Letters from Darfur: Sudan keeps its own time

2010-12-17 14:02

Life in Sudan keeps its own time. Here, in a country that has paid host to a conflict older than itself, uncertainty is worked into every promise and plan; from meal times to business meetings.

In fact, the Sudanese conclude every agreement and declaration with a qualification: Insh’allah! This means: God willing. So nothing is really up to anyone here but God.

During the time spent in Elfasher, North Darfur, I learned to be very concerned when the sacred qualification is followed by the Arabic word “Malesh,” meaning both "no worries", and "sorry".

The implication is that things are unlikely to happen or at least not with any particular urgency if they are done at all.

By the way, in case that bit about an old conflict is confusing, consider the following: by the time this country was finally rid of British rule in 1956, the Sudanese were already torn between South and North and they’ve been generally in conflict since.

But, let’s stay with Sudan’s sense of time for now. It was Mustafa, a Khartoum local who blew the top off this thing. He was finalising our travelling plans for the following day when he insisted our departure happen on “Mustafa time! Not Sudan time,” then giggled.

He then explained: “You see, if my Sudanese friend says he’s coming to see me at 1pm, I expect him at 3pm.” Everything carries a three-hour grace period.

So I visit country ruled by Sharia law and learn to be cynical of any promise accompanied by: Insh’allah!

And this place gets stranger. With a reputation for temperatures that rise up to 40° Celsius by 11am; you’d expect it to be teeming with watering holes; especially of an inebriating kind.

But, alas! People here can’t pronounce the word lager. I discovered this fact while gatecrashing a party organised by University of Khartoum graduates.

A lovely scene packed with lads and lasses dancing to what sounded like an Arabic hybrid of reggae-dub.

And for a change the girls weren’t wearing burkas. But soon as he notices my wandering eye, Mustafa leans toward my ear and says: “It’s forbidden!” What a flop!

And as if guarded maidens were not enough, thirsty visitors are also forced to groove without booze. What a travesty!

So, we chose to get back home.

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