Niqab wearing women and their professions

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 :)

Back to Sudan: No, I did not get Ebola

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).

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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...)

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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.

Oh Sudan.

What *really* happened in Monaco: Day 1

The Monaco Grand Prix is known as one of the most glamorous events on the global social calendar, and a definite chart topper in the Formula 1 season. 'A sunny place for shady people' they say, and with the multimillion dollar yachts, billionaires making deals and supercars the norm, you can see why...

Monaco-GP

I had the fortunate of reporting for Richard's F1 - my third ever Grand Prix as an internationally accredited reporter - at the Monaco GP this year, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect honestly.  My plane arrived on the Friday before the GP weekend and the events that unfolded over the next few hours make up one of my favourite traveling tales to date...

***

I arrived in the French Riviera exhausted but pumped: I had driven three hours from a tiny place in the Netherlands to the Hague and then on to Amsterdam, dropped off the rental car (that had served me so well on the Autobahn, thank you VW) and caught the flight to Nice.

A friend had told me I could stay at an apartment she had sorted in Nice, so accommodation was sorted - or was it? Logging onto the airport wifi informed me that in fact the girls had changed plans and were staying at a villa in Monaco.  Armed with the new address and instructions to message them on arrival, I picked up my new chariot, a turbo Astra.  The two gentlemen helping me with the hire car were lovely, but were interestingly very quick to correct me when I asked if they were from the area.

"Oh no no no, I am from France," one said.  "Monaco is weird. The people are weird, their cars are weird, the lifestyle is weird... you'll have fun though. Enjoy your time here!"

Cheers! My thoughts were joyful as I sped off.

IMAG1957

What a drive! Honestly, television does not do the difficulty of navigating that street circuit justice. Driving to Monaco that night gave me a tiny taste of the adrenalin rush the drivers get for 78 laps...

Almost the entire trip almost was on the edge of the cliffs with winding streets and tiny lanes; the blind corners and fast cars are an intoxicating combination. I drove the hell out of that Astra and thought to myself: 'Welcome to Monaco girl. You've made it!'.

It was only when I arrived at the villa that I realised I would need to find a place to park, and unlike places in suburban Australia, not every house has a dedicated car parking spot. Furthermore, streets are not just straight, up and down and grid like - they wind in and out, up and down and across the landscape in an insane manner, meaning my semi-logical mind lost all sense of direction almost as soon as I passed the address.  I did a couple of laps of the suburb looking for a park and eventually capitulated, parking about a couple of kilometres away.

An easy few kilometres... or so I'd thought.

Walking back to the villa, I got completely and utterly lost.

Completely lost. To the point I eventually started going up random streets in the hope I would see something I recognised, and up and down stairs for the faint chance of a spark of inspiration. I couldn't find any wifi for a map, and didn't want to ask anyone - because what kind of non-shady person is up at this time of the night?! At one point I tried to retrace my steps but didn't want to pass by a bunch of guys who were lingering outside a shop...I'd passed them once and if I walked by again it would be obvious I had no idea where I was going.  Dilemma!

After a stroke of luck and a healthy amount of internal praying that I stumbled across the right street after about an hour of walking.  Success! I skipped to the door... and stopped.  There were about 8 different villas for the one address, and I had absolutely no idea which one the girls would be staying at...

Not one to be dissuaded, I perched on the steps in front of the villa and began searching for a wifi connection, which I eventually found (after paying an exorbitant fee, naturally).  My phone was inoperable overseas, thank you Telstra, so I was dependant on the Weefee connection.  I sent off some messages, confident that I would now be all sorted, and waited.

Nothing.

I decided to make a couple of calls via Skype and Viber.

Nada.

Oh dear, I thought. Hmm...

By this point, I'd reached the early hours of the morning and it was quite cold. People were starting to return from their night out, and I was running out of viable solutions.  Hmm...

I googled the nearest hotel and was glad to see it was noted as an 'affordable option'.  Trundling over, I pressed the doorbell and the guy at reception reluctantly buzzed the glass door open.

"Englay?" I asked, hopeful.

His face grew even more unimpressed.

"A leetle."

"Is there any chance you have a room for the night sir?"

He looked at me, eyebrows up.  "Miss, it is impossible! 500 Euros a night, but we have nothing. Very very busy until Sunday."

500 Euros! My goodness.

"Can I use your phone then?"

"Oh no miss, impossible, impossible. Try Olypmica, they may have a room."

I picked up my luggage and shuffled out. No way was I trying another hotel.  What were my options? Well, I was running out of battery on my phone, so option one was to head back to the car and charge the baby.

A seed of thought formed as I made my way to the silver beast.  I sat in the driver's seat and pushed the back all the way down.  There was enough space, I thought. Let's just have a nap...

I slept in the car! Never have I had to do anything like this before, and it was ironic that I was slumming it in the ritziest place on earth...

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***

Three hours later I woke up, freezing my rear end off. Although the place is sunny during the day, the temperature drops significantly overnight and my Australian body was not able to handle it.  Heater on full blast, I scrubbed my eyes and contemplated the next step.

If I had checked the wifi, I would have seen my friend message and say the doors of the villa were open. I missed her message by about ten minutes though, and drove again to Nice.  Again, through the crazy awesome roads - stopping briefly to check out the view - and found a parking spot right out the front of the Nice apartment I was originally to stay at.

As luck would have it, it too was in a set of blocks so I had no idea which to choose. Too much effort I thought, and put my mind to the next dilemma.

Where to have a shower?!

Tired, not-very-fresh and in need to head to the media center in a few hours, I needed a shower stat.  However, apparently these are not a readily available commodity in Nice.  I wandered around the streets with my luggage (again) looking for a hotel or a place which would work.

Zip. It seemed like everywhere was closed at 5.30 am...but seriously?! How could this be!

I walked into a bar (the only place open!) and remembered that in French, shower was 'doosh'.

"Doosh?" I asked the lady behind the counter hopefully.

She looked at me puzzled, and replied in French.  A few minutes later, we came to the conclusion that there was no place I could get a doosh nearby.

Le sigh.  What's a girl to do...

It was almost 7am, so attention turned to the stomach.  The bakery in front of the apartment was open and smelt inviting, so I walked in and the baker was a Muslim lady. Success!

"Madam, do you speak Arabic?" I asked, remembering that there was a large population of Arabic speakers in France.

"Wee!"

Double Success! I asked in Arabic whether she knew where I could have a shower.  She didn't, but asked the other customers in the bakery.

A lovely old lady behind me quickly replied in French and the Muslim baker turned to me.

"You can have a shower at her house, she said you're welcome to!"

I couldn't believe my ears!

"Really?"

She nodded, and said some more in French.

"Je parle un pue," I said quickly, emphasising the 'un pue' - only a little French. She nodded and motioned for me to follow her.

***

The apartment was tiny: a single bed, a desk and a sink, adjoined by a tiny bath, but I felt so incredibly grateful. Nicole, her name was, and she opened the doors of her home to me. I had a steaming hot shower, got changed into my Monaco outfit and we sat together in front of a French kids TV show, making broken conversation. She had two kids and a grandchild and was a former French Professor at the University of Cannes.  An accident that had damaged her head meant she was no longer able to work, but she seemed happy and laughed at my terrible attempts speak her language.  She made me tea and breakfast, with a loaf of bread that looked like it came out only on special occasions. I felt so incredibly blessed to have been invited into her home, and found it ironic that it was those with the least to give who gave it most readily...

"What do you like?" I asked, "Qu'est ce que tu aimes?"

She laughed.

"Smoke cigarettes!"

***

I left Nicole's house on a cloud and after lots of hugs and kisses.  I returned to the car, keyed in the address in Monaco and began to make my way to the media centre...

You'd think that is where the drama ends, but of course not.  The rest however, is for another post...

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Grass Roots Sudanese Inspiration (ARABIC)

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!

Enjoy.

 

Blog Roll - 25th June - #SudanRevolts

Doing a little Media Monitoring gig so will be collecting articles and analysis that comes out on the current #SudanRevolts.  Please let me know if you would like to be featured or if I have missed anything significant.  This can also be found on the #SudanRevolts blog.

Highlights from 25th of June 2012
Women set the spark (as we so awesome!)
Honourable mention from the 22nd

The Word on the Street

It seems all my recent posts are published at 4am, with very little proofreading and more of an emotional outpouring in response to the situations I find myself in. Maybe I should invest in a diary instead... ***

So, you might find my tone in this post a little different. I have decided to jump feet first into the fray, helping out where I can and doing what I think is right. Taking the moral road, if you will.

You know what I've learnt? It is actually scary as hell.

I don't know if I am supposed to say that. I really don't. Perhaps I should be strong and courageous in the face of adversity and not be admit apprehension...but experiencing things first hand is different indeed to hearing stories.  It makes you truly appreciate what *ahem* actual freedom fighters go through.  It makes you ask the question, is it really worth it?

I think it is. I really do. The sad thing is though, I am not sure everyone else shares that opinion, and that is what truly scares me. For if your everyday Sudanese doesn't care for their country... why will anything change?

***

I like to make a habit of talking to the raksha (tuk-tuk) drivers and the shop keepers and what not to get a feeling for what the average citizen is feeling.

Let me tell you this: the average citizen is weary.

Khalas, they tell me: enough.

'Life is hard, tough, ridiculous... how can we keep living? Where is this country going??' They ask me.

I don't have an answer, because I wonder the same thing.

'Why don't you try to change things?' I ask them.

"Why should we?" 

***

Why should we?

This is the question that makes Sudan different from the case of say, Egypt.

People are not overwhelmingly proud to be Sudanese!  They don't want to do things for their country.

Oh, they will be proud of their tribe, that is for sure. They will tell you yes! I am Shaygi, Ma7as, Ja3fari... and they will defend their tribal name to the death! But defend their country? No...

I was given the example once that if you walked into a restaurant and started loudly bad mouthing Sudan, you wouldn't elicit a response. If you walked in and slandered a tribe though, oh, lord forbid! You would have to be brought out in a stretcher.

To be honest, as someone brought up in Australia I had never considered the tribal aspect of being Sudanese until I returned and Sudanese people would ask me: "So, where are you from?"

"..uh..Sudan?"

"No, who are your people??"

"...uh...My people?..."

*cue awkward conversation endings that included answers like: uh..engineers? ..lovers of rnb?*

Odd, I thought. (They all thought I was odd too, trust me).

Why is it, that people have such strong tribal affiliations but no connection to their national identity?

Perhaps it is because, as my cousin so aptly put it, Sudan has given them nothing.

Sudan, as a nation, doesn't support its citizens.

There is poor education,

A health system that kills more than it cures,

An economy that is strangling its people,

...and even if you make it through all that, there is no opportunity for progress.

Everywhere you turn, people tell me, things are made difficult for you. My own experience backs this up completely: to register at a university or even change a tire takes an entire day, because you have to chase every.single.thing.up.yourself.

I have been told by numerous Sudanese people not to bother trying to change anything. Just get out! 

Why?

Because apparently, Sudan isn't worth the hassle.

It isn't worth getting caught or arrested for, it isn't worth being afraid or losing opportunity for... Sudan, they tell me, is getting worse and there is no uphill from here.

***

I disagree.

***

I don't think it is going to be easy.

I don't think it is one person's fight -- or even just one generation's fight.

I don't think it will happen quickly, or painlessly.

But you know what? I think it has to happen.

I think the people have to believe that Sudan is worth fighting for. Because it is!

It is the land of the Nile, a land of culture, family, food, hospitality and tradition. 

A land with promise!

A land that needs its people to believe in it. 

Oh yes, the idealism of the youth, my older, more jaded family members tell me.

You will learn that this system strangles the hope from you they say.

Well, let it try.

***

I have learnt a lot over the past few days...

Learnt how difficult it is to control something like a "movement"; sometimes you just have to go with the flow,

How to speak as a "we" rather than an "I",

What people will give up for the cause,

What lengths people will go to in protection of the status quo...

To think, I only came to the country to learn Arabic!

What can we do differently?

الجمل بيمشي و الكلب بيمبح.... The camel walks on and the dogs keep barking...

It is one of my father's favourite Sudanese sayings.  He says it to us all the time, whenever we are up against people telling us what we are doing is wrong, or "barking" at us to stop.

Stay on your path and just keep walking, he says to us, because if the camel stops and tries to reason with the dogs, it's over.

#SudanRevolts

***

So, we have entered the second week of protests in Sudan.

Things are spreading slowly, but I think I have only just begun to realise what an enormous mission we have embarked on.  It doesn't make it any less worthwhile, on the contrary,  it makes me realise how much more seriously it needs to be taken.

We -- the generation pushing for this change -- haven't seen a revolution in our lifetimes.  The last time anything changed was a good score and three years ago, so we are new to this whole situation. We've seen change in our neighbours, and we want that for ourselves as well -- I mean, why shouldn't Sudan be free and fair?

I do think something is desperately wrong in this country, and I do think things have to change. However, I think it is folly not to learn from what is happening around us and what has happened in the past.

Things have been bad before: How did they change and why didn't the change stick?

I often wonder how and why authorities in places such as Sudan get away with so much, when that doesn't happen to the same extent elsewhere around the world.  It isn't because the Sudanese people are inherently different?  I would ask myself.

No, it isn't.  One of the reasons is because there is zero accountability.

Technically, Sudan is a democracy: There were elections in 2010 where the current government was brought into power.  Why! people ask, did the public vote for the status quo?!

Well firstly one must ask, how many voted?  Something like only 9 million people registered for the voting, out of the what, 43 million inhabitants? 20% of the population. Which meant that the 73% winning margin amounted to about 14% of the actual population.  Not decisive win by a long shot, but hey, Jimmy Carter said it was recognisable.

So, the process was there for people to make change.  Why didn't they take up that opportunity?? Why didn't more people register? For a variety of reasons, one of which was a despair that their vote would amount for nothing. By not registering and voting, it became a self fulfilling prophecy.

The other main reason though, I personally think, is because there was no alternative...but that is a blog post for another time.

So, people believe their vote would amount to nothing. Why? Perhaps because they thought the votes would be doctored.  Why would they let their rulers get away with that?

Well, who would stop them?

When you grow used to an oppressive regime, their omniscience becomes larger than life and the fear itself is enough to keep you from doing anything. That, and of course the actual repercussions that do occur, because the fear isn't based on fantasy...

Ah, the crux of the issue. There is noone to hold the authority accountable.  The international community can't seem to, it legitimised them! The reason outside governments do things for the people is because they know the people can remove them if they are unhappy; the people hold them accountable! Here, that is not the case...yet.

This has to change if there is to be any lasting progress.  

The question is, how do you make that happen?

If I knew, I wouldn't be here in front of a screen asking you that question.

***

Yes, it is strange for me to harp on about this idea of the votes and democracy when there are ***things happening on the street!!!*** however I think it is important for some of us to take a step back and see the big picture.  People on the street is but one part of a puzzle in rebuilding a community.  The rest of the recipe includes a large scoop of organisation, a few dollops of realism, two cups of long term strategy and faith; let that simmer in a pot of experience and lessons from the past and we will see how it turns out.  

 I knew my grandmother's cooking lessons would be useful...

Picking my battles.

The past couple of days have been interesting indeed. Having watched the rise of the Arab spring through TV sets from the beginning of last year, I had always lamented "not being there" and getting involved.  The thought of history being made in "my" part of the world while I was in another country simply watching frustrated me -- I itched to do something.  

It is fortunate (or ironic) then that in my last few weeks in Sudan, people have taken to the streets responding to the recent hikes in costs.  What started as small scale protests in the University of Khartoum (by mostly women students actually) has now spread throughout the main city...

http://youtu.be/4k7jHObBQds

(Updates can be found on twitter under the #SudanRevolts hashtag or here)

Here is my chance! I thought immediately, when I started to hear the news and the rumblings on the streets...

Here is my opportunity to be a part of something that could actually make a tangible difference.

Yeh. I (to the dismay of family and friends) am the kind of person who walks toward a fight rather than away from it, so I can find out what is going on and see if I can help. Like a moth to the fire, I was drawn towards the drama, the intoxicating call for change that I had so desperately sought during my time here.

I posted on facebook, consulted with family, starting mentally critically analysing what was going on, glued to my phone and laptop with innumerable twitter/facebook/google reader/blog tabs open, trying to figure out what was happening and where things needed to be done...

I had a number of friends and family members give me various pieces of advice over the last few days; some said to "stay sharp, courageous and keep writing/getting involved", some cautioned me to stay safe, and a couple (some of whom had lived in developing countries) suggested that I get the hell out and pick my battles wisely.

...and at about Fajr this morning (around sunrise), after I had spent hours crafting Arabic posts to add to the Girifna (rough translation: "We are disgusted/We have had enough") facebook site, the main opposition to the ruling NCP, something occurred to me.  Perhaps this was one of those cases where I should listen to the sage advice of those around me.  

Reading the posts and comments and seeing the videos, it is clear that there is a lack of real direction, and that people needed organisation and support from a long term strategy point of view... but am I the best placed person to provide that?  I guess the fact that it takes me half an hour to read a long post in Arabic (my proficiency in proper Arabic still requires some practice) when these were protests and discussions being conducted in Arabic was one of the indicators that perhaps not.

Moreover, I am going home rather soon...and I want to be able to actually leave the country.  If I get involved in activities that are likely to get me arrested or detained and I don't have the support of a party or group, it is unlikely I would find my way out easily and if I did, coming back into the country safely would be nigh impossible.

The thing that did encourage me though was that there were people talking about the very ideas I was suggesting; organising protests, making sure things weren't destroyed etc.  What is still missing is the talk of an alternative and a long term strategy... but who is going to trust a random newcomer talking about long term strategy?

Even to me that sounds suspicious: with everyone looking over their shoulder for the NISS (the national security forces), I can understand why organisers didn't jump at the opportunity to bring me into the fold.

This doesn't mean that I am giving up (ugh, what a negatively loaded phrase), I think this is a case of picking my battles.  Perhaps what I can do is write rather than march recklessly, raising awareness for those outside the loop, perhaps an information relay rather than an organiser.  It doesn't seem like much, and it is galling for me to be here while all this is happening and not out on the street making my voice heard... but it is a case of recognising that there are more effective ways of making my voice heard and contributing to the conversation.

Like the engineer that I am, I think I will focus on efficiency rather than pure brute force: trying to add to the conversation intelligently rather than just add noise, provide a different perspective and different level of analysis and see if perhaps there are others there that are interesting looking at how sustainable, long term change can be established from the current happenings.

It is the responsibility of the educated to translate the cries of the people into something more than just destruction and the statement of frustration -- otherwise money, livelihood and eventually lives will be lost in vain.   

If I go out on the street, I am just one more dispensable Sudanese life to the NISS.

After all, as a few friends said: I'm probably more useful alive than missing, or dead.

Some links:

Sudan inches closer to an Arab Spring (apparently)

Sudan Revolts Twitter Feed

SudanRevolts Facebook Link

The Aljazeera Stream

The Official Girifna Blog

SudanRevolts in Pictures

Mimz -- A great Sudanese blogger with interesting analysis

#SudanRevolts...

So, the Sudanese people have decided to take to the streets. Today, the "Duststorm Friday" movement started (Kataha AlJum3a in Arabic) and large numbers of protesters took to the streets.  Today, unlike the past week, people became destructive, people are starting to get heated and things are getting a little more dangerous.

Protests have reached the main streets of Khartoum (the capital), Bahri and surrounding areas and suburbs.

What is missing from these protests though, is coherence and direction.

At the moment, the Sudanese people are taking to the streets, why?

Because things are expensive. 

The official figure for inflation is something like 30.4% monthly.  That is the official figure. (Source)

A few days ago, they raised the exchange rate from 2.8 SDG to a little over 4 SDG.

How on earth are people supposed to live their lives (and run businesses!) with that type of uncertainty? The cost of my trip to uni essentially doubled in a day.

So you can understand the frustration of the people.  Hell, I am frustrated and I am not working or supporting a family here.

However, I am not sure people are going about the protests in the more effective way.  Why?

1. There are no demands.  If you look at the pictures of protesters, they are just storming streets, yelling for "change of authority" and burning things.  There are no placards, no lists of criteria, no indication of what people actually want.

2. There is no respect for property.  For actual regime change (if that is what is desired), there has to be a critical mass of people who want things to change.  You are not going to win over the general population if you are burning their buses and clogging up their roads! Destructive behaviour is the worst kind of behaviour as it gives the authorities the excuse to arrest you and criminalise you on a legal basis -- because what is being done is criminal.  What people should be doing is peacefully protesting, demanding their rights and voicing their opinions; that way noone has the legal right to touch them.

3. There doesn't seem to be a strategic outlook towards the future.  When I spent time talking to people (before the protests) about why they didn't want change, their simple answer was because they couldn't see an alternative.  "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't" they said.  That still hasn't changed -- people are asking for a regime change but they haven't given an alternative.

Furthermore, the Sudanese have the example of Egypt to learn from - overthrowing your president is one thing, but that doesn't mean you have changed the system.  For systematic change, things need to be planned, organised, strategically thought through...and none of that is happening.

For these reasons (and more, but I want to keep this succinct), I am not sure what the benefit of the protests is going to be.  Yes, the Sudanese are a revolutionary people -- they have had at least two coups since independence -- however, that does not mean they are ready or that this will be a simple and easy matter.  To be honest, I already am hearing all sorts of stories; students from my cousins' universities gone missing (picked up by the army/security forces and taken to who-knows-where), killings (though unconfirmed) and beating of protesters; the general pandemonium in cases like these.  What is sad though is that all this may happen in vain, if not done properly.

However, how does one go about organising something as amorphous as this? Already the groups exist, and clearly this is the domain of the of political parties in universities and such... so providing them direction or suggestions may be the way to go.  Perusing (read: obsessing over) the Facebook and Twitter feeds gives me some hope, but all the talk of strategy and planning doesn't seem to reach the people making the announcements and decisions.

It all seems very reactionary at the moment, when it should be proactive and strategic.

...and I am not yet certain what I can do to help, but hell, that's not going to stop me at least trying to somehow be constructive.

Do we have a role to play?

It is not an unfamiliar story; born in a developing country and having the fortune of being brought up in a country with opportunities. It is not an unfamiliar story at all, but somehow I find myself in unfamiliar territory.

Perhaps this is an issue that is best suited for quite discussion around a coffee table with trusted confidantes, perhaps it isn't a lament suitable for the public arena.  If it is an issue that is affecting *me* so profoundly though, who is to say there aren't others with a similar dilemma that I can learn from?

I am an Australian, through and through and proud of that fact.  I travel with the Aussie passport, I have an Aussie accent, when I am asked where I am from (in my brown skinned & hijabed attire), I say that I am an Australian.

The fact that I was born in Sudan was always just a part of my background story, something that added flavour to my introduction.  Yes, it meant I ate different foods at home and I had a slightly "exotic" home culture and cultural expectations, but it was never really something that affected how I saw myself interacting with the world.  I was Australian with mixed Sudanese heritage, I would say.

Spending some time in Sudan though, has brought up questions that I never thought I would ask myself.  

The country is in an extremely difficult position, for a number of reasons (that requires its own analysis, perhaps when I am at a different address).  As someone who has always been passionate about social change, human rights and the like, it is no longer something I can ignore, no longer something that is just a part of where I come from.  I used to visit quite frequently with my parents as a child and the trips would be all *visits, nostalgia, happiness, excitement, family*. As you get older though, you begin to see the cracks...especially when the cracks are widening.

So it became a question of wanting to do something.

Something, anything.

From the socio-economic perspective, I could see where work could be done.  Working with the grassroots community, helping with education, food, orphans, teaching....achievable in discrete amounts, bit by bit...

Then cames the realisation that this may not be enough.  No amount of aid or number of mobile libraries is going to fill a gap that the government should be filling. So I cast the net wider...

...and realise that there is, maybe, a hope for change.  All the neighbouring countries rose up right? Why can't Sudan be the same?  That is the question I hear asked... by the young, the bloodthirsty, the hungry and desperate.

The more seasoned critics reason with experience:

We've been here before and worse, they say...

What is the alternative? they ask...

Better the devil you know then the devil you don't, they counter...

This one is satisfied. He's "shab3an" (ate until he was full). If anyone new comes, they will come hungry and do it all again....

So one sees all this and thinks well maybe, maybe there is a way I can play a part in this. The critics are right, there needs to be an alternative? Does an alternative exist? Do those who are rising up and protesting have a plan? Perhaps I can offer some semblance of support or control or aid...

I ask these questions because of desperation to help, somehow.

I think maybe I can play a part, somehow -- 

Then comes the questions -- the questions on the back burner, the questions that people ask:

Well who are you to get involved?

Do you even really consider yourself Sudanese?

Who do you think you are?

Why should we listen to you?

Do you know what we have been living through?

Are you just bringing in their ideas??

Can you even speak the language properly?

...and I begin to doubt.

But in such a situation, there is no room for doubt.

All that is left is the question:

Does the fact that I grew up in another country, and consider myself an Australian, exclude me from fighting the fight in the country of my birth? What right do I have, does it make me less legitimate a voice in this battle? If I choose to join this fight as part of the Sudanese sha3b (people), does that mean I forsake my "Australian identity"? 

...or is it a case of deciding for myself what my identity is and what "fights I choose to fight?"

I think that perhaps may be my answer, but that in itself, isn't an easy thing to do...

The older I get, the less sure I am of where things stand in the world and the more I realise it is all shades of grey.  

What do you think?

الوضع الراهن في السودان - The Status Quo in Sudan (written in Arabic)

السودان بلد جميل، لكن عليه ضغط غير طبيعي. بعد انفصال الجنوب في شهر يوليو ٢.١١، اصبحت البلد في وضع وظروف صعبة جداً. ارتفاع الدولار في السوق، و توقف ضخ النفط أدى الى ارتفاع الأسعارعامة. الغلاء اصبح ليس طبيعي، مثل كيلو الأرز في اسبوع بخمسة جنيهات و بعد أسبوعين بثمانية. لكن المشكلة الخطر إن مرتب موظفين البلد ثابت، و مفترض يعيشوا بنفس الميزانية او ميزانية اقل لأن الدولار مرتفع.

ما الحل؟ الله اعلم. معظم المجتمع عائش يوم بيوم، لكسب لقمة العيش فقط.  الشجاعة لعمل ثورة او انقلاب ما موجود، والناس الموجودون في الطبق العالية يعيشون بالراحة، لا يتأثرون بالغلاء في البلد.  المعارضون الذين يريدون إسقاط النظام تم القبض عليهم من جانب الحكومة

.لكن رمضان قادم، و مستوى المعيشة ستسوء... الله اعلم

My first attempt at commentary on the situation in Sudan...in Arabic!

I would appreciate any comments or feedback :D.

Translation out soon :D.