I started writing this letter yesterday, but then postponed the completion until today. Thus, it will not be published on an exclusively good-natured note, but rather with a bitter aftertaste. How much can change in a single night, how quickly the world can be turned upside down for some. Again. And again.
In the morning, news broke from Sudan that the country is once more in the grip of clashes between two internal military forces that want to take over power, or perhaps spark another civil war because instability probably suits certain external entities. It doesn’t matter why. The people who deposed a dictator and made it clear that they wanted a civilian government remain cheated, now again in fear of what tomorrow will bring. Sadly, the violence is happening again in the last gasps of the fasting month, when people should be preparing to celebrate Eid with family and friends.
Let this recently told true anecdote from Sudan serve as a reminder that neither dictators nor military coups can erase Sudanese virtues. Tamer conveyed it to me after a telephone conversation with his younger sister, who laughingly told him about an unusual incident at their home in Khartoum.
“It’s still customary for people to show up unannounced at the door. Even today, when everyone has a phone, they don’t call in advance,” Tamer tells me.
“I remember this as well from my childhood,” I tell him, “we also used to visit each other without notice. But with cell phones, that (at least in our circles) went out of fashion.”
“Yes, I’m sure. It always bothered me. I would ask my father each time to call before we go to visit someone… But in Sudan, there is this unwritten rule that in case of an announcement, the hosts should make special preparations and not skimp with a feast. That’s exactly why many people don’t want to call, because they don’t want to be the reason to inconvenience the host.”
Tamer’s distant relatives, who wanted to visit Tamer’s family in Khartoum last week, also had that in mind. They didn’t call before, they just went ahead. They wanted to surprise them for iftar, the evening meal after a day of fasting. Upon knocking the door, they realized no one was home. So they just let themselves in. Nothing unusual, that’s how it is in Sudan. Unlocked doors are the norm. They brought food with them so as not to be a burden to their hosts. The azan announced the end of fasting at sundown, and the guests served the food brought from plastic containers onto the plates that were at hand. They broke their fast and ate their fill. At one point, one of the family members finally realized, they were in the wrong house. That Tamer’s parents live on the other side of the concrete wall. That they had just eaten iftar from other people’s plates, that they were sitting on their neighbors’ beds.
After realizing their mistake, the modern-day Goldilocks finally set out to knock on the right door. Apparently, it has been a very long time since their last visit for such a misunderstanding to happen.
“Did they at least wash the dishes before they left???”
“That was also my first question,” Tamer replied with a broad smile, who was put in a really good mood by his sister’s story.
They did. They washed the dishes and later returned with an apology and an explanation of what happened during the absence of the owners of the house.
“Something like this can truly only happen in Sudan,” we agreed.