steadily slower and sleepier. The woman’s results came out not too long after: completely normal. The one decisive test is an enzyme that is specific to heart damage but had one important limitation: it may not appear in the blood until a full 8 hours after the heart attack. So usually if its positive that’s it, but if its negative we have to look at the background. If the patient is low risk, doesn’t have very strong symptoms and nothing else suggests an MI or another diagnosis is found, we leave it alone. But if everything points to an MI then it needs to be repeated AFTER 8 hours. This patient had a typical history and presentation, and had indeed appeared in just about 2 hours after the chest pain had started. But now, she was completely fine. I looked at her suspiciously, sitting up and chit-chatting, eating her dinner, completely pain-free. Her husband kept telling me she’s fine, she’s fine, we go home now doctora khalas, no need for anything else. He wouldn’t listen to me as I tried to explain that she needs another test which wouldn’t be collected for another 3 hours and they would have to stay put, and the language barrier wasn’t helping. They wanted to go home and would even sign a Leave Against Medical Advice form.
I gave up. I had no energy and couldn’t think. All I wanted to do was crawl into a corner and cry. Amal Ziada was dead. Amal Ziada who had written a chapter in the most popular physiology textbook in Sudan. My close friends’ mother and my parents’ close friend. A woman who was strong, funny, beautiful, kick-ass and who didn’t take crap from anyone, especially when it came to her own kids. She had given so much and made her place in the world, and had fought cancer like hell and lost; and here I was faced with a woman who had given nothing and was taking her own life and health as lightly as if she had a spare sitting in drawer at home. I know it wasn't fair of me to compare, but since then these 2 women are forever linked together in my mind. I gave up.
I went back to the doctors room to tell the in-charge that I was discharging the patient in bay 3 because they didn’t want to wait for the repeat results, and that they promised to come back if she felt anything else. The doctor looked at me for a while, then got up and we went back to the bay. He spoke their language and it was easier for him to communicate, and after looking at the results and ECG and the smiling woman sitting in bed, he then asked what me what I want to do. I told him they want to go home, and they live close by anyway. He said yes, but what do YOU want to do?
The thing about working in an ER is that you are put in situations where the decision you make could mean everything to a patient: you could save their life or kill them. Even the smallest decisions matter. But it’s not just that. There are a combination of things, some of which you don’t have control over. I tell myself that I don’t have control over everything because it sometimes makes losing patients easier, but it never really does. How busy the shift is, what time of day or night, if you’re feeling particularly stupid that day, who the nurses on the floor are and (especially) the nurse in charge, the radiologist on-call and how (un)cooperative he/she is, and most importantly, who your senior is. This particular doctor was easy going, nice, and very cautious, meaning he would always take the ‘cover your back’ approach to managing patients and would happily over-treat or over-investigate than miss something. He also trusted my judgment and often asked my advice about treating patients even though he was several years my senior and had much more experience. And so, he genuinely wanted to know what I thought about this case so that he could support me as appropriate. I heard myself saying that I wanted her to stay for another 3 hours so that we could repeat her blood test. Even though they were irritating me and she looked perfectly fine, there was still that small possibility that something was going on. So, he turned to the husband and barked at him in Urdu, and whatever he said apparently terrified the couple because they quickly agreed to stay. I was too tired to even be grateful at that point, and all I could do was order the tests and instruct the nurses and then walk back to the doctors’ room and plunk down into a chair. At that point I think I was talking outside my head, because the doctor in-charge told me to go take a nap. In the entire 5 years I had been working at that hospital, and the 3.5 years in the ER, the only time I had taken a nap during a night shift was when there was a cyclone outside and no one could reach the hospital anyway so there were basically no patients at all. I didn’t even make him tell me twice, and I locked myself in the suturing room and was asleep in less than 3 minutes: fully dressed including my labcoat and shoes. I woke up an hour later for Fajr, prayed and went back into the doctors’s room. I hadn’t seen my face in the mirror but apparently I looked so bad both doctors quickly told me I could go back to sleep if I wanted. Which I did. And woke up a couple of hours later so the sound of someone trying to break the door down, as the nursing morning shift had arrived and were going about their hand-over rounds of patients and equipment. I suddenly remembered my diabetic patient, so got out of bed (on which we usually cast broken bones, suture wounds, drain abscesses, remove fish hooks from fingers and pry off tight rings), unlocked the door and looked out to my left towards the high-dependency bay. The first thing I saw was Dr Johnston sitting at a computer in the station facing the bay. He was a senior cardiology consultant, and his being anywhere near the ER especially so early in the morning didn’t make sense. Senior consultants don’t come to emergency rooms to see patients; they have about 6 people in different ranks under them to do that. Yet here he was, surrounded by the entire on-call medical team. As if to answer my question, the woman appeared in my sight, still sitting upright in bed, but instead of smiling and happily eating her dinner, she was crying her eyes out and tears were running down her chubby rosy cheeks as she was rushed down the corridor by several nurses and doctors towards the door. I caught a passing nurse and asked her what in God’s name is going on, where was my patient being taken??
‘Cath lab doctoraa, then to ICU!’
Cath lab? ICU?? She was going for a rescue PCI?? I detached myself from the doorway and went to the doctors’ room to find my in-charge. He and the other doctor were sitting typing their notes, each one holding several patient’s clipboards. My senior saw me and informed me that the repeated blood test we had almost missed had come back positive. Not only positive, but it was 10 TIMES higher than normal. I couldn’t believe it. Before I could process this information, I suddenly remembered that the shift was almost over, and that I had slept through almost half of it. The 2 doctors had redistributed the workload as well as my own patients and completed the rest of the shift on their own to let me sleep. That was only the second time I or anyone else had slept on the job. I knew certain shift-in-charges would sooner see me drop dead than let me rest for 5 minutes. If someone else had been on the shift… that thought led me back to the diabetic patient. If it hadn’t been that particular doctor, we would have let the patient have her way and she would have gone home and died in her sleep. In fact, the doctor who was originally on the shift would have most likely let her go. I never found out what made the 2 doctors swap shifts, but I guess Allah had plans for that woman to live through my shift and die some other time.
As I walked home that morning, several fuzzy thoughts floated around in my head that I was unable to process. The only 2 things that were clear were: thank you Dr Mubashir for helping me save a patient and letting me sleep. And goodbye Dr Amal Ziada, until we meet again.
أجمعين. انشاالله ربنا يجمعنا بيك في الفردوس الأعلى



Sunday, January 19, 2014

Alrizig!



Kida bas.

Rizg, or رزق is a word that literally translates into livelihood, or subsistence. All rizig comes from Allah, but when and how and in what form is the question. You can never guess or be 100% sure, even if you’re 100% sure. It serves as an explanation or justification of plans gone wrong and unexplained blessings, and is one those terms closely tied to the Sudanese culture with all its ups and downs.
I had an interesting day today. We had planned last week to meet up this weekend for breakfast at Ozone since a few of our classmates where in the country, after which I would go off to my gramps house to spend the day with him and the rest of the girls would go to their fitness class. The first sign that things wouldn’t go as planned was when my car broke down in the middle of the highway the preceding Tuesday and had to be towed away. As I feared, the damage was drastic enough to keep it locked up with a bill of around 4,000 SDG (which of course I didn’t have), and I would have to take the other car (which I hate) on Saturday morning. On Friday evening we noticed we were out of cookies and would have to make a fresh batch especially since my dad will be coming the following weekend and it would be nice to have something around the house, so we decided Hala would make them ASAP (because she does the baking around the house, and because she’s the youngest and we get to bully her around) sometime the following week. I woke up around 9:30ish in time to get ready to meet the girls at 10:30 and was informed that one of our distant relatives was downstairs so that I could go say hi, and that this relative had brought us home-made cookies. Well then. That was unexpected, and sure enough upon descending to greet her, there was a whole bucket of cookies sitting on the coffee table. Alrizig.
So because our relative decided to visit us that morning, I was late getting ready and getting out of the house, and after dropping her off at the bus stop and picking up my friend from her house, we arrived at Ozone at 11:45 instead of the planned 10:30. I parked my car on the other side of the road and this kid came over and asked if we wanted it washed. I didn’t, and while locking up noticed the bag of dates in the backseat. My mum came up with the idea of keeping a bag of dates in the car to give to people instead of money, and my sister dutifully kept her bag full while mine was always forgotten. So if I had been driving my car I probably wouldn’t have had anything to give the kid, but because I was driving my sister’s car the kid ended up with a big handful of dates to keep in his pocket and nibble on the whole morning. They might even be his only meal that day (but with the prices these kids charge for car washing, I doubt that). Alrizig, I tell you.
Because it was a weekend the place was packed, and the girls couldn’t find a table to sit at so sat on the couches on the far side of the yard, on which meals are not allowed, only drinks and snacks. I was hungry, and had planned to have their breakfast meal which was served only until 12 and which I would need to be at a table to have, neither of which was possible. So, I just ordered an over-priced karkade and sat back, watching the usually unusual sights you see at Ozone, in terms of dress code, hairstyles and other interesting things. I examined the smoking club sitting at the table behind us, counted how many cigarettes they managed to puff through until their orders arrived, noted that each one of them looked about 5 minutes away from dropping dead anyway, and that one of them was just as interested in the usually unusual sights around us, in terms of dress code, hairstyles and other interesting things. There was an abundant number of children that day, and one edible little thing was marched back and forth in front of us dressed as Tigger, while some older specimens frolicked behind us on the lawn. As usual, service was slow and it took a hundred years to get a menu, another hundred to get the order, and several hundred years to get the bill. The guy serving us was a familiar face; a middle-aged man with a sour attitude whom I had never seen smiling before. He moved slowly, didn’t ask questions, and almost always pointed out that your order was not available so you would have to change it. My friends commented that he wasn’t very nice and rarely discussed anything with him. I wondered why he would be nice if he worked full-time at a restaurant where teenagers paid more for an order than his entire salary, and that obviously he wasn’t here because he chose to but because he had a family to support, and that his job sucked because it involved hours of standing up, walking around, carrying trays, cleaning tables, taking orders (which men in general hate), standing around for long minutes waiting for people to discuss their options and change their minds several times and laugh about stupid things before deciding what to order. Why would anyone be happy in a situation like that? I always get nervous around people older than me who have jobs like these because I feel like my very presence, being so relatively well-off, is a personal insult to them. I’m sure that’s not what goes through everyone’s mind, but it’s enough to keep my thinking.
Anyway.
The girls decided that they would just have drinks at Ozone and then we would go to this place on 3ibeid Khatim called Barcelo’s for a meal. I wasn’t happy with this plan initially because I wanted to go to Bahri early, but after discussing the issue with my empty stomach I eventually agreed. So we paid the bill but then had to wait for someone’s cousin who was late, so I continued my sight-seeing, until a saw a familiar looking head in the distance. It took me a few seconds to realize who the head belonged to, because we had never met in real life and had spoken only once on Facebook when I had asked him not to use swear words in this writing group I was in. Strangely, he looked exactly like his Facebook profile picture and was even wearing the same coloured shirt, so it was impossible to miss. I couldn’t remember his name however, so I walked over to where he was and looked at some stuff that was on display to take some time. There’s this section behind the restaurant which I had never entered before, where people put stuff on display for sale, and today there was a collection of jewelry, books, paintings and other such things. As I looked around, I ended up buying a small bronze bracelet and a handmade necklace. I had had no intention of buying anything that morning, and I was the first and probably only customer for both sellers that morning, but somehow my money ended up in their hands. Alrizig. Anyway I eventually remembered the guy’s name and followed him into the restaurant to say hi, and we chatted for a bit. His name was Ismail Kushkush, a freelance journalist from the States. It turned out his dad and my parents went to the same school but 10 years apart, so his dad had taught my parents at some point, and was friends with one of our family friends, and that Ismail was going to the university’s 75th jubilee celebration tomorrow that my sister was organizing. But there’s nothing remarkable about all this, because everyone in Sudan who meets anyone else from Sudan ends up making roughly the same connection.
Anyway, we left the place and drove to the other side of town to Barcelo’s, and I parked next to the only other car in the entire car park, and scratched the car’s side when I opened my door. Fortunately, the car’s owner was sitting nearby and was very understanding and forgiving when I apologized for the scratch. The girls had already gone up ahead of me so when I got to the table I sat at the end of the bench, facing the wall and not the windows. I had a burger, potato wedges and a chocolate milkshake which were surprisingly all very good. There were about a hundred men sitting behind us, and the table next to them had a bunch of foreigners wearing matching t-shirts that had Great Britain on them. The rest room was a short distance from where we were seated and because of where I was seated I had full view of everyone who entered and left, and one of the GB team members went in and came out a short while later. I just happened to be looking up when she came out and happened to see the writing printed on the side of her sweat pants, that said GB Tentpegging Team, or something of that sort.
Now, most people in the world have no idea what tentpegging is, including roughly 100% of Sudanese. I actually don’t know what it is exactly, but I have seen that word used by only one person in the world before: Sam Goss, an English horse rider, who came to Oman with her team 3 or 4 years ago, and who ended up staying in our house for about a week because the hostels were full. She was very nice, and we stayed in touch after she went back, and she even sent me some purple Crocs at one point. By the time I had managed to process this information in my head, the team had picked up their bags and moved to the door. Without thinking, I got up onto the bench I was sitting in and reached over to tap the last guy just as he left the table.
‘Hello, sorry, are you the national tentpegging team?’
He was surprised, of course, at this random scarf wearing native that was probably the first person he had met from this country who even knew what that word was. But he took it like a sport.
‘Yes, yes I am.’
‘Do all you tentpegging people know each other?’
‘Yes, yes we do.’
‘I have a friend who does this tentpegging thing, her name’s Sam, do you know her?’
‘Yeeeees, yes I know Sam!’
:D :D :D :D :D
I then briefly told him how and when we had met, and could he tell her that Reem says hi when he sees her? He said, sure, sure he would, and left. He met his friends at the door and I watched them discuss this event with each other, then they all turned to me and smiled and waved. Now that isn’t exactly an example of rizig, but it’s pretty close. If not for that 2 minute delay after scratching the guy's car I would've been seated somewhere else, wouldn't have noticed the woman leaving the restroom and wouldn't have met her team. Wa Allaho a3lam.
The reason all this interests me is that quite often one finds oneself questioning past and future decisions, having second thoughts, and wondering if how things turned out really were for the better. This just goes to show that actually, like it or not you have no control over how things turn out, but when you base your decisions on istikhara (asking Allah to guide you to what’s best), then you can just trust that whatever happened was for the best. And things that looked like a bad idea at first end up bringing you things you didn’t expect, and bringing you into other people’s lives when they didn’t expect it. After all, everything was written way before your own existence. So you can only hope for the best and put your faith in Allah that things will work out: where you’ll work, what you’ll study, where you’ll live, who you’ll marry. Even if it didn't turn out the way you wanted, have faith that it was for the best.

مَا أَصَابَ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ نَبْرَأَهَا ۚ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرٌ   لِكَيْلَا تَأْسَوْا عَلَىٰ مَا فَاتَكُمْ وَلَا تَفْرَحُوا بِمَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ  (الحديد (22و 23”

"No calamity befalls on the earth or in yourselves but is inscribed in the Book of Decrees (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah. In order that you may not be sad over matters that you fail to get, nor rejoice because of that which has been given to you. And Allah likes not prideful boasters." (57: 22, 23 Al-Hadid)


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Who's The Fairest of Them All?

Published originally in ElleAfrique Magazine





Sudan is a melting pot of different nations, cultures and religions. There is no one ‘type’ of Sudanese, and no one can claim that the land belongs to them. Over the generations, there have been Nilotic Africans, Arabs, Turks, Moroccans, Egyptians, Greek, Coptic and others, so that Sudanese today are a large range of skin and eye colours, shapes and sizes, dialects and habits. However, the vast majority of Sudanese are dark-skinned. It’s a hot country with little shade, so everyone gets the tan, like it or not. So, with almost everyone being in the darker side of the colour range, one must ask: why does everyone want to be white?
Skin whitening is the new-age epidemic in Sudan. EVERYONE is doing it, the only difference is how. For a country where people wake up to double bread and oil prices every day, where 70% of the country doesn’t have health insurance and the education and health system are collapsed, and most people can’t afford their next meal; they’re not faring too bad in the cosmetics business at all. There’s something for everyone: from tiny containers of mixed bleaches that cost 25 pounds available in kiosks and pharmacies, to the 8,000 pound Cosmolane* skin treatment provided in uptown chic beauty salons. Celebrity pharmacists and dermatologists get their reputations from how successful and fast their treatments are, and products are nicknamed things like ‘Shock the Neighbours’ for their efficiency and speed. There is little (if any) regulation from authorities, and it’s not uncommon to find unlicensed ‘professionals’ from various shady backgrounds operating from their own clinic/store/dispensary, examining and giving advice to clients, making and marketing their products with their own brands. They may even be paying taxes. In fact, one particularly popular young woman was on TEDx Women last year talking about her experience as the developer and owner of a successful cosmetics business. Several years ago a previously popular cream called Diana was withdrawn from the market for having ridiculously high levels of Mercury in it. It was an impressive step by the authorities and they were commended on it. However, wherever it was withdrawn to apparently wasn’t very far because a short while later the product reappeared in the market in plain sight, just as popular and twice as expensive.  

In the past women were not so discrete about their skin-whitening habits, and lightened mainly their faces and necks. The result was what was called the ‘Fanta Face, Pepsi Hands’ phenomena, as the face was visibly several shades lighter than the rest of the body. I remember as a medical student in my OBGYN shift, a pretty young woman with a brown-sugar complexion coming in for a check-up, but when she exposed her abdomen for examination, it was a shocking black. It took me quite a while to get over that incident. Nowadays, however, both customers and manufacturers are smarter about skin-whitening, and there are no tell-tale body parts left untouched.

In the past women were not so discrete about their skin-whitening habits, and lightened mainly their faces and necks. The result was what was called the ‘Fanta Face, Pepsi Hands’ phenomena, as the face was visibly several shades lighter than the rest of the body. I remember as a medical student in my OBGYN shift, a pretty young woman with a brown-sugar complexion coming in for a check-up, but when she exposed her abdomen for examination, it was a shocking black. It took me quite a while to get over that incident. Nowadays, however, both customers and manufacturers are smarter about skin-whitening, and there are no tell-tale body parts left untouched. - See more at: http://elleafrique.com/whos-the-fairest-of-them-all#sthash.TdDlXL3i.dpuf
In the past women were not so discrete about their skin-whitening habits, and lightened mainly their faces and necks. The result was what was called the ‘Fanta Face, Pepsi Hands’ phenomena, as the face was visibly several shades lighter than the rest of the body. I remember as a medical student in my OBGYN shift, a pretty young woman with a brown-sugar complexion coming in for a check-up, but when she exposed her abdomen for examination, it was a shocking black. It took me quite a while to get over that incident. Nowadays, however, both customers and manufacturers are smarter about skin-whitening, and there are no tell-tale body parts left untouched. - See more at: http://elleafrique.com/whos-the-fairest-of-them-all#sthash.TdDlXL3i.dpuf

Skin whitening is also the new-age public health hazard in Sudan. The erratic use of chemicals, combined with the heat and poor health education, is a recipe for disaster. 16% of dermatologists believe skin lightening creams are completely unsafe and 80% feel they are only safe when prescribed by a dermatologist (NHS, 2012). In Khartoum, doctors state that those coming for treatment of skin-whitening product side effects have grown to 1 in every 4 patients (Sudan Tribune, 2006). Steroids and bleaching agents can cause anything from a mild sunburn to skin cancer. A few weeks of shiny, fair skin turn slowly into reddish discolouration, blotchy and uneven skin tone, ulceration, wounds that won’t heal, then complete deformity if it isn’t caught in time. Steroids cause the skin to become friable and thin, easily torn and impedes the healing process. And it’s not as if these dangerous side-effects are unknown to users: on the contrary, the vast majority of women are quite aware of the dangers of using random skin-whitening products but use them anyway. Most users are university students and employees; there’s even a large sector of doctors and nurses involved. Like African-American hair styling experts quote in Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ documentary, ‘we’re gonna look good, regardless,’ (Bernard Bonner, 2009).
This issue is by no means new, nor is it unique to Sudan or even to Africa. It's pretty much everywhere, and ironically in those nations where dark skin is part of the normal cultural and racial population mix, like Southeast Asia. Dubbed the Snow White Complex’, the root explanatory cause differs from culture to culture, but is the same in the overall idea that ‘fairer is more beautiful’. In Sudan, it goes a little deeper than that. Yes, it’s mainly because men want light skinned women as wives, and being someone’s (anyone’s) wife in the Sudanese culture is all that the Sudanese culture expects from women (but that’s whole other rant), but it’s also something much worse: race. As in most cultures, darker coloured people are considered inferior in the society. In Sudan, these are mostly in the west and south of the country (before the South became a whole different country). Dark skin colour goes hand in hand with words like ‘slave’ and ‘ugly’. This obviously has political as well as cultural implications, and the whole thing is a mess. At the end of day, the message is strong enough to drive women of all ages and backgrounds, educated and uneducated, rich or poor, into the open arms of the booming skin-whitening business, where there is a guaranteed solution for all their problems at a price to match each and everyone’s wallet.

Read more about skin-whitening in Sudan and elsewhere here:

Not Too Dark and Not Too Light: The Deadly Balance of Skin Color in Sudan

In Sudan, pale is beautiful but price is high

Sudanese women pay heavy price of beauty

Skin bleaching, women, morality and national character in Juba

Skin Is Just An Organ – But Insecurity Sells




Sudan is a melting pot of different nations, cultures and religions. There is no one ‘type’ of Sudanese, and no one can claim that the land belongs to them. Over the generations, there have been Nilotic Africans, Arabs, Turks, Moroccans, Egyptians, Greek, Coptic and others, so that Sudanese people today are a wide range of skin and eye colours, shapes and sizes, and dialects and habits. However, the vast majority of Sudanese are dark-skinned. It’s a hot country with little shade, so everyone gets the tan whether they like it or not. So, with almost everyone being in the darker side of the colour range, one must ask: why does everyone want to be white?
Skin whitening is the new-age epidemic in Sudan. EVERYONE is doing it, the only difference is how. For a country where people wake up to double bread and oil prices every day, where 70% of the country doesn’t have health insurance and the education and health system having collapsed, and most people can’t afford their next meal; they’re not faring too bad in the cosmetics business at all. There’s something for everyone: from tiny containers of mixed bleaches that cost 25 pounds available in kiosks and pharmacies, to the 8,000 pound Cosmolane skin treatment provided in uptown chic beauty salons. Celebrity pharmacists and dermatologists get their reputations from how successful and fast their treatments are, and products are nicknamed things like ‘Shock the Neighbours’ for their efficiency and speed. It can be a cream, pill or injection. There is little (if any) regulation from authorities, and it’s not uncommon to find unlicensed ‘professionals’ from various shady backgrounds operating from their own clinic/store/dispensary/house, examining and giving advice to clients, making and marketing their products with their own brands. They even pay taxes. In fact, one particularly popular young woman was on TEDx Women last year talking about her experience as the developer and owner of a successful cosmetics business. Several years ago a previously popular cream called Diana was withdrawn from the market for having ridiculously high levels of Mercury in it. It was an impressive step by the authorities and they were commended on it. However, wherever it was withdrawn to apparently wasn’t very far because a short while later the product reappeared in the market in plain sight, just as popular and twice as expensive.
Skin bleaching hazards (Web Images)
Skin bleaching hazards (Web Images)
In the past women were not so discrete about their skin-whitening habits, and lightened mainly their faces and necks. The result was what was called the ‘Fanta Face, Pepsi Hands’ phenomena, as the face was visibly several shades lighter than the rest of the body. I remember as a medical student in my OBGYN shift, a pretty young woman with a brown-sugar complexion coming in for a check-up, but when she exposed her abdomen for examination, it was a shocking black. It took me quite a while to get over that incident. Nowadays, however, both customers and manufacturers are smarter about skin-whitening, and there are no tell-tale body parts left untouched.
Skin whitening is also the new-age public health hazard in Sudan. The erratic use of chemicals, combined with the heat and poor health education, is a recipe for disaster. 16% of dermatologists believe skin lightening creams are completely unsafe and 80% feel they are only safe when prescribed by a dermatologist (NHS, 2012). In Khartoum, doctors state that those coming for treatment of skin-whitening product side effects have grown to 1 in every 4 patients (Sudan Tribune, 2006). Steroids and bleaching agents can cause anything from a mild sunburn to skin cancer. A few weeks of shiny, fair coloured skin turn slowly into reddish discolouration, blotchy and uneven skin tone, ulceration, wounds that won’t heal, then complete deformity if it isn’t’t caught in time. Steroids cause the skin to become friable and thin, easily torn, and impedes the healing process. And it’s not as if these dangerous side-effects are unknown to users: on the contrary, the vast majority of women are quite aware of the dangers of using random skin-whitening products but use them anyway. Most users are university students and employees; there’s even a large sector of doctors and nurses involved. Like African-American hair styling experts quote in Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ documentary, ‘we’re gonna look good, regardless,’ (Bernard Bonner, 2009).
Skin Whitening Creams (Web Images)
Skin Whitening Creams (Web Images)
This issue is by no means new, nor is it unique to Sudan or even to Africa. It’s pretty much everywhere, and ironically in those nations where dark skin is part of the normal cultural and racial population mix, like South-east Asia. Dubbed the ‘Snow White Complex’, the root explanatory cause differs from culture to culture, but is the same in the overall idea that ‘fairer is more beautiful’. In Sudan, it goes a little deeper than just beauty. Yes, it’s mainly because men want light skinned women as wives, and being someone’s (anyone’s) wife in the Sudanese culture is all that the Sudanese culture expects from women (but that’s whole other rant), but it’s also something much worse: race and superiority. As in many cultures, darker coloured people are considered inferior in the society. In Sudan, these are mostly in the west and south of the country (before the South became a whole different country). Dark skin colour goes hand in hand with words like ‘slave’ and ‘ugly’. This obviously has political as well as cultural implications, not to mention the fact that girls are taught at a young age that their beauty and worth is tied to the shade of their skin. At the end of day, the message is strong enough to drive women of all ages and backgrounds, educated and uneducated, rich or poor, into the open arms of the booming skin-whitening business, where there is a guaranteed solution for all their problems at a price to match each and everyone’s wallet.
Like Atiyya Korodia says, its about time beauty was redefined.

Read more about skin-whitening in Sudan and elsewhere here:
Not too Dark and Not Too Light: The Deadly Balance of Skin Color in Sudan
In Sudan, pale is beautiful but price is high
Sudanese women pay heavy price of beauty
Skin bleaching, women, morality and national character in Juba
Skin Is Just And Organ – But Insecurity Sells
- See more at: http://elleafrique.com/whos-the-fairest-of-them-all#sthash.TdDlXL3i.dpuf
Sudan is a melting pot of different nations, cultures and religions. There is no one ‘type’ of Sudanese, and no one can claim that the land belongs to them. Over the generations, there have been Nilotic Africans, Arabs, Turks, Moroccans, Egyptians, Greek, Coptic and others, so that Sudanese people today are a wide range of skin and eye colours, shapes and sizes, and dialects and habits. However, the vast majority of Sudanese are dark-skinned. It’s a hot country with little shade, so everyone gets the tan whether they like it or not. So, with almost everyone being in the darker side of the colour range, one must ask: why does everyone want to be white?
Skin whitening is the new-age epidemic in Sudan. EVERYONE is doing it, the only difference is how. For a country where people wake up to double bread and oil prices every day, where 70% of the country doesn’t have health insurance and the education and health system having collapsed, and most people can’t afford their next meal; they’re not faring too bad in the cosmetics business at all. There’s something for everyone: from tiny containers of mixed bleaches that cost 25 pounds available in kiosks and pharmacies, to the 8,000 pound Cosmolane skin treatment provided in uptown chic beauty salons. Celebrity pharmacists and dermatologists get their reputations from how successful and fast their treatments are, and products are nicknamed things like ‘Shock the Neighbours’ for their efficiency and speed. It can be a cream, pill or injection. There is little (if any) regulation from authorities, and it’s not uncommon to find unlicensed ‘professionals’ from various shady backgrounds operating from their own clinic/store/dispensary/house, examining and giving advice to clients, making and marketing their products with their own brands. They even pay taxes. In fact, one particularly popular young woman was on TEDx Women last year talking about her experience as the developer and owner of a successful cosmetics business. Several years ago a previously popular cream called Diana was withdrawn from the market for having ridiculously high levels of Mercury in it. It was an impressive step by the authorities and they were commended on it. However, wherever it was withdrawn to apparently wasn’t very far because a short while later the product reappeared in the market in plain sight, just as popular and twice as expensive.
Skin bleaching hazards (Web Images)
Skin bleaching hazards (Web Images)
In the past women were not so discrete about their skin-whitening habits, and lightened mainly their faces and necks. The result was what was called the ‘Fanta Face, Pepsi Hands’ phenomena, as the face was visibly several shades lighter than the rest of the body. I remember as a medical student in my OBGYN shift, a pretty young woman with a brown-sugar complexion coming in for a check-up, but when she exposed her abdomen for examination, it was a shocking black. It took me quite a while to get over that incident. Nowadays, however, both customers and manufacturers are smarter about skin-whitening, and there are no tell-tale body parts left untouched.
Skin whitening is also the new-age public health hazard in Sudan. The erratic use of chemicals, combined with the heat and poor health education, is a recipe for disaster. 16% of dermatologists believe skin lightening creams are completely unsafe and 80% feel they are only safe when prescribed by a dermatologist (NHS, 2012). In Khartoum, doctors state that those coming for treatment of skin-whitening product side effects have grown to 1 in every 4 patients (Sudan Tribune, 2006). Steroids and bleaching agents can cause anything from a mild sunburn to skin cancer. A few weeks of shiny, fair coloured skin turn slowly into reddish discolouration, blotchy and uneven skin tone, ulceration, wounds that won’t heal, then complete deformity if it isn’t’t caught in time. Steroids cause the skin to become friable and thin, easily torn, and impedes the healing process. And it’s not as if these dangerous side-effects are unknown to users: on the contrary, the vast majority of women are quite aware of the dangers of using random skin-whitening products but use them anyway. Most users are university students and employees; there’s even a large sector of doctors and nurses involved. Like African-American hair styling experts quote in Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ documentary, ‘we’re gonna look good, regardless,’ (Bernard Bonner, 2009).
Skin Whitening Creams (Web Images)
Skin Whitening Creams (Web Images)
This issue is by no means new, nor is it unique to Sudan or even to Africa. It’s pretty much everywhere, and ironically in those nations where dark skin is part of the normal cultural and racial population mix, like South-east Asia. Dubbed the ‘Snow White Complex’, the root explanatory cause differs from culture to culture, but is the same in the overall idea that ‘fairer is more beautiful’. In Sudan, it goes a little deeper than just beauty. Yes, it’s mainly because men want light skinned women as wives, and being someone’s (anyone’s) wife in the Sudanese culture is all that the Sudanese culture expects from women (but that’s whole other rant), but it’s also something much worse: race and superiority. As in many cultures, darker coloured people are considered inferior in the society. In Sudan, these are mostly in the west and south of the country (before the South became a whole different country). Dark skin colour goes hand in hand with words like ‘slave’ and ‘ugly’. This obviously has political as well as cultural implications, not to mention the fact that girls are taught at a young age that their beauty and worth is tied to the shade of their skin. At the end of day, the message is strong enough to drive women of all ages and backgrounds, educated and uneducated, rich or poor, into the open arms of the booming skin-whitening business, where there is a guaranteed solution for all their problems at a price to match each and everyone’s wallet.
Like Atiyya Korodia says, its about time beauty was redefined.

Read more about skin-whitening in Sudan and elsewhere here:
Not too Dark and Not Too Light: The Deadly Balance of Skin Color in Sudan
In Sudan, pale is beautiful but price is high
Sudanese women pay heavy price of beauty
Skin bleaching, women, morality and national character in Juba
Skin Is Just And Organ – But Insecurity Sells
- See more at: http://elleafrique.com/whos-the-fairest-of-them-all#sthash.TdDlXL3i.dpuf