Sudanese Moments: The World You Don’t See

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interview with Eniko Nagy, the author behind the Sand in my Eyes book that covers the orals traditions and sayings of some 45 ethnic Sudanese tribes

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Enikö Nagy at work Enikö Nagy at work

 One of the largest countries in Africa and the world, very little is known about contemporary Sudan. In 2006, German social worker Enikö Nagy went to Sudan to work for the DED (German development agency) on capacity-building projects with NGOs and rural communities in Kordofan state. Inspired by the people she met and their unique way of life, she set out to document the everyday rituals, colours and sounds of life in Sudan over a number of years. During this time, Sudan became two states. Some of the regions she travelled to for her bookSand in My Eyes: Sudanese Moments (published 2014), such as South Kordofan and Blue Nile State, are currently inaccessible due to conflict. I put some questions to the photographer & author about Sudan, her inspiration, the process of putting such a unique book together, and the relevance of orality and…

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Gate A-4

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Live & Learn

naomi_shihab_nye

Gate A-4 By Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be…

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Al Jazeera English Op-Ed: World idle as Sudan’s women raped, killed and bombed

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“World idle as Sudan’s women raped, killed and bombed
Claims 200 women, including 80 minors, mass raped not surprising in a country where women are systematically violated.”

Darfur no longer grabs the headlines as it falls out of favour as a cause celebre yet the atrocities, especially against women, haven’t stopped.

Last week a report emerged that some 200 women, including 80 minors, were mass raped by a Sudanese Army garrison in the village of Tabit, northern Darfur. Reportedly, the soldiers started their raping spree on Friday evening and went on until 4am the following day.

The special prosecutor for crimes in Darfur denied the mass rape saying they inspected and “verified the inaccuracy of what has been circulating in social media, and some of the local radio stations”. Initially denied and then granted access, the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) investigated and concluded its “team found no evidence confirming the claims and received no information regarding the purported acts”.

The depressing fact is that it’s not inconceivable for such a crime to have occured. The systematic degradation and violation of Sudanese women has been a trait of the regime’s 25-year-rule. Articles 151, 152, 154 and 156 of the criminal code “enforce restrictions on women and the way they dress and behave in public”. If they commit an act “deemed by an officer of the law to be in violation of these articles, they may face a lashing sentence [or] be forced to pay a fine”.

Systematic rape

The power and authority handed to officers to arbitrarily decide what they deem acceptable attire and to enforce the punishment is clear in a number of graphic videos of females being brutally flogged. In Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, women are the target of “systematic rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as threat of rape, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, sex trafficking, forced marriages, forced prostitution and sexual slavery”.

Female Darfurian students continue to face detention and harassment from officials. In early October, 70 female students were forcibly evicted from their dorms, with 16 held without charge and reportedly subjected to abuses

An Amnesty International report from 2004 documented how rape was used as a weapon of war: The testimonies “all describe a pattern of systematic and unlawful attacks on civilians in North, West and South Darfur states, by a government-sponsored militia [the Janjawid] … and by the government army”.

“Violence against women is occurring in a context of systematic human rights violations against civilians in Darfur. Women have been summarily or indiscriminately killed, bombed, raped, tortured, abducted and forcibly displaced… girls have, like women, been the particular target of rapes, abductions and sexual slavery.”

A decade later, the picture is the same for the people of Darfur. Female Darfurian students continue to face detention and harassment from officials. In early October, 70 female students were forcibly evicted from their dorms, with 16 held without charge and reportedly subjected to abuses, including sexual, and accused of supporting rebel Darfur groups.

How much more sexual violence against Sudanese women will the world tolerate? The UK Foreign Secretary released a statement regarding the alleged attack in Tabit, which is nice but what about the training of – and support for – the Sudanese military, police and security personnel by his own government?

What good is such a statement if officials continue committing their alleged atrocities with the tacit support of others who play the blind, deaf and ignorant cards? The UN isn’t innocent either – accusations of a “cover-up” and “failure to properly report crimes against civilians … in Darfur” is another example of abetting the Sudanese government.

Global attention

Gross violations against civilians will continue to occur unless more is done. Will global attention and campaigning keep Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in the headlines thereby putting pressure on the government? Possibly. But reform of legislature is paramount.

The Bill of Rights promises equality to all, yet the “legal code entrenches gross gender oppression and an environment in which violence against women can be perpetrated with complete impunity, especially by state and military personnel”.

Legally, rape is defined in Article 149 as “sexual intercourse by way of adultery or homosexuality with any person without consent”. This means the law itself “conflates rape with adultery, with serious consequences for victims of sexual violence”. Furthermore, “legal action cannot be taken against members of the military, security services, police, and border guards and immunity may only be lifted by the individual’s superior officer”.

There’s also the cultural drawbacks to contend with as women who do report a rape can be accused of committing adultery (zinna), a crime in the eyes of Sudanese law especially as the burden of proof lies with the victim. The social and cultural stigma of reporting a rape can also break the strongest of wills as evidenced in the case of Safia Ishag. A member of the youth movement Girifna, she says she was gang-raped and beaten by three officers from the notorious National Intelligence & Security Services (NISS) and after posting a video documenting her rape, the harassment she faced forced her to seek refuge in France.

Back in 2007, Bashir laughingly said to NBC News: “It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It doesn’t exist. We don’t have it.”

This, from a head of state still wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes – crimes that include rape.

Debate on whether the alleged attack on the village of Tabit did or didn’t take place will continue but one thing is certain – these violations will also continue as long as the regime is given carte blanche to do so.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/11/world-idle-as-sudan-women-rape-2014111112378477268.html

World idle as Sudan’s women raped, killed and bombed

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Op Ed piece for Al Jazeera English on the abuse of women in Sudan

World idle as Sudan’s women raped, killed and bombed

Achrin Mapio claims she was raped by South Sudanese rebels [AFP]
Darfur no longer grabs the headlines as it falls out of favour as a cause celebre yet the atrocities, especially against women, haven’t stopped.

Last week a report emerged that some 200 women, including 80 minors, were mass raped by a Sudanese Army garrison in the village of Tabit, northern Darfur. Reportedly, the soldiers started their raping spree on Friday evening and went on until 4am the following day.

The special prosecutor for crimes in Darfur denied the mass rape saying they inspected and “verified the inaccuracy of what has been circulating in social media, and some of the local radio stations”. Initially denied and then granted access, the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) investigated and concluded its “team found no evidence confirming the claims and received no information regarding the purported acts”.

The depressing fact is that it’s not inconceivable for such a crime to have occured. The systematic degradation and violation of Sudanese women has been a trait of the regime’s 25-year-rule. Articles 151, 152, 154 and 156 of the criminal code “enforce restrictions on women and the way they dress and behave in public”. If they commit an act “deemed by an officer of the law to be in violation of these articles, they may face a lashing sentence [or] be forced to pay a fine”.

Systematic rape

The power and authority handed to officers to arbitrarily decide what they deem acceptable attire and to enforce the punishment is clear in a number of graphic videos of females being brutally flogged. In Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, women are the target of “systematic rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as threat of rape, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, sex trafficking, forced marriages, forced prostitution and sexual slavery”.

Female Darfurian students continue to face detention and harassment from officials. In early October, 70 female students were forcibly evicted from their dorms, with 16 held without charge and reportedly subjected to abuses

An Amnesty International report from 2004 documented how rape was used as a weapon of war: The testimonies “all describe a pattern of systematic and unlawful attacks on civilians in North, West and South Darfur states, by a government-sponsored militia [the Janjawid] … and by the government army”.

“Violence against women is occurring in a context of systematic human rights violations against civilians in Darfur. Women have been summarily or indiscriminately killed, bombed, raped, tortured, abducted and forcibly displaced… girls have, like women, been the particular target of rapes, abductions and sexual slavery.”

A decade later, the picture is the same for the people of Darfur. Female Darfurian students continue to face detention and harassment from officials. In early October, 70 female students were forcibly evicted from their dorms, with 16 held without charge and reportedly subjected to abuses, including sexual, and accused of supporting rebel Darfur groups.

How much more sexual violence against Sudanese women will the world tolerate? The UK Foreign Secretary released a statement regarding the alleged attack in Tabit, which is nice but what about the training of – and support for – the Sudanese military, police and security personnel by his own government?

What good is such a statement if officials continue committing their alleged atrocities with the tacit support of others who play the blind, deaf and ignorant cards? The UN isn’t innocent either – accusations of a “cover-up” and “failure to properly report crimes against civilians … in Darfur” is another example of abetting the Sudanese government.

Global attention

Gross violations against civilians will continue to occur unless more is done. Will global attention and campaigning keep Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in the headlines thereby putting pressure on the government? Possibly. But reform of legislature is paramount.

The Bill of Rights promises equality to all, yet the “legal code entrenches gross gender oppression and an environment in which violence against women can be perpetrated with complete impunity, especially by state and military personnel”.

Legally, rape is defined in Article 149 as “sexual intercourse by way of adultery or homosexuality with any person without consent”. This means the law itself “conflates rape with adultery, with serious consequences for victims of sexual violence”. Furthermore, “legal action cannot be taken against members of the military, security services, police, and border guards and immunity may only be lifted by the individual’s superior officer”.

There’s also the cultural drawbacks to contend with as women who do report a rape can be accused of committing adultery (zinna), a crime in the eyes of Sudanese law especially as the burden of proof lies with the victim. The social and cultural stigma of reporting a rape can also break the strongest of wills as evidenced in the case of Safia Ishag. A member of the youth movement Girifna, she says she was gang-raped and beaten by three officers from the notorious National Intelligence & Security Services (NISS) and after posting a video documenting her rape, the harassment she faced forced her to seek refuge in France.

Back in 2007, Bashir laughingly said to NBC News: “It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It doesn’t exist. We don’t have it.”

This, from a head of state still wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes – crimes that include rape.

Debate on whether the alleged attack on the village of Tabit did or didn’t take place will continue but one thing is certain – these violations will also continue as long as the regime is given carte blanche to do so.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/11/world-idle-as-sudan-women-rape-2014111112378477268.html

Egypt – Ramadan in Cairo

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I was commissioned this piece for the Qatar Airways inflight magazine Oryx last year then trouble/protests broke out and the article was pushed back. Well its been published and I’d like to think Ramadan in Cairo hasn’t changed much from how I remember it….

“DALLIA M. ABDELMONIEM, A RESIDENT OF CAIRO FOR MORE THAN 15 YEARS,reflects on the joys of spending Ramadan in one of the worlds busiest cities.

 Cairo can be maddening at times. Very maddening. The crowds, the traffic, the noise levels, the road rules that only locals seem to understand; but for one month of every year all the negative points seemingly dissipate and the city turns into a mass of twinkling fawanees (lantern).

Ramadan is one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar and, though observance of it is sacrosanct, in Cairo its been taken up a notch and has very much become a month of celebration as well. When I first moved to the Egyptian capital I was told to enjoy fasting as it takes on a whole new meaning here, and that has been proven true. The nightspots that we know take a breather and shut up shop for 30 days while new ones pop up in their place; restaurant menus are replaced with more iftar and suhoor-oriented ones while Old Islamic Cairo becomes the destination de rigueur for those seeking a more authentic taste of the city.

The recent economic woes, coupled with the fact Ramadan has fallen during the hot summer months, have had somewhat of an adverse effect on the city and its inhabitants when it comes to enjoying the month, but nonetheless nothing can stop the festivities from taking place. And as with most countries in this part of the world, everything gets flipped backwards night becomes day, breakfast becomes dinner, and sleeping times are confined to the afternoons.

Entertainment-wise, Ramadan in Egypt revolves around the three Fs: food, family, and friends. All play a big part and all certainly add to the spirit of the month; from gathering around the TV set to watch the latest soap series, to meeting at the ahwa (coffee shop) for a few rounds of backgammon or cards, copious amounts of tea, and the customary Ramadan drinks of humous el sham and sahlab. Pop-up kheyyam ramadan, very similar to marquees but most often set up using traditional khayamiya decorative appliqué textiles, are also popular and have attained a permanent place in the night scene with party planners always on the lookout to try something new and innovative that will draw the crowds in. From PlayStation docks on every table and hosting Wii competitions, to hiring takht bands (where the musicians usually only play the oud, the qanun, the kamanjah, the ney, the riq, and the darabukkah) for some old-school music complete with a singer crooning the tunes of the much-loved Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafiz, and Fareed Al Atrash.

Food, of course, a prominent Ramadan fixture; whether its hotels and restaurants with their set menus and all-you-can-eat iftar buffets, or invites at friends and families homes where what is generally a 30-minute meal turns into one that stretches for hours until the call for Al Isha prayer arouses people from their post-food slumber. A popular saying is that Egyptians don’t eat to live, they live to eat and, if anything, its proven true over the 30 days of fasting with everyones sweet tooth making its presence felt. Patisseries and oriental sweet shops kick it up a notch, selling old favourites with a twist, such as konafa with mango, or sticking to the tried and tested, such as basbousa with nuts and baglawa. Some desserts tend to make an appearance only during Ramadan, such as balah el sham; gatayef with either cream, nuts, chocolate, or a fruit jam filling; and lugmat al gadi  all guaranteed to satisfy the sweet cravings and help pile on the pounds.

But its not all about food, as peoples charitable side shows itself. If you happen to be stuck in one of Cairo’s infamous traffic jams, you’ll find fruit and vegetable vendors handing out their produce, especially to those providing a service, such as the traffic wardens and police; people in cars sharing whatever edibles they happen to have; mosques and well-to-do patrons setting up maidat el rahman tables (a soup kitchen of sorts) for the poor, taxi drivers still on the job, and anyone who’s far from their home and needs to break their fast.

Sahlab (winter drink from Egypt)  and peppermint tea.

For a taste of Egyptian culture, places like Beit El Seheimy and the Cairo Opera House offer events such as Sufi performances and musical recitals if you’re looking for entertainment other than having a shisha, enjoying your mint tea, and seeing people. Neighbourhoods such as Zamalek, El Hussein, the Khan El Khalili bazaar, and Downtown remain open until the early hours, with people from all walks of life  the rich, the poor; locals, visitors  all staying out late, having their suhoor, enjoying the vibrancy, the lights, and crowds.

Sleep is the furthest thing from anyones mind. The Hussein Mosque and Al Azhar illuminate the neighbourhood with their glass-painted lanterns and chandeliers, while the constant stream of worshippers going through their doors add to the buzz of the area. The smells emanating from the food stalls and cafés; the spice merchants; the shisha smokers, all converge into one head-spinning aroma; all the while vendors clamour to grab your attention to try and sell you a trinket or two. Its a place that is chaotic yet organised; loud but with areas of serenity one wouldn’t find anywhere else.

There really is no place like Cairo for one to enjoy the spirit of Ramadan. Its a celebration of the holy month, where religious belief is observed and yet enjoyment is also part of the package. A time when the city welcomes all, enveloping them in a sense of community thats hard to replicate anywhere else.”

Being Single during Khartoum’s Wedding Season(s)

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“If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married.” Katharine Hepburn

There’s always a wedding in Khartoum. Before it used to be specific seasons designated as the lets-get-hitched-and-fuck-up-our-lives but it’s now open season -every day, every month (Ramadan is a month of respite thank God).

I personally do not find weddings enjoyable but nonetheless dress up to the nines, slap on the war-paint, face the music & inevitably the prayers calling on the Almighty that I soon be in my marital home. The comments are usually why are you still signal? you sure there’s no one? and the cream with a cherry on top one – don’t put it off longer, you’re not getting younger. What the…?

It was a cousin’s wedding yesterday, nice party, great entertainment etc etc (food was ok but that’s the norm and not the exception) and I see another cousin who I say hello too. [as a Sudanese that 6 degrees of separation is actually more like 3 degrees; **everyone’s either a relative or someone always knows someone else you know regardless of which city or area you/they hail from.That whole adage just because am from this or that place doesn’t mean I know everyone kinda holds true in regards to Sudanese so we rarely get upset when someone says ‘Oh I know this wonderful Sudanese’, chances are you do know them.]

Back to my cousin. He’s a lovely bloke, very sweet and one of the few i genuinely like. He declares I should go on a walkabout with him to look for good looking guys and that all i have to do is point them out and he’ll do the talking on my behalf. I actually laughed out loud and told him there are no good looking guys in Sudan. He kept asking. I wasn’t insulted nor upset but I felt I was reduced to a female seeking a guy like I seek out bargains but no effort required on my part to ‘snare’ them either. Sweet deal, no? Look pretty, smile and nod my head – a living doll.

Get to talking with another cousin, she’s a very close friend besides the blood relation between us, and she tells me some members of our wonderfully extended family kinda suggested she should be on the lookout for guys who for one reason or another are sans spouses but not bachelors per say. Apparently, once we hit a certain age there’s a specific bracket and pool of men we can only play in. Nice.

The only adequate response I have to all these suggestions is WTF?

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Unless DTGM (desperate to get married) is tattooed on our foreheads, honestly we’re fine, we’re happy and we’re doing very well, professionally, personally and all other ally’s without a male figure to call ‘my husband’ by our sides. The assumption we cannot and should not be non-married is just ludicrous in this day and age, and it’s something I’ve seen in a number of societies and not just ours.

There’s this unrelenting pressure on the female to basically be SuperWoman. Work, have kids, be married and look great. In the slightly altered words of Jerry Hall one must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom (to shoot out the kids which is a sign all’s well in the Kingdom of Marriage).

Nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for the verbal onslaught especially if you’re female. It’s a constant barrage of comments, prayers, wishes, and attempts at finding you a partner for life. After a while it becomes like the host who keeps piling food on your plate, thank you but kifaya (enough) I can’t eat another bite becomes thank you but enough BS I can’t take another ‘get married’.

The issue I have with all this pseudo-wedding-is-a-bliss farce why force it? Why wish for it so desperately that it seems like life will come to a standstill, the earth will stop orbiting if all singletons are not ensconced within the entity that has higher rates of separation than Fleetwood Mac? So you think marriage is a sanctuary, سترة الزواج? that’s you not me. Everything happens when it’s meant to and in due time. For a people that are so laid back and renowned for their lax attitude to life they’re sure in a hurry when it comes to marriage.

I’ve taken to telling marriage wishers ‘fee 7ayatkum’ which roughly translates to in your lifetime, as in when I get hitched you’ll be there to witness the glorious union and lay off my back for a bit. I was getting away with it until this one woman grabbed my arm and demanded i say Amen Inshaallah (if god wills it) after she sent a prayer to Allah. She wouldn’t let go until I did. I kid you not. So I mumbled something and legged it. I now avoid that woman like the plague.

Ah Sudan, you never cease to amaze.

**slight exaggeration but somewhat true.

Yet Another un-Mubarak Eid

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sigh. we are ruled by idiots.

Muniness

I remember last Eid ul Adha, people were in a horrid state of shock and depression about the massive blow to the popular peaceful uprising in various states in Sudan. The biggest in recent years, it brought a lot of hope, yet left people tethered and exhausted after burying, what seemed like, an endless stream of young men and women who had fallen victim to a vicious and armed-to-the-teeth government backlash.

سموهو عيد شهيد

Almost a year later, Sudan is sinking deeper in a black hole of despair, loss, conflict and absolute backwardness.

I have a few reasons to withhold “happiness” this Eid.

Maryam Yahya: what an embarrassment to the government; one woman managed to cause an international whirlwind and was such a darling at it. She won the battle and many are now aware of the blatant law violations by the institutions that should be administering, guarding and…

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