23 February 2018

I remember Sudan

Eid baked sweets

Eid baked sweets (Photo: www.akhbar.sd)

I remember waking up on Eid day in Mygoma, a forgotten, dusty and derelict part of Khartoum.

Nevertheless, joy existed within its streets and behind its leaning mud walls. Families prepared for this special holiday for weeks. Crisp new clothes were bought for the children, silky tobes for the women and dazzling gelabiyas for the men. Houses were cleaned top to bottom. Sandy floors were sprinkled with water then swept with a mookshasha. Bright new bed sheets were placed over cotton mattresses, where later, guests would prop themselves while drinking mint tea and chattering.
On Eid morning, mothers bathed the children, scrubbing vigorously with a fresh loofah and fenik soap, amidst much screaming and shrieking. The mothers had stayed up pressing new clothes to perfection, filling the iron with amber coals, bending over the precious new purchases deep into the night. After the bath, they anointed unruly ringlets with sesame oil and braided them tightly with ribbons, yarn or damuriya cloth ribbons. They rubbed Nivea or Vaseline roughly into the round cheeks and sunburnt arms. Sandalwood perfume came last. After its liberal application they were ready for the world to see. Surely, the entire neighborhood will know that they have a good and caring mother.
How impatiently my step cousins and I waited to go visiting other homes, to shout out Eid Mubarak and to sample the treats displayed on polished trays. I craved the Macintosh chocolates which arrived all the way from England and which only a lucky few could afford. I stuffed my mouth full of the little cloves and ghee infused Eid cookies. They dissolved in my mouth quickly, leaving me hungry for more. Vimto juice was offered and we drank many glasses of this delicious cherry flavored concoction.

From house to house we went. Laughter and squeals filled the morning air as rambunctious boys and girls dispersed through Maygoma’s dusty streets. What a delight it was to see that the man with the rusty old swing was back. He charged for the rides, and there was always somebody trying to get ahead with cries of, “It’s my turn!”
Nearby, fathers in towering eimas on their heads handed out money to barefoot children. Ladies with glowing and hennaed skin propped a child on their hip, and swayed graciously through the dusty alleys.

This is the Sudan I remember; its honest and simple people, its homes full of chattering relatives, the smell of bakhoor incense…the sounds of the deloka drums and that of an excitable rooster at dawn.

I remember the way the air smelled when it rained, infusing the city with a unique scent of wet earth. Wishfully, I think of the tiny nabag fruit and jasmine flowers on our farm, the tantalizing sway of the cornstalks, and the unified hum of lemon and mango trees in the cool Nile breeze.
It was as if the entire countryside and its people held a collective breath…thirstily welcoming those precious droplets.


*Zvezdana Rashkovich was born in ex-Yugoslavia to a Serbian father and Croatian mother. At the age of seven, her mother married a Sudanese man and moved to Sudan. A fluent Arabic and Serbo-Croatian speaker, currently lives in Dubai with her Sudanese husband and four children. She is the author of Dubai Wives and is working on a memoir Africa in the Way I Dance.

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