Khartoum: Receptive Terrain – Emmanuel Iduma

Posted: November 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Fresh Morning, Khartoum (Emeka Okereke)

Just as I began to write this, the noise of passing trucks on the road beneath our window ceased, and the noiselessness made me think of the words I had once seen, “No two days are the same.” Khartoum emphasizes these words, in ways I will speak of, and how different it is from other cities we have travelled through – nowhere else have I felt as honoured to be a visitor. Even being a stranger seems a good thing.

At the Khartoum International Airport, there is a huge welcome sign by MTN, ending with the words, “hope you brought your camera.” I notice this first, then the smartly dressed policemen, then a family returning from Ethiopia, I think. I am taken over by the inability to distinguish between the Sudan I expected to see and the Sudan I was seeing; I could tell from the excitement lingering on the faces of Jumoke and Kemi that it was the same for them, too.
Upon leaving the airport, we were driven at Ala Khier’s direction to an apartment which was unpainted from the outside, and which bore the look of an abandoned building. Ala had booked for us a different place, but when our plans changed, we lost the place. We climbed a flight of stairs, leading us into a newly furnished apartment, the opposite of what one expected after seeing the building from outside. A while later, we were taken by Ala and Fasial to a restaurant, where we ate – the food was so good Emeka joked that one of us could be found the next morning waiting for the restaurant to open.
There has not been much flurry of activities since then. When we woke the next morning, Ala helped with SIM cards, a wireless modem, and permits from the Sudanese government allowing us to make photos in the city. Emeka and Kemi went shopping; now that we had an apartment with a kitchen, we agreed that it would make so much sense to cook our own food. After the provisions and food stuff arrived, we made so much noise dividing the food between the guys and the ladies, disturbing the neighbours in the process. We apologised with gestures; Arabic is Sudan’s first language, English is second; most people we have met speak more Arabic than English. Being lost in translation reinforced my decision to learn Arabic, as I have been fascinated and interested in Arab culture since my third year in university.
We were taken to the market to make photos, joined by Ala, Fasial and Yasssir. The words “no two days are the same” is instructive in an attempt to tell how welcomed we were in the market. This is given the fact that we had just left Tchad, where carrying a camera automatically made us disadvantaged. Here, as we walked around the market with our guides, we were beckoned on, the martketpeople who were not shy wanted their photos taken.
Perhaps this results from Sudan’s culture of openness, and travelling culture. We are told that if we had travelled by road, there would have been no need to look for hotels at each stop – in each small town, a resting place was provided by the chief for travellers. I had mentioned in an earlier post how important it was that we sought to purge ourselves of every trait of strangeness, and find remain, simply, as visitors. In the face of things at the moment, given how no two days are the same, I am not sure that assertion should be taken cogently in Khartoum.
When those marketpeople beckoned on us, asking where we were from, smiling with us when they saw that we spoke no Arabic, being a stranger suddenly seemed novel. I do not argue that we should remain estranged from Khartoum’s way of seeing, or that we should remain irrelevant to Khartoum’s residents; I argue instead that our friction with Khartoum would be smooth and pleasurable, if the signs we are seeing remain.
I figure that when it is time to reminisce on this project, Sudan would be a ready example of a city that has made conscious effort to blur its borders. No lies should be told, these borders exist; Khartoum is an Islamized town, bursting forth with every dint of Islamic life. Yet, there seems to be a collective decision to hybridize, to welcome diversity.
The road beneath our window is a busy one. Every second a car zooms past. It reminds me of the work to be done. When a city opens itself so wide as Khartoum has done, what remains is the (sub)conscious affinity for creating work that tells in detail what it means to have crossed into a receptive terrain.
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