Wednesday, April 28, 2010

better (at) looking after

one question from one student's oral exam:

me: are men or women better at looking after children and why?
student: men. yeah ... men. women usually get bigger after they're pregnant.
me: um, huh ... oh! no. 'looking after' means 'taking care of.' who is better at taking care of children?
student: oh. ok. women.

(note: for the past week or so, my life has been consumed by exam writing, grant writing, cover-letter writing and jonathan safran foer's writing. hopefully i'll be back and blogging with a vengeance soon.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

the early hours

not far from my house, a tea lady has set up shop under the bougainvillea blooms.

on the way to souk al arabi.

a bicyclist carries bags of bread on his handle bars.

a nearby alley filled with air conditioners.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

obsessive consumption (sudan style)*


for the past five months, i've been wandering around sudan with a camo-green backpack. i look like an idiot. but a week ago, my life changed. see, i finally picked up a handmade leather satchel that i'd ordered a month or so earlier from a khartoum artist/ leather worker.

these days, i probably still look like an idiot, but it's not because of the bag.

*i was gonna post a real picture of the bag, but that seemed boring somehow. so i decided to draw it instead. the style, you might notice, was inspired by a portland-based blog, obsessive consumption, that i'm pretty , um, obsessed(?) with. if you want to see the actual satchel, click here.

Friday, April 16, 2010


there's this shop right around the corner from where i live. i stop by most every day. i stop by for little mini cakes wrapped in plastic, strawberry yogurt and diet coke. i stop by for chocolate bars, ketchup-flavored chips and sometimes tea. i stop by often enough that the man behind the counter knows me pretty well.

tonight, on my way home from omdurman, i passed by the shop. six men were sitting in a tight circle under the store's fluorescent glow. i've been in sudan long enough to know what that sort of circle means. it means food. meals here are almost always eaten in a group. always shared.

anyhow, as i passed by, six heads shot up and looked my way. the shopkeeper smiled. "fadal," he said. welcome. sit down. eat with us. and he really meant it.

"shukrun," i said as i shook my head and rubbed my stomach. i'm hoping that translated, somehow, to "thanks. really. but i just ate."

this happens all the time here. fadal. welcome. sit down. eat with us. it happens so often that i'm starting to treat it as a matter of course. but i shouldn't. so, i'm writing about it here.

fadal. welcome. sit down. eat with us.

Monday, April 12, 2010

my walking shoes

the insoles from my trusty converse.

i've been in sudan for 151 days. give or take. on at least 149 of those 151 days, i've worn a pair of white chucks i brought with me (at the last minute) from home. as it turns out, sudan's dusty -- and, more often that not, unpaved -- roads haven't been very kind to them (see above banner.)

the rubber toe bits are cracking. the canvass is stained and tearing, and i'm pretty sure i'll never be able to get rid of the sand that's constantly rattling around inside them. what's more, i realized a few days ago that i've actually managed to wear holes through the insoles.

i'm hoping i can still get a good 76-some days out of these guys. by then, i'll be on my way to ethiopia, and hopefully kate can bring me a new pair.

so, while i can't do much to solve those first few problems, the insoles, i figured, could be replaced. a few days ago, on my way home from work, i stopped by a shoe repairman who regularly sets up shop along al-hurriya street, a stretch known mostly for electronics.

i showed him my problem, and he offered me a solution: a pair of replacement insoles made out of carpet. they set me back 1 sudanese pound, or about 40 u.s. cents.

my new, stylin' carpet insoles installed. don't be jealous.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

election day(s)

poster of omar al-bashir not far from neelain university. it's been up ever since i arrived in november.

so, it's election day in sudan.

the streets were nearly empty this morning. shops were closed, their metal doors firmly pulled shut. jackson station, the sweaty, frenetic knot of people i squeeze through must every day was clam.

it's the first time in more than 20 years that sudan has held elections. balloting will last three days -- today, tomorrow and the day after. and three days after that, the results should be ready.

the elections have always felt like sort of a landmark for my time here. even before i came, election day seemed like it would be some sort of a turning point. one of those events that split an experience into everything that came before and everything that came after.

now it seems so much less momentous. the opposition parties have all withdrawn from the presidential election. that means the current president omar al-bashir is the only choice. there's no doubt he'll win.

so that leaves one question. what happens after the votes are cast and counted?

i guess we're about to get an answer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

back to the desert

despite the whole getting-lost-in-the-desert thing, i went for another trek up north to see the pyramids last weekend. this time i made it. but my digital camera did not. (i forgot the memory card.)

still, i did get two shots with my sx-70 and tz artistic film. i'm also posting some of the shots i took the weekend before at the lion temple. i only have six exposures left of the tz artistic film; need to make them count!

a pyramid at begrawiya.

statue at the lion temple.

pillar at the lion temple.

foot prints in the sand at begrawiya. sort of.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

show and tell and eat

show and tell is sort of hit or miss these days. some of the students go all out, get really creative. others try to show and tell their wrist watch.

a couple weeks back, one enterprising student made me lunch:


it probably doesn't look so appetizing. but, i swear, this is good stuff. it's called gorasa. or at the pancake-y bread soaked in the meat and tomato sauce is called gorasa.

apparently, this isn't a one-time deal, either. last week the same student brought me fish and promised there would be more to come this thursday. she feels bad, she said, that i'm all alone in sudan with no mother to cook for me.

i didn't argue.

Monday, April 5, 2010


three of us set out for help.

you know those idiots who get themselves stuck somewhere completely unprepared? it usually happens on the side of some frozen mountain or in the middle of some boiling desert?

i'm one of them.

a week or so ago, i joined a group of volunteers on a desert expedition to go see some of the ruins scattered throughout northern sudan. allegedly, you should be able to hit up two sets of temples and a group of pyramids all within a day. allegedly.

we set out at about 8 a.m. -- 11 of us -- in a van without four-wheel drive. by 1 p.m. or so, we were off-roading in the desert, only a few huts in sight. by about 2 p.m. we were stuck in a patch of particularly powder-fine sand. some of us set out for help, while the rest of us went about sticking rocks under the tire, pushing the back of the van and sweating.

it took about an hour or two before a group of foreigners also heading to the temples spotted us, took pictures of us and pulled our van out of the sand. it took us about 30 minutes after that to get suck again. seriously. this time we were able to get the van unstuck ourselves and -- miraculously -- we actually found the site we were looking for.

great. except that on the way back -- just as the sun had set -- our driver decided he had got turned around, reversed course, and got the van stuck again. yeah, that's three times. just in case you're counting. i know i was.

so, while the other volunteers went about climbing on top of the van to call the police, setting dry bushes on fire and tracking down random dogs, i listened to some seabear while curled up inside the van.

at about 2 a.m., the police actually managed the find us. how, i'm not really sure. but they brought us a nice tank of water, which was great because, true to form, we didn't bring nearly enough water. right.

on the upside, we did get a shout out in one of the arabic dailies.

apparently the police had to respond to some group of foreigners stuck in the northern sudanese desert. they were found dirty, sick and thirsty. or so the story goes.


this is us stuck. exciting, huh?

this is the desert we spent a good 12 hours getting to know.

the lion temple. finally.