“Did you choose the color you were born with?” asks the man sitting next to me sipping tea.
He is dressed in a typical flowing Muslim garment, with a white turban wrapped around the top of his head.
“No,” I reply.
“Correct, you can only choose how you wish to treat one another,” he responds with a smile.
True, and one day the world will hopefully start making better choices.
“Inshallah,” he says, which roughly translates into: God willing. Many conversations end with this same statement in Sudan and throughout the Islamic world.
The tea never stops flowing in the side streets of downtown Khartoum; these special locations also serve as local community gathering haunts. In these places men gather to discuss things like politics, religion or soccer.
“Excuse me,” he says, “I must go and pray now.”
It’s the start of Ramadan, the month of fasting in the Islamic religion. During
daylight hours, Muslims skip meals as an act of austerity. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice and sympathy for those who are less fortunate, the intention is to make Muslims more generous and charitable.
Another consistent part of my conversations center on the west’s perception of Sudan.
“How do you get Sudan?” Or in other words, what is your impression of Sudan?
The Sudanese are very tuned into the west’s perception of the country and state of affairs. The people of Sudan are aware their government has given refuge to terrorist elements in the past, and are eager to tell the world that the ordinary people of Sudan do not support this.
Almost everywhere I go, people ask me if I have seen any terrorists.
I wouldn’t know a terrorist if I saw him or her, unless it was Bin Laden. I didn’t get into the conversation that everyone looks like a terrorist in Sudan, especially if you look at the images portrayed in the Hollywood movies.
“Consider yourself among your family,” says a Sufi follower.
Sufi is a mystic branch of Islam.
“Our religious leaders here instruct us to respect everybody; they instruct us not to discriminate against others, but to share the love of God with everyone. I hope in the near future we are united against poverty. Poverty is a common enemy for all of mankind no matter what your religious beliefs may be,” says the Sufi follower.
I smile and thank him for sharing his thoughts as he prepares for the Friday evening ritual. A circle is formed outside the tomb of Hamed al-Nil, and members of the sect begin singing and chanting. Those in the circle take off their shoes and begin dancing. I’m told the circle is Holy ground and thus no shoes are allowed. Then unexpectedly someone invites me into the circle. So, I slip off my shoes and share in the sweet sacred moments of the Sufis.
One evening I find myself as the guest of a young man called Hafiz. Hafiz insists I visit his home village of Metama, situated along the edge of the Nile.
After meeting family members, we walk down to the Nile River greeting people along the way and watch the sun set. On our way, Hafiz overhears a conversation in one of the small shops between two people, which he translates for me.
“Where’s this man from?”
“He’s from America.”
“He had better hope George Bush does not find out he is here.”
“Because when he returns home, they will surely send him to Abu Ghraib!”
They both laugh.
Later in the evening while lying on top of my bed that was drug out into the family courtyard, I fall asleep under a star filled sky, wondering what my greeting will be when I do finally come home.