Thursday, January 28, 2010

let's talk about ...

one of my listening and speaking classes.

when i showed up to teach at al-neelain university, i wasn't given a syllabus or curriculum so much as a course name: 'listening and speaking.'

basically, my goal is to get the students to talk - and to listen to each other talk. seeing as how what we talk about is left completely up to me, i try to pick meaningful topics. so far, we've covered censorship, cultural taboos, the environment, gender equality and ... soccer.

but i'm running low on ideas these days. so, today, fresh off a two-week 'winter' break, i opened it up to my second-year students. what, i asked, do you want to talk about? here's their unedited list:

-the upcoming elections
-women's rights
-sudanese culture
-stray animals
-acid attacks
-the world cup
-corporal punishment
-life style
-how to stay healthy

and there you have it, my curriculum for the upcoming semester. sort of.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

sounds of sudan

most days i spend working at an ngo in amarat, a small khartoum neighborhood that's a fair ways away from where i live. in the morning, mostly out of laziness, i get an amjad (i hope i'm spelling/ transliterating that correctly) straight to work. amjads are a small step down from taxis, sort of compact minivans that look (and feel) like they're made out of aluminum. you have to negotiate your price up front.

my morning conversation usually goes something like this:

me (with terrible arabic accent): asalaam alaikum! (hello!).
amjad driver: wa alaikum assalaam. (right back at you.)
me: ana mashi al amarat. sharia mohammed najeeb wa sharia saba hamseen. tamam? (i'm going to amarat. mohammed najeeb and 57th streets. you dig?)
amjad driver: aywa (yeah. obviously.)
me: kum? (how much?)
amjad driver: khamsatasha. (because you're a foreigner, 15 pounds.)
me: la. katir. ashara? (no way. that's way too much. and i'm not stupid. how about 10 pounds?)
amjad driver: ok (ok. but don't get too excited. this trip should only be 8 pounds.)

after that, i get in, the amjad driver figures out he's heard just about every single word i know of arabic and we drive silently to amarat. (or he actually tries to talk to me and we just keep saying the same words over and over again -- only each time we say them a little bit louder. because, you know, the louder you are, the more the other person understands.)

anyhow. after i get off work, i'm feeling a little less lazy and a little poorer, so i take the bus (only 40 sudanese cents!) back to my flat. (more on the fun adventure that is every bus ride later). but the bus does not offer the door-to-door ease of an amjad, so i'm stuck walking a mile or so.

now to the real point of this post: walking sort of wakes you up. at least it does me. it makes you a bit more aware, more aware of directions and smells and people and ... sounds.

see, khartoum has a soundtrack all its own. i guess that's true of any city, but this one, well, it just seems so right, so perfect for the constant movement of sudan's capital.

i was going to try to describe it in a blog post, but when i tried to sit down and write, words didn't work. so, the other day, i took an audio recorder with me and flipped it on for a few minutes of my walk home.

my advice: close your eyes, press play and imagine streets full of sand and cars and shops and people and random telephone chargers for sale.

close your eyes, press play and listen to khartoum.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

now what?

new posts should be coming soon. good stuff, too, i swear. maybe even audio and video.

but! until then, i thought i'd post a link to a washington post story from a couple years ago. it's a first-person account of a journalist caught up in khartoum's crazy bureaucracy for an entire day.

i haven't been detained by police -- at least not yet -- but the experience is still pretty true to the way things work in sudan. whether you're being interrogated or you just want to get a photo permit, you're politely shuffled from office to office, offered drink after drink, and often left without any idea of what's going on or what comes next.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

sx sudan

deanna recently arrived in khartoum. along with a nice little bit of home, she brought with her an sx-70 polaroid camera and some tz artistic film that i had ordered after i arrived in sudan. i have just a few packs to last me until i get to ethiopia in late june, so i've only taken three shots. here they are:

(wall i passed by while wandering through khartoum)

(deanna in my flat)

(my front door. welcome!)

(p.s. it's raining! the first time since I got here almost two and a half months ago. makes me think of portland and its slick streets. khartoum's mostly just get muddy; there's no stopping the dust here.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

so fast

a while back, i started putting together a stop-motion video of the area (and apartment) i called home when i first moved back to portland in 2008. this all happened nearly a year ago. i finally finished it about a week ago -- in sudan no less. it has, obviously, nothing to do with khartoum or sudan or my latest adventure. but i still thought i'd share it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

suddenly sudanese

hassa hissa, sudan.

it’s been a full two months – to the day! – since i stepped off the plane, the warm khartoum air hit my face and i got my fist look at this duty country. two months. it’s hard for me to imagine that i've been here that long. time passes so quickly when you spend entire days trying to figure out how to buy a tomato.

anyhow, two months gone means i have just over five months left before i leave for asia. it's about time i start to blog in earnest. it's about time i start to write about khartoum and sudan and the things i've seen here. right now it all seems so distinct and unforgettable, but i know it will all leave me just a few short months after i leave it.

i remember when i first started telling people i was moving to sudan. more often than not, i got some warning along the lines of “don’t die.” sudan, of course, is a place known best by media accounts of civil war, genocide and poverty. but, there's more to it than all of that. sudan is also a place of extreme kindness and – if you let yourself see it – beauty. a place where people spend their entire lives without knowing conflict.

there's no one "true" sudan. just a collection of personal narratives, personal stories. i plan to share mine here.