what do you think about when you think about sudan?
this blog is about the daily life of an expat teacher in sudan. not the only story but a different one.
I looked surreptitiously at my watch. I had been sitting for almost 45 minutes in a BMW outside my house on Nile Street, Khartoum, listening as Zeinab extolled the virtues of Islam. The time had flown by.
I hadn’t invited her inside because compared to her massive family home, further down the Nile in Soba, my poky apartment was a bit dire. Plus I didn’t have any food and my air conditioner wasn’t working. But I couldn’t get out of the car and just leave her.
An hour earlier, we had been kicked out of her ex-husband’s house. She had taken me there ostensibly for a tutoring session with her ten year old son, whose exams were coming up. It was obvious to everyone that she just wanted to see her children.
We had come in to find Khalid praying with his father. Khalid stuck his tongue out at me from his prayer mat, then looked at his mother and bent down for another rak’a. Zeinab led me inside and a servant brought me fresh mango juice and chocolates. By the time Zeinab came back, the juice was gone and the chocolate wrappers surrounded Sawsan and I on the floor, where we lay colouring in pictures of Disney princesses; Khalid could be heard shouting to his cousins on the roof.
'Ta'ali ya Krista’, Zeinab said and disappeared out the door.
I sat in the car and tried not to watch Zeinab’s whispered argument with her ex-husband in the driveway. She was gesturing angrily, her hands aggressively close to her ex-husband’s face. His hand rested calmly on the head of two-year old Hamoudi, who was hugging his mother’s knees.
* * *
On her third, failed attempt to reverse out of the driveway, Zeinab turned and asked me if she was doing the right thing, I told her she was. But how would I know?
We drove erratically down Sixty Street, fast but in silence, until suddenly, Zeinab looked at me and told me her ex-husband had said he wasn’t giving the kids back. A bus pulled out suddenly in front of us and she swerved to avoid it, slamming the horn and swearing passionately in Arabic.
Stopped at the lights, a child beggar carrying her sleeping toddler stuck her hand through the open window. Zeinab gave her a fifty pound note and a blessing.
She told me she had already given up her job as a doctor because her family drama distracted her. She was working as a financial adviser in a petroleum company instead: less emotionally taxing but just as time-consuming. She told me it’s not what she wants, that she can’t afford the time but she needs the financial independence. She told me that family law here isn’t like in the west. She told me she was afraid. Truly afraid, that he will keep her children. She stopped talking then, but her hands kept shaking.
I looked at her staring determinedly ahead, cheeks wet with tears and I felt there was nothing I could say.
So I asked her what Islam taught.
As Zeinab told me about how Islam has helped her, I was transfixed, although I couldn’t tell you what she said. I remember clearly even now, 10 months later, how the anger visibly disappeared. The lines between her eyebrows disappeared, her hands relaxed on the steering wheel and fell into her lap, her back straightened. Her wry smile returned.
Finally, she told me she didn’t know how she would have survived without her faith.
I almost knew what she meant. And I almost felt envious.