Landing at Khartoum airport at 1:25 AM, I exited the flight door and made my way down the steps to catch the shuttle bus to the main terminal… I was greeted with a warm slap of hot air. That familiar smell of dust filled my nostrils as I made my way through immigration. In the few days I spent in Khartoum, running around tending to family related matters and squeezing in visits to extended families, I couldn’t ignore the sinking feeling that kept growing in my stomach.
A series of events kept wringing the knot in my stomach tighter….
As we exited the airport and made our way home, I noticed the increased presence of military patrolling the streets. Drivers slowly cruised by and some were occasionally waved to stop for further questioning by on-guard policemen. That sight immediately took me back to the fear that was instilled in Sudan during the late 80s early 90s when curfews were in place and movement around the city was severely restricted. My uncle noted that it’s just precaution, preparing for the worst… and I kept quiet.
A trip to the any local shop is depressing, the shelves are fully stocked but I’m not really sure how people can afford to buy anything. Taking a 20 Pound (SDG) note, that could easily have paid for a handful of shopping items, at the butcher’s it came as a great surprise that 3/4 a kilo of mutton is 18 Pounds… so much for trying to buy some veggies to make a decent meal. My sister naively asked how do people afford meat, my aunt somberly replied..”they don’t, they use stock cubes to remember the taste of meat.”
In an effort to replace some missing documents my mother made her way to various government bureaus to get her paperwork in order. As she exited one of the buildings 2 young men on a motorcycle took hold of her bag and tried to pull it off her shoulder. Luckily she managed to hold on tight and they could not get away with her belongings. She came home rattled by this incidence yet no one seemed fazed. The apathy in people’s demeanor disturbed me even more than the attempted robbery. Instead, I found hints of pity in people’s voices when discussing this matter, they felt what would you expect young, job-less men/boys to do but to revert to such acts. It seems that everyone will stoop to stealing. I grew up hearing the praises of Sudanese trustworthiness. How someone would go out of their way to return a lost bag or item…these days if it’s gone forget about it because someone is most likely trying to make a quick buck out of it. When it was safe to keep you drawers open at work or walk away from your belongings without hestitation…these days you have to think twice about that.
As we passed by Alghaba Street at night, the hollow stalls of numerous handicraft vendors stood empty. This juncture of this particular street is famous for street vendors, mainly from S. Sudan selling beautifully crafted artwork from ebony and bones. When I asked a question to no one in particular, what is going to happen to all these guys?…will they return to S. Sudan. I was met by a unexpectant response from the taxi driver. “Come July we’ll show them.”
To me, these incidences demonstrated the clear disintegration of a society and its social, economic and moral foundations. Meanwhile, high-end cafes were primarily packed with young, well to do college students. So far removed from reality. It seems that everyone in Khartoum seems to in some sort of valium-induced state of coherency. No one wants to see the clear signs upon then or maybe or maybe disregard for these changing times is a coping mechanism. As everyone struggles to put food on the table….nationalist propoganda is turning fellow countrymen against each other.
During my short stay, many didn’t have a clue to the extend of unrest taking place between the border regions. The exchange of unfriendly fire between North and South… no one even knew it was taking place. The country is slowly approaching its boiling point and most citizens are numb to the pain. Have they been burned far too many times to feel the sting this round? I worry and this recent trip has only added to my worries. Not only is it becoming increasingly harder to live day by day… the moral foundation that was engrained in me, that I have always equated with Sudan is no longer there.