For many in Sudan, its current situation is virtually unliveable, with cash and fuel shortages galore, astronomical and unpredictable inflation, and basic services that sometimes do more harm than good
What do we know about Noura Hussein? The 19-year-old Sudanese woman is currently on death row in Omdurman, Sudan, for killing a man in self-defense. She was convicted of murdering her husband, who raped her on their “honeymoon.”
Sometimes professional people in the community say some strange things. One such Professor in Sudan said on the national channel (Blue Nile) that "all Sudanese women were short and ugly". How charming.
This was the fantastic response...
(Partly in English, partly in Arabic - but the passion needs no language to be understood!)
The niqab, burka and things women women use to cover their heads and faces due to faith are of great fascination for much of Western society. Much of the commentary precludes opinions from the ‘primary source’ (women who wear these items of clothing), and as such there are significant and often damaging assumptions made about the subjects.
‘Subjects’ is an uncomfortable but apt term, as many niqabed Muslim women are seen as foreign objects of curiosity and conjecture. They are rarely ever perceived as human women who have hopes, dreams, kids, families, gardens, laundry and all the same dramas as every other human.
So given the fact that I don’t wear the niqab, what gives me the right to talk about this topic?
Nothing really, to be honest, and I do my best not to talk on behalf of, but to hopefully propose alternative narratives in an effort to change perceptions. This post is one such example.
As you may or may not know, I spent the first half of 2012 in Sudan with my grandmother, learning how to cook, become a ‘good housewife’ and studying Arabic at the local university. The university I went to, unbeknown to me at the time, turned out to be an Islamic based - and very traditional - institution for international students from all over Africa. This meant that the classes for men and women were separated and many of the women were from all over Africa, rather than just Sudan.
I was fortunate enough to befriend many of my fellow classmates, although it was an interesting experience as our life experiences were very different! Funnily enough, because we were in an all-women class, all the ladies would remove any niqabs they wore and many would have their hair out (the 45 - 50 degree heat wasn’t conducive to many layers of clothing). As such, my ideas of them were not founded around what they wore but their varied personalities and stories. I’d actually forgotten they all wore niqabs until I saw the following photographs on a former colleague’s Facebook page:
What are these photos, you may be asking? Are we seeing women being trained up for some crazy operation that we don’t understand?
No, what you see are African (Ugandan and Nigerian) women being trained as mechanical engineers and technicians.
Not only do these women have to brave the standard ‘women in engineering’ perception, they have to do so in an extremely hostile and patriarchal culture. They learn how to take apart engines, weld and manufacture equipment, and do so with flair.
It is inspiring.
They’re smart and driven, but also feminine and devout. Sure, it isn’t easy. There is no denying the difficulties… but these are examples of women who do almost everything they want to, and what they wear in no way oppresses them.
Kinda cool huh? Glad you clicked? I am too :)
It has been a week full of intensity, as per usual. It seems like the news has become a little like that, or perhaps it is what we choose to consume... Here are a five videos that popped up on my radar this week that are definitely worth your time.
1. Jon Oliver on Drones.
This guy is a gift. Takes issues once a week, tears it apart in 15 minutes or so. Sometimes, he can say things that others have been saying for ages but because of who he is, it is better received. Yes, that may be frustrating, but who said life was fair? Either way, his stuff is worth watching, and this week just highlights how ridiculous and insane the United State's Drone policy (or lack thereof) is.
2. Reza Aslan destroying CNN
Skip the first part of the video and wait until you get to the part where Reza Aslan starts talking. This guy is a religious scholar and academic. He knows his stuff, and the way that he clearly articulates things many Muslims yell at the TV while watching (or avoiding) CNN is brilliant.
3. Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!
A lesson that my father taught me over and over. Why projects keep failing in 'Africa'.
4.Kcee – Ogaranya ft. Davido (aka some light Afrobeats)
It can't be a Yassmin video wrap up without some Afrobeats... Let's have something light to finish off why don't we?
Ah, it seems sometimes I avoid writing because I am a little afraid of what will come out when I start...
Oh Sudan, how you tear me in two.
I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Sudan, the land of my birth. I was there for a total of 4 full days; three days and two half days. If you consider all the flying, I was almost in the air as long as I was on the ground. I returned for the weddings of cousins and to see my Grandmother, a lady who I have lived with and who has taught me so much (the School of Life, as she refers to it).
As the plane came in to land (Alhamdulilah), I thought of the last time I was in Sudan. Coming out of university, going to study Arabic: it was a time of hope, of growth, of the Arab Spring, of something new and exciting. They were memories of rose tinted (or sand blasted) glasses, gleaming with the nostalgia of a time gone by, before #riglyf or the ruin of Syria...
It was not until my return to the hustle and bustle of the extended family home, the dramas surrounding preparations for the weddings or the two hours the hairdresser berated me for the state of my hair (HOW DARE YOU LEAVE IT CURLY?! Don't you know a woman's hair is the crown of her beauty? Don't you want to be beautiful?! How do you think you will find a man? Don't you want to feel attractive?) that the other memories of Sudan began to resurface.
(My favourite comment the hairdresser made: Oh look, I know you think you're an engineer and you're with all these men so you shouldn't take care of yourself, but girl, don't kid yourself. Men want a womanly woman. Just remember that. When I made noises about having a man not being the most important thing in my life, she fell quiet for a few minutes. A few blissful minutes of peace, before the barrage began again, with a different tact: Didn't I want to show everyone else in the house I could be beautiful? I could only muster and agreement-sounding moan).
Returning to the other memories of Sudan: although I'd forgotten, it was the only time in my life that my actions were constantly not enough, not right, not adequate - in a big way. Having not been brought up in Sudan but being of Sudanese origin, I was expected (by this age) to espouse the 'correct' and perfect Sudanese way of being a woman. This, as hard as I might, was not yet achieved. Sure, if I worked at it as hard as I did my engineering degree, I'd probably be a hell of a lady by Sudanese standards, but to be perfectly honest - it just didn't rate with the priorities. That doesn't stop the judgement though...
What were these 'correct' rules that were meant to be espoused? Some simple examples include:
- To make the perfect cup of tea (when to serve, how much sugar, how much to pour, the correct herbs to be added and to do it all with the utmost grace and such),
- To look like the perfect lady (preferably short, thin, not too thin as to look malnourished because that is undesired but not too large as to look like you weren't in control of your portion sizes (and definitely not muscled, lord, that was for men!), with neat manicured nails, smooth, moisturised skin - the whiter the better - with as few markings as possible, straight hair that would be coiffed into rolling curls and once whooshed out of the hijab it had been covered in under 40 degree heat all day, would gleam like the sun and smell like fairies; make up that looked good but not too fake, henna that was done well and not fading, clothing that was attractive but not too tight and shoes that were classy but would withstand the mud... you get the gist)
- To be able to cook, well (No elaboration necessary. Isn't this a prerequisite for every culturally diverse woman?)
- To be interested in womanly things, not politics and cars and football and engineering and the things that were reserved for men...
- To be the a witty conversationalist but also to talk about polite topics and not stray into overly satirical humour (not sure it translates...)
Alas, I may be being somewhat facetious.
However, the truth of the matter (as far as I can see) is this...
Sudan, north Sudan in particular, is a deeply traditional, communal society. Societies that are tribal and based on community in the way that the Sudanese are can often be deeply judgemental. In this world, a woman's reputation is her only weapon, her beauty of uptmost importance and her ability to hold a household and care for a family paramount.
Many of the things I have learned to value here in Australia - the community work, the breaking of the barriers in the industry I work in, the influence in public conversations - yes, that is of passing interest to the families in Sudan, but really, honestly?
It doesn't rate in comparison.
So I go from being someone who is confident in their ability and place in the world to someone who feels like they don't know the rules at all really, and the rules I do know, I don't adhere to very well at all.
The kicker? This is supposed to be where I am from. This would be where I was from, if my parents hadn't decide to make that audacious journey to the other side of the globe in 1992.
So, Sudan is a place where I feel I have roots - deep roots - my only roots.
It is a place I feel I must
Yet although I know I must learn to love Sudan, because it is a place that keeps me grounded and connected, it is also a nation that makes me feel judged and inadequate. It is a place whose values and traditions I know I should espouse, and yet, I find myself disagreeing with. The issue then becomes that yet if I reject these based on the Australian values embedded within me, well it means I am then becoming 'westernised'.
'Westernised' being synonymous with losing my identity, not being 'true or genuine', or almost taking the side of the oppressors. It isn't a rational fear, as those aren't all rational reasons or statements, yet, somehow, it is there.
The implication is that somehow, by trying to be different, I am implicitly forsaking my Sudanese identity and redefining myself as a true coconut - black on the outside, white on the inside. The implication is that taking the identity of the 'white' and the associated individualistic, capitalist nature, is clearly the wrong thing to do.
It can't be.
I am Australian, Muslim, born in Sudan with mixed heritage. I get to pick and chose what I want to take on, right? Yet, every time I go back, I feel guilty about my choices.
Why? I don't know, but this cannot go on...Surely, something has to make it through this madness.
You see, even by calling it madness, I am wracked by guilt. Doesn't Sudan have enough haters, my conscious asks me. Do you really need to be like all the others and hate on it as well? What makes you any better than all of them... why aren't you backing Sudan?
My conscious can be a right burr sometimes.
This is a piece contributed to a wonderful website Sajjeling - check it out! It's a great collection of Australian-Arab narratives and I am honoured to be a part of it...
“The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.” – Terry Pratchett
My friend shook his head after listening to me wail about the crushing, humiliating defeat of La Furia Roja, the Spaniards, at the hands of ‘Clockwork Orange’, the Dutch.“I don’t understand! How can you care so much when you’re not even Spanish?”
“Explain to me why it means so much? How can it matter so much to you when there is no link between you and the country at all?”
I sighed. How to explain the love of football, especially that of the World Cup?
I can’t pinpoint exactly where my love of the World Game begun. My earliest memory is that of the 1994 games. Although I don’t remember the details, I do recall being left in front of the TV with instructions to call my dad over whenever a goal was scored. Given that I was only three, I wasn’t sure what a goal was exactly but I made a deduction that it had something to do with the reactions of people in the stand. So, anytime the stadium cheered I would rush to get my father, guessing something important had happened. Looking back, I am not sure my father thought the strategy was as impressive as I thought it was.
The following world cup – France 1998 – was celebrated with the purchase of a new set of pyjamas that was blue with soccer balls all over it. Unfortunately, there were no sets of soccer pyjamas for girls; my mother bought me a boys’ set. This was fine, except no one wanted to explain to me why there was an extra hole in the front of the pants…
My obsession after that only grew, despite the fact that everyone else in my family only cared slightly. I stuck posters with match timetable and draw on the lounge room walls. I made scrapbooks for the tournament, writing little notes about each match and cutting out all the pictures from the paper, decimating my father’s newspaper-reading ritual in the process.
In 2006, I watched every single game until my mother banned me for a night and demanded that I go to bed. Apparently a straight week without sleep was enough to make my mood positively dangerous, particularly when my team was floundering. 2010 brought the World Game to my screen right in the middle of my most difficult university exam period, and perhaps may explain the grades I received that semester. 2014, even with a full time job and despicable game times in Australia, has been no different.
The question, however, remains. Why, as my friend asked, do I care so much when Australia always does poorly and my land of birth, Sudan, has never made an appearance? Why do I feel so impassioned about the fate of a team when, ultimately, it has no bearing on me?
I am no footballer – anyone who has seen me with a ball at my feet will confirm that – so it has nothing to do with being inspired to play better. And in the weeks of the World Cup, it is much more than ‘just a sport’ for billions of people around the world including me. Football, it seems, has its own type of magic.
It is the most popular game in the world, played on streets in every nation. It requires no gear apart from an object that is roughly round (in Sudan we used balls made out of old socks) and markings in the ground to delineate a goal. Money, pedigree and social standing have no bearing on your ability to be a great player and perhaps even make a name for yourself. It is simple to understand, and its barrier to entry is extremely low. Anyone can play and be a part of the beauty of this game.
This game is so much more than statistics. Football is ultimately about humanity.
The World Cup is a tournament that brings grown men to tears, changes the lives of rookie players and inspires generations of children to do something great. Some countries grind to a halt to watch the games. The green is a battlefield where literally anything can happen – great teams kicked out at the group stages, underdogs (like Greece and Costa Rica this year) making it further than anyone thought they could goalies and strikers alike making the impossible real. Goals can be scored right up until the last second, changing fates and creating heroes. Infamous moments are revisited for decades; Madonna’s hand of God, Zidane’s headbutt, that-one-English-win-in-1966.
Football is the great equaliser.
Yet, the World Cup is also a tournament that unites in defeat. 31 of the 32 teams that travel to Brazil this year will experience it in some form, whether it is crushing, like that of Spain, or hopeful, like Australia’s defeat against the Dutch. If there is one emotion we can all share, it is the commonality of World Cup heartbreak.
That’s what it’s about, right? At the end of the day, football and the World Cup are about collective emotion and teams that are vessels for the hopes and dreams of nations. The beauty of this game beyond the field is that it expresses an emotion shared right around the world. It allows us, no matter our heritage, to feel part of something huge, and taps into the reptilian part of our brain that wants to belong, to have a tribe. The World Cup makes us all one people
Scottish footballer and former manager of English club Liverpool, Bill Shankly, said it all for me.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
It is impossible now to believe that Syria and Iraq will ever be reconstituted as the states that they were. The map of the Middle East is being redrawn, and it is covered in blood.
I don't usually agree with the man, but Sheridan's article is worth the read. It raises many a salient point, and the crux of it is this: times are changing.
What is happening in the Middle East is not the result of any one action or event, although some contributed more than others. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not great for the region's stability, but the blame does not lie solely there. Nouri al-Maliki, the installed Prime Minister of Iraq for example, had plenty of opportunity to bring the various religious sects together in some manner but failed to do so effectively. Yet, this again isn't the only factor.
Alas, the lessons of history.
What is happening in the Middle East is not due to a recent phenomenon. In our conversations around the causes, the effects of the first gulf war are often omitted.
More importantly, the lay of the land pre the World Wars are ignored.
This is the map of the Middle East in 1914.
This is the rough map of the region now.
Notice any differences?
I can claim no superior knowledge of the region and am no historian, political scientist or expert of any sort. However, the argument can be made that the construct of the 'state' as we know it is an unnatural relic of the colonial era.
Sudan, my country of birth, is a classic example. Straight lines make (or made) our borders. Tribes that make up nations follow the land, not straight lines! Boundaries were drawn through tribes, and land was divided up by colonisers in ways that suited their ends. The 'states' as we know them today aren't necessarily a true reflection of the allegiances within the nation.
This was brought to my attention most keenly last summer when I asked a cousin why they weren't fighting to free Sudan from the current dictator.
"Why should I care about what happens to Sudan? What has Sudan done for me? If I want to be taken care of, in health, education, resources, anything, I turn to my tribe. Sudan as a country is useless..."
Although that may be a reflection of poor governance, the essence rings true. The entire region is tribal, sectarian and bonded through links that those wanting to colonise - or sometimes even help - may not always completely understand. As such, to expect people to cling to borders and national identities that are so very new may be difficult...
Sheridan may be right. This may be the end of the liberal international order as we know it, but perhaps it may make way for an order that better reflects the natural state and allegiances individuals have...
The hope that it may lead to something better is simply a reaction.
My reaction; a scrambling attempt to see some good and benefit in a situation that is so brutal, callous, violent and cruel that my mind can barely comprehend it.
How we as humans are capable of such is beyond me.
Yet, for a generation that has been brought up on bloodshed, how can we expect any different?
Nelson Mandela passed away today, at the age of 95. There aren't many other figures in recent history who have inspired us Africans in the same way, and sacrificed so much for his people with such humility. This is a piece I wrote a little while back but never published...now is perhaps a fitting time.
The world is an emptier place without Madiba.
He is one of the great men in modern history, one of the true statesmen that have graced us with their wisdom.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
My family originates from the Horn of the continent; having been born in Sudan and flavoured with Egyptian and Moroccan blood, I am thoroughly north African.
As with all African nations (bar one!), the effects of colonisation was keenly felt in Sudan. Interestingly, the effects of their departure and the legacy that they left still remain. Sudan was conquered by the British, and in an effort to move on the current regime did everything they could to establish an 'anti-British' and ultimately 'anti-colonial' environment. This included reverting the education system to Arabic and implementing a strange version of Sharia Law that only applies when they see fit. In an attempt to find their own identity and cast of their colonial shackles, the nation has shackled itself to static ideologies and a fear of the 'other'.
Sudan isn't unique in this situation. Every nation has it's own story of post colonial struggle and the fight to define their national identity.
Madiba is a shining beacon of light in this darkness of confusion that African nations have sometimes found themselves in.
He, after all, is the man who fought the good fight for his people against the oppressors.
He, after all, is the man who won that fight.
Most importantly, he remained true and uncorrupted and has stood for democracy and truth steadfastly and with conviction.
“It always seems impossible until it's done.” he said. At the time, the end of apartheid did seem so. Yet here we are today.
It is difficult to put into words the importance that Nelson Mandela has in South Africa and around the continent. The monarch-like love for him, the deep caring the people have for their leader is unparalleled and very difficult to replace.
Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise for all that we have been made aware of his illness and frailty, in order to prepare us for the eventual truth. This way, the people are mentally preparing themselves and are thinking about the preservation of his legacy.
At the end of the day, all the love won't be enough if his legacy is lost. To honour his work and his life, we should all remember his words and his actions and aspire to work together and build a continent he would be proud of.
"I am here because of people like him" - Zola, a friend and South African sister.
Indeed we are, and we owe much to his legacy.
Morning morning morning! I hope your Friday is going well!
TGIF indeed...here are five bits of interesting facts for your Friday.
Okay, this irritated me slightly because it's another 'fact' sheet about 'Africa' (conveniently forgetting the fact that Africa is 52 countries, and that they are quite different and not one, amorphous, exotic mass), but because it highlights a few interesting and different points, I will let it pass. The fact that female entrepreneurship is this highest in the world? Hell yea! That's what we're talking about. Oppressed? Ain't nobody got time for that...
Doghouse Diaries. Love it.
Triple J did an awesome story on my experience of Ramadan on the Rigs. Props to Sarah and the team for letting me share this! Have a listen HERE (it starts at around 21 min in :D)
I adore this idea - quotes in comics. Zen Pencils, it's called.
This is the first comic I read, and it struck a chord it did! A fan even made a short video of it.
Long read for the day: Slow Ideas, on the New Yorker.
In our era of electronic communications, we’ve come to expect that important innovations will spread quickly. Plenty do: think of in-vitro fertilization, genomics, and communications technologies themselves. But there’s an equally long list of vital innovations that have failed to catch on. The puzzle is why.
So tell me. What are some interesting things you've come across on the net?
A good friend of mine recommended this TEDx talk performed in Sudan and I simply love it. It talks about ambition, gumption, examples of Sudanese who have defeated the odds and 'made it'...and is a great grass roots video for young Sudanese to watch and be inspired by. Note that it is in Arabic, and pretty Sudanese Arabic at that!
Thanks to my father for the heads up on this initiative!
The British Council in Khartoum, in collaboration with a few local players in Sudan including Sudanese Young Businessmen Association and Sudani Telcom has launched a competition for budding Sudanese entrepreneurs.
Called "Mashrouy", which translates to "My Project" in Arabic, the aim is to select 12 people/teams from the pool of applications for a competition to be aired at Blue Nile Satellite Station.
It is open for Sudanese people - both in Sudan and overseas - aged 18 to 40 - who have a business (commercial) idea that needs funding. In addition to the cash prize (SDG200,000, 150,000 and 100,000 for the top three) there is also the opportunity to spend three weeks in the UK for coaching.
The 'Mashrouy' website (in Arabic) has the application form - closing date 20 May 2013.
[box type="info"] “The completion we are launching today is seeking ambitious bright young people in Sudan who have creative business proposals that needs support to be developed”, said the British Charge d’ Affaires Mr. David Belgrove in his address in the conference. Adding that the future and growth of the country require investment in youth and we hope that through this project young Sudanese will be able to kick-off the ground their innovative ideas and contribute to the growth and development of the economy of their country. He concluded by saying that all over the world with very few exceptions, all the largest companies in the world have started as a small business”.[/box]
This is an awesome opportunity for young Sudanese and those with ideas and the drive to push them to fruition.
There are numerous barriers to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in Sudan, but this may well be one of the avenues around those barriers. I encourage all young Sudanese reading this to consider putting in an application or forward it to someone who might find it of use!