It was dark and rainy outside, the train speeding through heavy canopies of a lush forest. I was intently listening to the rain beat down on what I imagined were sturdy and large leaves. Breaking my relaxed reverie was my father’s voice, the way he started the sentence with “Taba’an” (of course) got my attention as I knew a story was unraveling. That was the summer of 2004 – my family was vacationing in Bulgaria, and somewhere between Sofia and the coastal city of Varna, in a night train compartment I heard about life in Tabaj-Abri for the first time.
Maybe not the first time, but I knew that night that I just had to go and experience this tiny village first hand – sans the donkey, but that comes later.
The contrasts: zeer water and red velvet cupcake. (Photo by: Muniness)
It was only in September 2012 that I was sitting in a bus, dozing in and out of sleep to the blaring sound system playing Mohamed Wardi on repeat. I was momentarily distracted by his captivating presence on stage, even in my seat on a bus, decades later. To say that everyone was enjoying themselves would be an understatement. The heartfelt clapping, singing and glazed eyes of those around me saddened me; he had just passed away in February. Wardi hailed from the North, where we were headed, and the concert on repeat for a good half of the journey, was sung in the Nubian Rutana (Nubian dialect). The bus driver was especially enjoying the concert – beeping his favorite musical notes every now and then.
We reached our destination, my companion, a relative, had made arrangements for us to stay in the home of, well, other relatives. I’m terrible at this family tree stuff, and the prospects of this journey aggravated this further as more branches sprung from every side of my father’s genealogy. When I walked in I was met by two young children, the mother, her three elder sons and three daughters. Eyes blazing, I shake hands, hug and kiss on cue and enter their home.
An enormous yard was being redone with Jalous (mixture of water, dung and soil) and I had to skip the wet spots to reach the breezy veranda where a large Kouz (water mug) of cold brown Zeer (clay water container) water awaited me. Next to it my aunt placed a red velvet cupcake and the world of contrasts collapsed for a moment. It was late in the afternoon and a huge fuss was made over the lunch Sineyya (large serving tray) and I was happily immersed in inquiries and tales of family members sending their greetings Northwards.
I remember the grin on my face, eyes lit up with mischief – my first Sudanese adventure.
(To be continued)
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