March 3, 2015

Memoirs of Possibility

Dear diary,

The air smelled heavy with tea, musk, and hope.

I followed the echoes of laughter as they led me to the patio. The sun was shying away from the horizon, and the clouds responded by cracking themselves open to reveal some pink and orange streaks of light that clashed with the clouds’ blue­-white demeanor. It was almost magical, I thought. The sunsets never color the sky like this anywhere else.

I sat down, across from strangers. I mean, they were practically family, but I had only been around them for a few weeks. They spoke in hurried sentences, and blurs of hand motions. Sometimes, I tried to reach out and grab a word or two from under their lips, so I could decipher them later. But, whenever I pulled the words out of my pockets at night, they came out withered and empty. It's almost like they're wired to the souls of these people.

Such a shame, I would have loved to take some of their language away with me, when it was time to leave.

They didn't notice me, of course. These humans never do, but I sat there anyways. Looking for something out of the ordinary to capture with my pen. There was the mother I had been following around. She was wrapped in her usual array of colors streamed onto a long cloth they call thobe, which complemented the bundle of stories she carried under her half smile. Her long fingers, crinkled and soft, were wrapped around a white teacup that marked the coming of the afternoon in all of the houses of this country. I don't know what the milky brown liquid in it tastes like, but to me it smells a lot like ritual. Which is comforting. I have always liked ritual, she is a loyal friend.

Then there were the others. They were quite odd puzzle pieces, but then again, this country is full to its brim with extraordinary pictures. This house had a little girl who wore her hair in two braids. Her name was Mona, she was fresh with enthusiasm. I figure she's quite young, you know, because it shines brightest around her. But then again, you can never trust enthusiasm to tell you anything about age. These humans are unpredictable. Most of them dim down their enthusiasm as they grow older, but in my lifetime I've seen quite the number of outliers, I can tell you that! Anyways, Mona was sitting by the young man. I don't know what his name is, but they call him Jidu. I know that is code for grandfather in their language, but he had no withered skin, nor did wisdom come to visit him as often as it does all the other grandfathers I've seen. How strange.

Across from Jidu, on the other bed that took up half the length of the patio, sat the father. He sipped his tea while he flipped through pages of the world. I think they call it a jareeda. I suppose I've told you about it before, it's that fold of pages with pictures and words on it. The humans like to read it in the morning so that they can, later, talk about the things that happen on the other sides of the sea. Many of them put a lot of faith in it and believe what it tells them with very little reluctance, but not this father. He wears skepticism under his seeing windows. I've grown to like him, he's clever, I just wish he would lift this heavy veil he places between him and myself. He would be interested to learn of my adventures abroad. I could teach him a few things about change.

There was a knock on the door, and Jidu went to open it. Hails and greetings filled the air as a few of the father's friends walked onto the patio. The mother rose and walked into the house to bring some more white teacups from the kitchen. The knocks on the doors surprise me as an odd gesture, because no one really leaves their door closed around this time of the day. Everyone is expecting a visit at any time, although they never really know it’s coming. It remains a mystery to me, but then again, many things about this country do.

The afternoon dragged on, and I was asked to leave the father and his friends' gathering because politics was coming. Politics wasn't a bad guy you know, but our chemistry usually doesn't allow us to co­exist, at least not here. That's just how it is. So I followed Jidu around for a change. He was standing under a tree, whispering into a little box.

“I’m alright Alhamdulillah , I just miss you. Yeah he’s here, but I don't think they'll discuss any of the formalities today. My father is reluctant, but I told him it was secure enough... but... I know, but... I’m looking for one in Qatar, or the UAE... I don't know if I want to tear you away from... It isn't easy you know... You're all the family I want, but every home needs some ornaments too.”

He sighed, and then began to talk about his day. His laughter was broken whenever it escaped his lips. I wondered who he was speaking to, although I figured it was a girl because these phone calls always made him wear that face. It was hard to describe what it looked like, but whenever I saw a boy wear it his heart declared its existence more loudly, and his nerves intertwined into butterflies and fell into his stomach. It was interesting to watch.

Anyways, that’s almost everything noteworthy I remember about that day. The musk wore off, the tea was sipped dry, but hope lingered on to the air. Something was coming.

Dear diary,

I lurked around for a few months, and the time flowed about with grace. I was growing stronger, but I had an odd sense of isolation. I failed to understand it, never had I felt so alive, yet so invisible. This country was growing on me in uncanny ways.

The family was getting ready to celebrate Jidu’s wedding. My friend joy was everywhere, fat and suffocating. Two days ago there was a full set of humans who came to the large red tent that was now standing in front of the house. The people here always build tents in front of their houses when they wanted to declare their occasions to the country. I think the tents are too small, because when these people come together to celebrate or mourn their loved ones, their joy or sorrow always manages to spill into the streets. I have never seen compassion shared like this before.

Gladly, this time around it was all joy. Jidu was getting married to the girl I was telling you about, the one that made him wear that face. I went to visit her once. I mean, I know I was assigned to this family, but I just had to see for myself who they were writing into their tree of kin. She lived right next door, and boy, was she beautiful! Her eyes took up a glorified place over her cheeks, and they were deeper than any book I had ever read. There was a lot of enthusiasm glowing from her, and charm never left her side. Her hair danced about her waist, and reflected darkness the color of earth. She made her own music, which sounded like laughter, but better. Then there was her skin. It was a shade unique to this country, like the clash of two cultures was written into her cells. She looked like she hadn't been out of the house for a while. When I came to visit, she was sitting on a low stool with a large cloak wrapped around her. Smoke evaded her body wherever there was room between her and the cloak. It must have been some local sauna ritual. When she was done, her skin smelled like musk, and she was radiating from all the herbal delicacies that had left their marks on her skin. Anyways, I didn't stay with her for too long, someone else was assigned to her house. Thank god! I feared she would make me wear that face too.

The week was filled with music. On the first day people who looked like extended pieces of the family came to the red tent. They sat around Jidu and painted their hands black with soil. They called it henna. Jidu wore it around his hands and feet too. There was a woman with a drum who sang for them, her voice reminded me of my friend history. I would have to ask him about her someday. Anyways, it was one party after another. Often, the bride’s family was invited and other times it was just my family’s friends. The air always felt thick with community. Sometimes it became hard to tell who was a guest and who wasn't, everyone made themselves at home. Literally! I once saw a woman come from the house at the end of the block carrying a bucket of flour. She just marched into the kitchen and asked the mother to go to her room and rest. She then pulled a low stool and sat across a little firebox with a round, flat pan on it, and began to make a very thin, bread­-like pastry. There were tens of women doing that, humming with joy as they exchanged stories about their own wedding days.

Dear diary,

Today Jidu walked into a hall wearing the moon on his forehead. It was golden, crescent­-shaped, and wrapped around his head with a strap of red silk. He wore a white jalabeya , the color of his immense happiness. It had streaks of red and gold, here and there. They say red is the color of new beginnings, I think that’s why they're covered in it. As for the bride, she was wrapped in red, and her head was covered with gold. So were her arms, which looked like canvases with deeply intricate henna paintings on them. The paintings matched the ones that stemmed from the souls of her feet to her knees. The couple was quite the sight for sore eyes.

The night dragged on. I danced about in the background. The music felt warm on my skin, its words leaking with meanings of tradition, and a long history of endurance that surfaced just beneath each beat of the drum. Some of them could see me, I know Jidu did. It must have confused him, since he had never sent out an invitation card with my name it.

Dear diary,

I feel awfully sick, I don't know why. The atmosphere is fogged with tension at the house these days. I keep getting messages from my boss telling me I’ll have to leave soon, but I don't want to. If hope gets to stay, I think I should too!

Jidu and his bride left on their honeymoon to Dubai, and I was encouraged to go with them but I really didn't want to go on a vacation, to be quite honest. I have work to do here, I want to be seen again the way I was on Jidu’s wedding night.

Just then, the little box rang. The father pressed a button and began talking into it. As usual, I had to keep my distance from him and the veil he kept between us, so I couldn't hear what he was saying, but he eluded an air of mixed emotions. He was happy, but it was the happiness a soldier carried on his back at the end of a long war. It came at the price of loss, and held lots of reluctant despair under its breath. That’s when the mother came in. She took the box and talked into it, then she started crying.

“But we didn't even get to properly say goodbye... I understand ya walady, just take care of your wife and don't forget about us. Bring me home some grandchildren, ok?”

She said her goodbyes and gave the box back to the father, as she sluggishly went to sit by him. He raised an arm and gently placed his hands on her shoulder, rubbing the sorrow out of her. She shook with worry, and wept. What was going on? What did Jidu do?

I coughed till I was unconscious, which didn't really matter. I was still very invisible, but now I barely felt alive.


Dear diary,

The air smelled heavy with tea, musk and loss.

The last time I had seen Jidu, we spoke. I told you he had seen me, but when I formally introduced myself he responded in the most unexpected way you could imagine. He laughed.

“This is impossible, you're supposed to be... umm...” “Abstract?” I replied

“Yes, pretty much.”

“Well, we are when we want to be.”

“We?” he looked at me with confusion. 

“Yeah, there are many of us. We come in different shapes and sizes. We’re assigned to families, or individuals based on the cards life has dealt them. Anyways, I'm glad you can see me. There’s a lot to be done in this country now that we've been formally acquainted.”

“Don’t you know? Me and my wife are traveling out of the country tonight. We're going to Dubai.”

“How lovely! I was in Dubai some years ago, I helped build that country, you know. Many others too. But I'll tell you about that when you're back. When will that be, by the way?”

“I don't know...” he had replied

Of course I didn't understand that he meant he had bought a one way ticket. I didn't understand why he wanted me to come with him, or why he told me not to wait when I politely declined. I was an expert on waiting, I had told him. He only laughed.

Later, I found out that he had found a job there. I wish I had known, I would have told him to stay right here, in Sudan. He could have done so much more here, I could have helped him. But now that he has left, I'm forced to leave too. Otherwise I'll be bedridden till I no longer exist.

Maybe I will visit him in Dubai, and convince him to come back.

I wonder if someday Mona will to be ready see me; or if I'll be reassigned to this place I've grown to call home. I think about it all the time.

This place has grown on me in uncanny ways, I wish it was as welcoming as I know it could be. I wish I could stay longer, I could teach this land a few things about change.

With love, 


March 2, 2015

30 Day Flip Phone Challenge: Day 1

At exactly 3 pm yesterday, I closed my Twitter app and opened Instagram, only to realize that I'd already seen/double-tapped on every new picture posted. So I got off that and turned to Snapchat, thank God! Someone had posted an update. Of course it was just a single Snap, so I went through that, responded to the Snaps I'd gotten, and made my way back to Twitter.  Standard right?

Except I might have been doing that for a little over two hours (let procrastination be my excuse), when finally I caught a glimpse of something different on my Instagram's popular page. Four pictures of the same book cover, posted by random people. Interest now spiked, I turned to my GoodReads app and decided I should add it to my long list of books-I-would-read-when-I-found-the-time (or when I wasn't wasting all my time idly transitioning between social media apps). Nevermind that the list had grown to 200+ books, what really bothered me was the mean little "Reading goal" reminder that GoodReads puts out. Basically, at the eve of January, you're encouraged to set a number of books you want to have read by the end of that new year. GoodReads then calculates how many books you would need to read per day/week/month to reach your goal. It's a really cool way to get people motivated to read more, except to me it was a realization that I was, not only 2 books behind schedule, but also that I had only read 1 out of the 20 books I wanted to read this year. So, what's wrong with that? Last year I had the ambition of a scholar set to read a book a week, now I was telling myself it would be great if I could get through a book a month, and then some. Depressing.

Something had to change, because being dumbed down by a smartphone is not okay (at least not if you're trying to pose as an anti-mainstream, ridiculing-sheep-tendencies type hipster). So I switched off my smartphone and wiped the dust off this old thing:

Of course while looking for it, I had to go through a box full of novels, Débuts Speak-French-Now CD's and workbooks, strums and teach-yourself books that came with my now-dusty guitar, hardened paint brushes and barely-used acrylics, yellowing canvases with half-finished paintings, and some of my old writing journals. Fantastic! As if I needed more reinforcements to the fact that I was now a pro at wasting time, here was a box of potentials that I never made the time to explore. Is that it? Of course not, I then came here to write about my human experiment, only to realize that I have a lot, I mean A LOT, of articles and stories accumulating dust and sorrow in my Drafts box. 

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to say that technology is all a waste of time but a noticeable trend of modern-day time is this dependency on technology, that often turns into a crippling addiction. If you're out with a group of friends for a meal, it is natural to find a smartphone, face-up, in front of each one of them. I used to stop, mid-conversation, if I noticed that the person I was talking to was looking at their phone. At first this was just out of politeness (to make sure the person wasn't missing out on any of the interesting details I had to offer about my day), but eventually it became an act of annoyance. Here you were trying to connect (pun-intended) with another human being, face-to-face, while they were more interested in a message/post (that would still be there after you left, by the way). What's even funnier is that these same people would be insanely upset when you don't instantly respond to their texts. Anyways, needless to say, I soon became one of these not-very-pleasant people. Naturally, this has affected the quality of most real-time social interactions (surprise, surprise). You go out to take selfies and pictures of whatever you're doing, then you spend some time tweeting about the book/movie/show/conversation you're supposed to be reading/watching/having, then you go home and tell the world, again, about how entertaining your life is, before you engage in a few pseudo-intellectual conversations. You then go to sleep, only to rise the next morning and do it all over again. The best part of it all is that, no one really cares. Like will the world reaaaaally stop if you don't tweet/snap/instagram/share-every-waking-detail-of-your-day?(hilarious, but also so true it's sad). I doubt it, and those who do really care are usually people you can meet/talk to off social media sites anyways.

Point-being, this is a blog post about my intention to detox from my smart phone addiction. Maybe I'll post a weekly article about my journey back to the stone age, and maybe I'll actually realize the true point of this experiment and I won't post anything but finished stories/articles from my sad little Drafts box. Either ways, here's to conquering technology instead of letting it conquer you. (Wow, I feel like I've already realized my inner guru, so if all else fails, at least I have that.)

August 15, 2014

Afribian Nights VI: The Unfortunate of our Kind (#UofK)

Haj Ali carefully supported his weight on the handle of his cane and willed his feet to move forward. He sat on the bench, and looked out at the solemn faces of the crowd that had come to watch him pour his heart out with false hope for a final win...

"'Abooy! Abooy!' he called out, as he ran home from school.

I scooped him up effortlessly. Despite my now greying hair and crested face, I once had a young soul, and a lot of strength to show for it.

‘My champion is home! What do you have for me today?' I asked, knowing that he bore delightful news, as always.

‘Abooy! I came at the top of my class! Look,’ he cried with enthusiasm as he pulled out some papers that seemed ruffled around the edges from being held onto too tightly,

‘Soon I'll be the biggest engineer in the world. I'll even build the cows a grand barn. I will turn this whole town into a city, just like the countries of the khawajat in the west!’

Young Monty leaped out of my embrace and picked up a thin, sword-like twig. He used his make-believe pen to carve lines into the sand beneath his feet. In a matter of minutes, he had turned the floor into a blueprint marked by towers of ambition and hope. He was clever like that. His mother and I were proud, and had never felt the need to praise him, for his actions continually did so. Although he was only seven on that particular day, his intellect had surely skipped a few years into the future to encompass some highly unattainable number of IQ points for someone so young."

Haj Ali sighed, as his mind took him out of that room, and into a vast space of time where he watched his son skipping about drawing lines and swirls onto the modest canvas floor of his patio. Haj Ali willed time to stop. There and then, it almost did and for a few minutes the bills, the hunger, the sacrifices, the pain, the history—all of it seemed distant. There was no one there but him and Monty. However, soon enough, his will power caved and life whisked him away from his blissful reveries to preform a vigorous, devilish dance with him. He wanted its music to stop! For all its notes strummed from broken instruments of pain. Time, and time again he questioned who decided his son would not smile because his teeth would be yellowed by filth and blood? Why did it have to be his burden, and how is it that he failed to protect him? All too soon, he was facing the merciless streaks of reality again. Indeed his days of youth and strength have evaded him and he pitied what he had succumbed to. Surely, it was not so much the old age that had bothered him, but the imagination that he might not live to see his son with a degree in his right hand and a ring on his left.

"Ya Haj," She repeated.

He looked around, remembering that he was still in a courtroom. He turned to look at her slim figure, and her stern smile. She must have been in her early twenties. He wondered what she knew of the world besides the word of law that she held over his head time and time again, since he had met her.

“Haj, are you okay? You zoned out for a second there." The lawyer repeated his name with a genuine tone of worry in her voice.

He remained silent, gathering himself.

"Sir, I need you to focus with me. We don’t want this trial to drag on for longer than it has to. Please Haj, stick to the relevant details only." The judge now said in a kind voice, as he held his gaze over Hash Ali's withered face.

"Isn't it in that book? I told the officer everything and it is before you now. Must I revisit these memories over and over again for the sake of your pragmatism?" His voice rose and fell like the tunes of a dusty record. "Ms. lawyer, please..." He bowed his head and threatened to break.

He could almost smell the indifference bouncing off the pale walls that held within it rows of shiny brown Maplewood benches stacked behind each other like the lower deck of a slave ship. The room was full with people he had never seen before, some of them had cameras dangling down their necks, and tiny little notepads. Why couldn’t they just use tape recorders or larger notebooks? Perhaps they couldn’t afford it just as he probably couldn’t afford the services of this diligent young woman, but she stood in front of him nonetheless. He didn’t know why, but right then and there he wished to meet her parents and thank them. Look at this mess, all because of those ill-mannered young men who have nothing but spite and envy in their hearts. He had told Monty to stay away from them, but his son wouldn’t listen.

The Judge impatiently shifted in his seat, and Haj Ali sighed.

"We were sitting out in our humble veranda, waiting for destiny's call. Monty had just taken his junior year’s college exams and spent the weeks preceding that day praying he had managed to score the highest grades amongst his class. On the day of the results the university was shut down so he had to settle for finding out about his grades from "a friend on the inside". He knew I was struggling to carry our weight, which increased his yearning to graduate on time with flying numbers and a well-paying job, that was if the university stayed open of course. My son was set on becoming an engineer." Haj Ali paused and chuckled to himself, "I mean an architect. He insisted that we call him that and would storm out of the room when we argued that there was no difference. That was Monty for you, he was very particular when it came to his future. He didn't settle for second best. If fate had played on his side, he would have done great things… Anyways, we sat there, waiting for the men on TV to exhaust their welcome speeches and begin the usual sing-song charades; when there was a loud thump on the door. I looked to my right, waiting for this boy to open it. But as you can imagine, his eyes were glued to the phone, and it was as if he could hear nothing but the voice of the lazy-eyed man on TV. I walked to the door and opened it. It managed to grunt and squeak loudly, and if I recall correctly, Monty snapped his head and eyed it with irritation, probably thinking it was another thing that needed fixing. There, at my doorstep stood a tall man in a desert brown and slate green uniform.

‘Salam, is this the house of Ali Sayed Ahmed?’ He asked in a cold, firm voice.

Just then, I heard Monty yelling at the top of his lungs. His younger twin brothers and their sister rushed out of the house, stunned and confused.

‘Did you hear that?’ Monty bellowed. ‘Me! Monty Ali Sayed Ahmed! I have the second highest average across the duf'a! I’ll be a senior and graduate as soon as the university decides to open indefinitely!’

The man in uniform then shoved me aside and barged into our house. He tackled my Monty and pulled out a pair of rusty silver cuffs.

‘You thought you could get away with it didn’t you?’ I remember him yelling with Monty under him, kicking up sand with a bewildered look on his face. “Where were you the night the university riots happened, huh? You scumbag. You have nothing to say do you! We’ll see about that!’

Three other men barged into the house, slamming down anything that stood in their way until they were in front of Monty's study. In minutes papers were cutting through the air and landing on the floor in shatters. They kept yelling, asking him where he kept the flyers devised to threaten national security...

But I promise your honor, my son would never do such a thing. He is all I have in this world and he dedicates all his efforts to helping me and his poor old mother.”

Author's note: This is a special dedication to the young men and women who have been denied their basic right to a sustained education just because they decided to voice their opinions; this is to the cadets of the majestic University of Khartoum. We know that sometimes, in a broken country such as ours, consequences are created out of thin air and brought down on people who do not really deserve them. But we often forget that consequences have a tidal effect which extends its pain to those who care for us, and depend on us. So this is also to the loved ones who are just as worried about the future as those who hold it in their palms.

August 1, 2014

Afribian Nights V: Barns and Bricks

I wish we hadn't gone into the barn for the second time that afternoon, but something about the light scent of milk that broke the thick smell of sun-caressed cowhide was irresistible. So instead of watching the action from the sidelines, I slipped my hand in between the bars, pulled the handle on the swing lock till the barn gate squeaked open. My shoes sloshed about the damp mud floor as I walked in and my brother followed closely behind.

“Can I try?” I asked Uncle Hashem, who was kneeling under a brown cow with a concentrated look strewn across his face. He had small round eyes that seemed to get lost between his thick furry eyebrows and his droopy eyelids. His face was creased with wrinkles, especially at the edges of his eyes—which didn’t come as a surprise since he smiled so much I figured time gave up and stopped trying to straighten the skin around that area. On his cheeks were three, dark vertical lines of indented skin that sat deeper than the skin that covered the rest of his face. He once told me that they were a result of a fight he and Aunt Noora had gotten into when they were cats in a passed lifetime. She had gotten furious when he drank all the milk so she unbuckled the claws under her paws and scarred his face. The idea of people being cats in a passed lifetime amused me, especially since my father bore the same marks on his face. I carried the story with me back home at the end of the vacation, and shared it with my father who laughed uncontrollably at his brother-in-law’s creativity. Of course I grew to understand that these were Afribian tribal markings but I never told Uncle Hashem this.

He picked himself up off of the low stool and stood aside,—despite his warm features, he was a towering figure with broad shoulders, and strong arms the result of twenty years of farm work.

“Go on then, city girl.” I could tell he was holding back laughter.

I curled my small hands around the pink flesh of the cow’s udder; its cold, soft skin shuddered under my grip as I pulled. Nothing came out of the cow but a protesting Moo. I pulled again. Nothing.

“I think this one is empty.”

He let out the loud, boisterous laugh that shook his belly with amusement.

“That’s because you’re doing it wrong.” He tapped the back of my hand and I loosened my grip. His thumb and forefinger tightened around the udder while the rest of his fingers were loosely curled around it for support, he then gently squeezed the pink flesh from the top down till the milk sloshed out, splashing a few white drops here and there before it finally settled into the metal bucket.

Just then, a loud cry escaped my brother’s throat. As we turned to look in my brother’s direction, Uncle Hashim and I saw the barn gate tilt wide open. My brother’s arms threw themselves in the air as he ran out of the cows’ way. They had dropped the tedious chore of chewing and re-chewing wilted grass, and rushed out to claim their freedom—all the while mooing with excitement.

“Quick! Call your Aunt!” He yelled in my brother’s direction, then turned to me and said, “City girl, make sure the calves’ door is closed, then come close the barn gate behind me.”

“You, HARRRR!” he swayed his arm, scolding the brown cow as she attempted to follow her sisters’ queue to freedom.

Before long we were running down Al-Mehereba’s spacious suburban roads. Curious heads began to peak out from behind some doors, while others let out tall, lanky figures in white gowns who ran alongside us. I hope Aunt Noora isn’t mad. She ran ahead of us, I really didn’t think older women could run before today. Still, I wasn’t surprised; Aunt Noora was just that type of woman. She was tall and fit, save for the weight around her stomach that was left behind by my five cousins. Wrapped in the traditional Afribian thobe from head to ankles, I wondered if she had loosened it around her thighs so she could run better, or if she had grown so used to wearing it that she could do anything with the layer of modest cloth that fell over her house gown. Wow, cows do run fast, I thought as their hooves pushed against the sand-carpeted ground and filled the air with dusty smoke. Only five of them were in sight, when I knew from counting heads each morning that there were supposed to be eight.

“I saw two go in to the house with a green door!” My brother pointed at the third door on the left that stood the end of the narrow, sand-carpeted road we ran across.

Uncle Hashem and two of the neighbors seemed to have found away to convince the five other cows to run in a straight queue back towards the barn. Another neighbor now stood at the sill of the greenhouse negotiating with the two cows who had invaded his home. Maybe Afribian people will rethink leaving their doors open. Back where we lived, any one who came to visit announced themselves by ringing the doorbell. Here on the outskirts of Afribia, a neighbor just walked right in, clapped his hands to give an uncovered woman a chance to pull her scarf to her head and then joined us in the living room. I suppose it was nice that they all felt like one big family, but I never enjoyed how they often interrupted my uncle when he was in the middle of a good story. Aunt Noora and I were now at the green door, she extended her arm and lightly tugged at the ear of the rebellious cow that took up our neighbor’s spacious cemented front yard. The cow understood that she, unlike our neighbor, meant business and in a few dozen minutes, we were counting eight cows in the barn, and one giggly uncle.

When Aunt Noora asks I’ll say it wasn’t me… No! I’ll let uncle Hashim do all the talking. His calm, and collected manner always does the trick.

 Her new house reeks of the city and our voices echo off the walls too soon. The brick walls were perfectly aligned to create a tight maze-like interior, with four rooms arranged right across from each other while a spacious living room took up the center of the house. Passed the living room, I followed her into the last room in the right-hand corner.

“Here, you can put your clothes away and lie down if you’d like. It must have been a long trip.”

“I’m okay.” I smiled, not as long as it should have been. I should have had to travel for a good two hours to get to your house.

“Alright then, come. We’ll have a cup of tea on the roof.”

We climbed up the stairs, to a rooftop that looked over the semi-tightly packed houses of Al-Azhari city. My aunt carried a tray of tea and home-baked sugar cookies, dotted with sesame seeds, and powdered with cinnamon. She also carried blue-black bags under her eyes, and so much time on her shoulders that her back hunched a little.

On the rooftop, there were two steel beds neatly lined up parallel to each other. The thin, old mattresses popped and bulged wherever the bed’s steel crisscrossed underneath it. The sheets felt warm and smelled of sunshine, while the light afternoon breeze swayed the edges of it that fell down the sides of the bed. Ever since the age of seven, when my parents decided we were old enough to travel, we spent our summers in Afribia. After spending some time with my maternal family, we should have been packing snacks and stories to carry with us on a road trip to the suburbia of my paternal family. But this summer was different, so much has changed in the tight frame of a year.

Aunt Noora tipped the porcelain-white teapot and let the milky Chai fill the air with the distinct scent of sweet cinnamon as it poured into my teacup.

“Alright, do the thing.” She chuckled and turned to me with a longing look in her eyes.

I got up and paced the length of the rooftop with a bobble in my step that only Uncle Hashim’s feet could perfect. I then muttered a few ‘Salam Alaykum’s and ‘How are you’s in a deep voice, playfully imitating Aunt Noora’s husband for her. We fell to the floor with laughter.

“That never fails to put a smile on my face. You are a real handful, you know that?”

I nodded. “He said that to me all the time; never let me forget it.” A brief silence settled itself between us as my aunt instinctively toyed with the golden band around her left ring finger, and breathed out a short prayer.

“How do you like it here?” I asked her.

“It’s better than Al-Mehereba without your uncle, may his old soul rest in peace. That big house, and those pesky cows were just too much to handle on my own.”

June 8, 2014

Afribian Nights IV: Memoirs of a Concrete Pavement (Chapter 2)

Her wails pierced my ears, and echoed through each of my bones with grief. I looked around to see where she was, I didn’t know how she had seen me since I was still standing at the doorstep of our house. Perhaps it was what they called “a mother’s sixth sense”. Perhaps she had felt the weight of her dead son’s soul fill the air. Perhaps she heard the sorrow that played basketball with my heart in my chest. I edged through the doors of our little house and found her on her knees; her hands covering her mouth as her eyes turned pink with tears and her chest danced to the rhythm of her sobs.

I looked for the words to console her, to explain to her why the little boy who had ran through these same doors with a bright smile on his face, had come back wrapped in a kafan (white cloth). I wanted to tell her why I had not come home for three days, and who was responsible for the unbearable pain in her heart. I knew I could have said a dozen things at that moment, instead I settled the corpse of my brother on the nearest ‘angareib and I walked into the kitchen to bring her a cup of water. I extended the water with one hand while I used the other to cup her elbow and help her off her knees. I sat her on the bed across where my baby brother lay, cold and still. She buried her face into my neck and whimpered, inna li Allah wa inna elayh raji’oon (We belong to God, and to Him we shall return). We sat there for a while, my arm around her, soothingly rubbing her shoulders while she shook with grief. I wanted to tell her that he was probably in a better place now, but I knew she would let another piercing wail escape her throat before she yelled then let me join him Ya Allah! And I feared that, perhaps the Merciful would decide to heed to her wishes and take her away too.

“Goom,” she managed between sniffs and sobs “Get up and find Nazim and Essam. We should prepare for the burial.”


The sun sat, unsolicited, atop the clear sky and watched as we walked to the narrow grave that had been dug for Osama's small body. I held him over me, with my fingers fixed around his waist while Essam supported the weight of Osama's upper body between his neck and his right shoulder. Nazim walked behind me, barely touching the tips of Osama's toes which seemed unnecessary since the corpse felt as light as a feather. We walked for a while in a herd of white jellabeyas and men who didn't know how to grieve so they fixed their eyes on their toes, watching each step, careful not to miss their ques. La illah illa Allah Mohamad Rasool Allah (there is no God but Allah and Mohamed is his prophet) I heard someone say, before the rest followed suit and I found myself glaring down at a part along the earth, wide and dark, waiting to swallow my brother whole. My knees shivered despite the early May heat that filled the air. La hawla wla quwata illa billah (there is no might nor power except in Allah) I heard the chants come as quick as the arms that wrapped themselves around my arms and elbows, fumbling to support my weight and catch Osama's corpse before it could fall with me. I kneeled in front of the grave, the rocks under my knees felt hot and urgent like the realization that settled itself in the middle of my mind. This is his new home. While Nazim and Essam gently lowered the corpse into the ground, the men around me lifted their hands to the air to ask God for something in a prayer I was unfamiliar with. Their whispered voices blended into each other as I felt a warm tear rush down my face. Osama hate's the dark. I remember whispering to no one in particular, before the last pile of sand fell off the shovel and settled over Osama's grave.


Soon, the same men and I were gathered in my front yard, and the neighbors filed through our doors, wailing and crying at the top of their lungs. I knew hajja Nafeesa, the chatty neighbor with caramel skin and the aftermath of five kids on her waist, would grieve half-heartedly and scream louder than everyone else to make up for the other half. Khala Mariam, the aunt known for her never-aging dark hair and complimentary brooding mood, would offer my mother two minutes of grievances for Osama before she remembered her own late son and began to mourn his loss like a healed wound had just been ripped open in her chest. Still they were the closest people to my mom, and I was glad they could keep her company while I stood outside, held back by a long line of tradition that decreed mourning the dead as an act done best in segregation.

The men would hold back their tears and pity every time they lifted their hands to their faces, rapidly murmured the seven verses of the fatiha, and patted me on the shoulder. These were the same men who indifferently walked past Osama each day, as he stood at the doorsill of our house. The same faces that crumpled with confusion when he hyperventilated because there were too many people in one room, or when he furiously shook his head right and left to avoid looking people in the eyes.

The Imam's voice filled the house with serene verses of what sounded like condolences, or prayers I suppose. I looked around at the faces that had filled the confines of my concrete yard as the scent of hurried funeral coffee tickled my nose.


"You t-think I could ever glow like that?" Osama asked as he glared up at the night sky.

"How do you know you're not glowing now?" I retorted, thinking he does a better job at lighting my days than the stars do the night sky.

"Hmmm... because when I l-look at the sky I feel something in-inside. L-like I'm not al-alone. L-like when I look at M-mama, and I feel nice. M-mama glows.. B-but I know thats not h-how Saleh from school feels. He always says to me, t-t-talk properly! So I know I'm not a s-star yet, I'm not glowing yet b-because I don't make everyone feel nice in-inside."

Except he was a star, for no other seven-year old could be that bright. Despite the darkness, I knew that he was crying because he held his breath. Just as I was about to extend my arm to comfort him, I woke up. The doors of the cell banged to one side as another group of disheveled men were tossed into the stuffy little prison cell.

"Bastards!" One of them muttered. Something about the revolts had made people a little bit more daring than usual.

He was a tall lanky fellow whose broken glasses drooped over the edge of his nose. I looked down as he scanned the room, hoping he wouldn't sit by me and decide to bother me with useless chatter. Of course it didn't work since I was the only person around his age in the cell. He slowly dropped himself a few inches from me, sighing like they had just lifted the world off his shoulders.

"Are you here because of the protests too? Which political group are you with?" he asked.

I lifted my head and looked his way before turning around to attend to my daydreams.

"You're right, I wouldn't answer either. With a country full to its brim with lying, cunning, disgusting amanjeya (secret police service) you have to be careful what you say to people."

I really didn't care what or who he was, but I hoped his assumption that I was scared of him would win me a few more minutes to wrap myself within my mind.

"My name is Ahmed El-Tahir, student from the University of Khartoum, faculty of economics." he paused waiting for a name I would not give him. "You know, I was peacefully sitting at home studying for some exam when someone called me and told me my best friend had been shot with a rubber bullet. He bled to death. All I wanted to do was dignify my best friend with a respectable funeral. But of course these bastards wouldn't have that. So they arrested me and now I'm here. I wish I were here for actually protesting against these dogs, but yeah. That's my story."

"Montaser Mahmoud Alsir?"

My name bellowed off the concrete walls of the cell, and cut right through Ahmed El-Tahir's rant. I walked up towards the bars that creaked open to reveal a stubby man's frame. He had a kinder face than most of the pigs in blue and black around here. I could tell that he had a long day by the way his eyebrows fell apathetically atop his reddish eyes. His shoulders slouched forward a little, to compliment the skin that lazily slouched into wrinkles under his eyes and over his ashy knuckles.

"Sign here," he said as he edged a paper and board closer to me.

I had half a mind to read it, but I knew that was uncalled for. As with everything else in this country, you did as you were told. You let society and it's authorities think for you if you wanted to live a simple, easy-flowing life. So I signed the paper and followed the old officer to the doors that led you out into the bigger prison. I had only been held for a few hours, but the streets that opened up to embrace me were much older. I was not familiar with the tire ashes that covered the sidewalks and sandy streets. I did not recognize these Afribians with stern faces, and heavy bags of courage on their shoulders. At least Osama had not died for nothing, he couldn't h...

"OUT! GET OUT!" Someone yelled, reeling me out of my reveries and into the front yard that seemed crammed with faces I was not familiar with. Did all these people know my brother?

"GET OUT YOU SHAMELESS PIECE OF ZIFT!" The rest of the mourners echoed.