17 January 2018

Stories Jiddo told me


Khartoum rains taste like freedom

They are few and far between, but when they come

These rains, they bring with them stories

Stories of home and legacy and new beginnings

I sit at my grandfather’s feet as he listens to the storm

It tells him things only grandfathers can understand

Some of which they can pass on to their granddaughters

Jiddo listens, and I listen. And the rain tells all

It tells of a time when Khartoum soil was rich

The city thrived and its people wore pride like a second skin

Jiddo looks at me but his eyes are in the past.

I long to join him, to see Sudan as he once saw it

The rain falls on

It tells of better times when the nation wasn’t broken

When corruption was still inconceivable

When the streets were safe

And politicians’ hands were clean

It’s not at all what it used to be, Jiddo tells me

But the sun still rises,

And the rain will occasionally fall

So there is still hope for us yet

I believe him: grandfathers know everything

But I also believe that the city is beautiful now

It feels more like home than the home I’ve known nearly all my life

Here, next to my jiddo and his stories, here I feel I belong

We are outside, surrounded by darkness and quiet

Nothing makes a sound, except for the gentle rustle of the lemon tree’s leaves

I silently pray that jiddo won’t realize how late it is

Because for the first time all summer the air is cool, and the stars are listening to our stories

At least, I tell myself that they are ours

These recollections meant only for the rain and the stars

There is something magical here, in the silence between stories

Where nothing else exists but Jiddo and I, and the memories he has chosen to share

I ask for glimpses of my mother’s past

The rain doesn’t carry these stories, but they are there

In the way my grandfather smiles and winks knowingly

In the way he folds his hands across his stomach and settles back in his favorite chair

And so I find myself in El Obeid fields

In my great grandfather’s house where, it seems, everyone had come to grow up

I am my mother, causing mischief in schoolyards

And walking long miles home under a scorching summer sun

I find myself in a place where everyone knows everyone

Where there is no distinguishing between neighbor and brother

A place where there are no closed doors

Where the joys of life are few, but somehow still manage to be enough

I am my grandfather, working with my brothers in an arsenal

Dreaming up ideas in a village town

Where ideas don’t always belong

But dreams have no boundaries, and so I dream on

There is beauty in simplicity

In knowing where you come from even if you can’t stay

The roots are here, planted. Grounded firmly in the knowledge that there is history.  There will always be history,

Pulsing in the land where my aunts and uncles once laughed and ran barefooted across heated sands

I am lost in a different time and place

Jiddo’s voice is a portal to a better yesterday

I want to sit in Abalhaj’s lap and hear his stories

I want to go back to see my beautiful great grandmother, whose name has been adopted by those lucky enough to own it

But all I have of them are someone else’s memories

Someone else’s past that I can never have for my own

Still, my grandfather’s storytelling is a gateway

And I will happily step through every time

Outside the sand has turned dark, greedily drinking up the water while it can

The grittiness of it will be the only evidence of my homecoming

For I will not tell the stories my jiddo has given me

They are too precious, too rare. Too hard to come by

Much like the rain.


Nihal Mubarak is a self-proclaimed poet and short-story writer. As is the case with many second-generation immigrants, she struggles to preserve her Sudanese culture in a western society, and hopes to re-discover herself—and her heritage—in her writing. 

One Comment

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  • Sophie Zanoon
    8 August 2017 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Very passionate and beautiful writing…. love it!

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