fruits of the earth – Khartoum’s Souq el Markazi

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Went to one of Khartoum’s fruit and veg markets, سوق المركزي Central Market, this morning with my mum. I sometimes feel and act as a tourist and today I kinda was as I’ve never been to this particular one. Khartoum is renowned for its markets: Saad Gishra which is home to beauty products, fabrics and clothes; Souq Omdurman where you can pick up local artisans work, artefacts, carved ebony pieces, beaded jewellery, carpets, silver items, food items etc and spices; and el Souq el Shaabi (which literally means popular but can also be used to mean something is vulgar) is where you can pick locally made string beds (3angareb عنقريب) and chairs (bambar بمبر) , upholstery and haberdashery, household items… whatever one is looking for, name it and most probably you’ll find it in any of the souqs dotted around the city.

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This is Nabil, one of many young boys operating a wheelbarrow where you place your purchases and continue shopping. He’s beautiful and with the biggest smile ever though he was striking a pose here…

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me dad’s favourite fruit – we were under strict instructions not to come home without his babies ie bananas

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grapefruit, we love them. nothing better than a cold glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice when its a scorching outside. along with sweetened lime and hibiscus juices they’re the number one choice for most.

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the men in the background are separating the lemons (aka limes) & more grapefruit

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one of the numerous mango varieties on sale…

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oranges, oranges and more oranges

For the fruit and veg, all the produce is local with some imported items and generally the prices are much lower than in most high street grocery shops & super markets; plus you can ‘negotiate’ the price down and you buy in bulk which you later divide amongst yourself, sister, aunt etc

The mango varieties alone were confusing, so many and as for the grapefruit its one of our best kept secrets – succulent pink and very sweet.

Ramadan Kareem to y’all

Pinkish Khartoum Sunset

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With Ramadan a few days away the streets were packed. Traffic was beyond horrendous. The flip side of not being able to move I managed to take a pic of a glorious pink sunset over the Nile from Kobar Bridge.

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Alsarah & The Nubatones: The Sudanese singer carving out a slice of East Africa in Brooklyn

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Another Sudanese female making waves in a very hard industry to crack is Al Sarah, of Alsarah and the Nubatones, a musical group that reverts back to its Nubian roots to create sounds that’s familiar, funky and just pure nostalgia with a twist of modern tastes. She also performs with the musical collective The Nile Project, an amalgamation of artists from all the African countries that call the River Nile ‘home’. Check them out as well, some great sounds coming out of that project. 

She did a fashion shoot for Brown Book magazine, showcasing her eclectic funky style.

The Guardian newspaper did a piece on her last year, as did Spin magazine (twice actually), and while you’re at it check them out on Soundcloud.

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‘Alsarah and her band, The Nubatones, came together out of a collective love for the hazy sounds of 1960s and 1970s Nubian music – the traditional sounds of her native Sudan. Mixing the soaring vocals and pentatonic arrangements of the genre with Arabic influences, the band have crafted a sound they call ‘East African retro-pop.’

Alsarah often finds her clothes while travelling in East Africa, combing through the Maasai Mara street markets of Nairobi for jewellery and trawling Zanzibar for fabric and tailors to create one-off garments. Styled by her friend Zola Zakiya, Brownbook spent a day with Alsarah in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights for our latest fashion shoot.’Image

 

Finding Filigree

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time for the good Sudanese stuff. 

Maya Antoun is a St. Martin’s school of design educated jewellery maker. Currently residing in the UK, her aim is to continue the long tradition of filigree jewellery making. Gorgeous stuff. I want every piece.

Lovely interview with her in Brown Book magazine.

“Sudanese jewelry designer Maya Antoun chooses filigree as her craft in an effort to keep the tradition alive in her homeland

Every day, Sudanese craftsmen emerge from their workshops and set up their market stalls in the heat of the African sun. The traditional jewellers create amazingly intricate, delicate pieces with nimble hands – each as individual as the last. However, the future of the craftsmen’s fine-spun works is in jeopardy and this is something that jeweler Maya Antoun aims to correct.

Born and raised in Khartoum, Antoun attended Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and has since made a home in the south of England with her British husband. The designer works with Sudanese craftsmen to bring their ethereal filigree accessories to the rest of the world.

‘I concentrate on filigree because it’s a difficult craft to accomplish and it’s a work-intensive technique – basically not a lot of people are doing it any more. One of the main reasons I started working with the craftsmen in Africa is that it’s a technique that’s dying out; you don’t really see it [filigree] a lot in contemporary jewellery,’ tells us.

Filigree is a time-consuming technique that often takes years to master. The pieces form their shape when hairline strips of twisted silver and gold thread are manipulated and shaped into varying patterns. The meticulous, time-consuming metalwork is occasionally teamed up with delicate beading that adds both variation and detail.

Antoun, who champions this technique in her own jewellery, relies heavily on the use of traditional African shapes to grace her designs, which while delicate are also striking. Fan shaped pieces sit in juxtaposition, creating splayed effects. Antoun’s pieces aim to bring traditional techniques into the modern age, thus bringing their appeal to a wider audience.

‘The pieces I make use very traditional techniques but are more contemporary so that people become interested. Usually, the craftsmen make very traditional pieces which are quite boring and repetitive; the idea was to use a very traditional technique but make something very modern, very contemporary,’ she says.

In order to master the difficult skills, Antoun teamed up with craftsmen from her homeland. She learned from them and is now trying to repay the favour by opening up more collaborative efforts between the African craftsmen and global designers. As well as trying to develop new markets in Africa, she also brings the work to Western markets.

With family still living in Sudan and her upbringing in the country, Antoun says her homeland has definitely influenced her designs.

‘A lot of people hear a lot of bad things about Sudan – it’s one of those countries that get a lot of bad press; the same as the Congo.’ Antoun, who initially started her career training to be a fashion designer, but later found her niche in jewellery, also spent a year living in the Congo working with local craftsmen to create and exhibit her work.

While the war in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo continues, the rest of the country goes about their daily business, she explains. ‘They are not affected by what goes on around them.’ This was also the case during her childhood in Khartoum, which she describes as ‘idyllic’ and very much separate from the conflict in the rest of Sudan.

‘There’s war in eastern Congo, but in Kinshasa they’re just going to their jobs, going to school, getting on with it and are quite unaffected by what’s happening in the rest of the country,’ she explains. ‘That was what it was like for us.’

‘I decided while I was there I wanted to learn a traditional craft, so I hooked up with a craftsman in the market and asked to come to his stall every day for a few hours and learn – he was very happy to teach me. I got a hands-on experience of what was going on, what they were doing and how they were marketing their products. That’s when I realised something had to be done because they all had incredible skills, but the craft was dying out,’ she says. Learning the technique originally stemmed from a project she was undertaking for her Master’s Degree, she explains, but then it turned into something of a passion.

It was also quite a novelty for a woman to be learning the filigree technique at the markets of Kinshasa as the metal-working industry in Africa is male-dominated; which includes the wire work featured in Antoun’s filigree jewellery.

However, the designer has been using the technique now for some years now and has made friends in the market, ‘people are very friendly and protective of me now.’

It works well for the designer to be based between her home country and her adoptive country despite the fact she has to overcome some logistical problems.

‘It’s a bit of a struggle because I’m dealing with a lot of different aspects that constitute the craft of the trade; Sudan is a country with a lot of political problems at the moment,’ she says. ‘I’m not only dealing with trying to make jewellery, it’s a bigger struggle than that.’

She has also found opportunities to collaborate with fellow Sudanese designers in London. After meeting Omer Asim through mutual friends, Antoun has fused her jewellery designs with Asim’s fashion. Together the designers create pieces that place a contemporary twist on a traditional and more ethnic aesthetic.

Having grown up in the same country, Antoun says, they create an ideal sounding board for each other and often run new designs by one another before they go public.

‘We collaborate here together in London and so I do tend to have input in what he’s doing and we do work on the same projects but not necessarily designing – more to support each other,’ she explains. ‘It just so happens that our sensibilities are similar; we work very well together.’

Antoun’s creations were coupled with Asim’s pieces for the On/Off Event in London, 2010. On/Off is a platform that aims to promote up-and-coming fashion designers and creatives through a multimedia format that takes place twice a year at London and Paris fashion weeks.

Currently working on a new collection she is hoping to collaborate with other artists and introduce new materials. Selling her pieces online and at various outlets, the designer hopes the Western world will learn to love and appreciate the filigree skills from Africa so that the craftsmen at home will be continue to practice their trade.”ImageImage

Dubai Dust

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i met a friend for dinner a few days ago and noticed one of the restaurants waiters hand a street cleaner a large bottle of mineral water and a soft drink. the cleaner thanked him and went off on his way.

that affected me badly. there i was enjoying a 350 dirham meal (nearly $100) and this poor guy was probably earning that same amount, if not slightly more, from which he lived on and most definitely sent remittances back to his family. how fucked up is this?

I’ve been in Dubai for nearly 2 weeks now and hands down the best RnR i could ever have wanted especially post op. but though one feels they’re living in utopia (seriously how much more clean can this city get?) there’s this nagging thought that it’s all an illusion.

A few days ago my father asked why dont I find a job here? or rather he demanded I look for a job in this metropolis of an oasis. Now he’s the old school businessman, this freelance stuff i do just doesnt sit well with him – the fluctuating income, working from home, writing on my laptop…nope definitely not salt of the earth type of occupation he considers a job. I told him I wasnt interested in working in Dubai, and honestly I dont. A few years ago I was gagging to live and work here, the luxe life of a young, single, 30 something, media personality expat certainly appealed to me but it never happened.Image

Now though, am glad I didnt pursue the Dubai dream.

Dubai is a bubble. The life one leads especially if you’re a white collar expat worker is nothing like the reality of your life back home; and lets face it if you’re a labourer on any of the gazillion construction sites or one of the thousands who provides the essential but menial services this city depends on you see things completely different regarding life in Dubai.

Earn the crazy salaries and you can get caught up in designer labels, the high rise flat complete with a fantastic view, the lifestyle that numbs you from reality. Not begrudging anyone the right to live in this manner, heck I like my designer items too and who wouldn’t want a modern & sleek abode to call home? it’s just the difference between the have’s and have nots is smack in your face. there’s no grey area, no fine line. its there played out in front of you on a daily, if not hourly, basis.Image

i asked some friends how those who don’t earn the high salaries survive in Dubai? it sells itself as a tax free haven but the prices quoted for nearly everything are ridiculously expensive. seems those who are shop assistants, waiters, street cleaners, petrol station attendants, public transport drivers etc all opt for flat sharing – 7 or more cramped in a flat. and of course most of these flats aren’t centrally located and so to get to work would require a long commute (the introduction of the Metro is a god send, cuts down on commute time, is relatively affordable, air conditioned and spotless).Image

i just can’t seem to relate to the stark class differences that’s so evidently in view here. there’s no hiding from it. class differences isn’t new, I do come from Sudan after all and lived in Egypt where in both the middle class has all but disappeared and the poverty is smack in your face. but walking around the shiny high-rise buildings, the cars that seem like they’re fresh off the production line and the malls that are an Aladdin’s cave inviting you to come spend your hard earned cash it just seems too surreal. like someone dreamed up this Shangri-La playground and those who sign up to the dream do so with strict instructions to not look, acknowledge nor empathise with the worker smurfs** who enable everything to tick along smoothly. Image

i probably come across as hypocritical, after all I too live such a life as most of the Dubai-ans, but it bothers me. it bothers me that we can pretend, convince ourselves its better for them here than back home, it probably is financially wise but that still doesnt make it ok. it bothers me that we can so easily slip into this dream lifestyle and forget the harsh realities most live in and we know it. it bothers me that we fight for rights and yet conveniently forget those who are made to work in searing heat, with little reward and at times pay a heavy price all so we can enjoy a cocktail or two in a magnificent setting.

it’s not just Dubai though. a number of other cities are faced with the same scenario – the widening economic gap, the fat cats.. its an ugly picture and paints an even uglier future.

this article says it all really: The dark side of Dubai and this one too Dubai’s skyscrapers, stained by the blood of migrant workers

** disclaimer: smurfs is a term my sister used when she was living in Dubai due to the blue uniform most workers wore\

pictures all via google

What it’s like for an Arab to go on vacation

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i can so relate….

The Bancast

I have a full-time job. By Jordanian standards I have a decent job – as a presenter on the drivetime programme of a local radio station.

Once a year I feel entitled to go on a summer vacation and for a week or two forget about everything else that matters. And why shouldn’t I?

Oh right, cause I’m an Arab…

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Your average hard worker with a first world citizenship will pick a destination, purchase a plane ticket, book a hotel (maybe), go on holiday and return to their routine feeling fulfilled.

As an Arab – a Jordanian at least – it’s a little more complicated:

Step 1. Choose a destination

Step 2. Discover that it requires a pre-approved visa. Nine out of 10 times it’s a Schengen country. Even then you must apply at the country of entry’s embassy.

Step 4. Check to see if chosen destination has an embassy in your country. No? Change destination accordingly.

Step…

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