We woke with the determination to make an open city our workspace. The experience of the previous night was still fresh; particularly, I was interested in investigating the modes in which Khartoum had, despite reaching out for modernity, retained its past. Good enough, our encounters were laced with historical anecdotes and references to Khartoum’s past.
I find it worthy of note that markets catch our attention in each city we have stopped so far. In this regard, therefore, the market presents itself as a useful marker in the collective existence of a city. The purchase and the sale of things, it seems, tells life. Is there any doubt that what is eaten, worn, used, narrates who an individual is – and by extension, who a people are?
Almost at every stall, there was a welcome smile, a question about our origin, and often a request for a photograph. Emeka’s hair morphed him into Stephen Worgu, a Nigerian footballer based in Sudan. Once we mentioned that we were Nigerians, faces lit up, and some of the men we met sermonized on how Sudan and Nigeria were united in many ways. (Worgu, from a report I found online, was fined in 2009 for driving after drinking alcohol. It is noteworthy that Sudan, being an Islamic state since the late 1980s, illegalized the drinking of alcohol, such that ‘non-alcoholic beer’ is sold. As a necessary corollary, night life is practically non-existent. Ala tells us that people are in their houses by 11.00pm, at most).
There was a guy who had warned us not to take his photo. After we had interviewed a man at the stall before his, and given how exuberant and ebullient our interaction was with the men in the shop, he joined us, making a photo of Emeka and I with his phone. Such interaction, void of hypocrisy, clearly open, reminds me of Yassir’s comments the previous day, “Sudanese people are very simple people, and very humble.”
Which is why I was elated when, at the Goethe Institute, a member of staff spoke to us about her 18-month experience in Sudan, and what she thought about the country. She noted that Khartoum was experiencing what she considered a cultural identity crises, hanging between being Arab and being African. Her idea was that Sudan was on a waiting phase, given the changes that had occurred in the country’s political landscape. I liked this consideration, because after that moment, once I crossed the street to our van across, I saw the city differently. I felt that up till that moment, I had seen superficially, carried away by the smiles and the willingness of residents to converse.
Tuti Island represented, for me, a place that had decidedly remained still and antiqual. Upon entry, it strikes as a locale that is placed between the past and present. Yet, it does not appear to seek a sync with Khartoum’s modernity; if anything it might have retained a grouse with Khartoum for stealing its show. Tuti Island is favoured by its closeness to the River Nile – even more by its closeness to the point where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile. (Although we were shown this intersection, it was difficult to see the colours that made the rivers ‘blue’ and ‘white.’ We are told that in summer, the colours are clearer and easily distinguishable).
Our day ended with the Nile River. Jumoke, Ray and Kemi had some Sudanese coffee, which later made the ladies exuberant as though they had taken some liquor! This is understandable, given the illegality of alcohol; who knows if Sudanese people are seeking alternatives to getting drunk!
I received an email from a dear friend who noted, profoundly, that one should not blame the talebearer but the one who hears. He stated that he would not believe my single story of Khartoum. My friend intends to combine my ‘single’ story with that of CNN, Richard Dowden, Tade Ipadeola, Paul Theroux, and every other narrator who has written about Khartoum. I am hoping that as our Khartoum story unfolds and is told, all those who read and listen to us will not think of our work as exhaustive, or as wholesome narratives.