Tag Archives: Sudan

Speaking about Sudan novel at Vancouver Public Library

By Alison Bate

Hi! I’ll be joining four other authors at the Vancouver Public Library this Sunday to talk about my upcoming debut novel.

The novel’s set in Sudan, where I taught English for a while, and tells the story of three very different women confronting their individual fears. Fatima, the second of three wives, faces poverty; her cousin Nadia fears for the health of her Down’s baby; and Jodi, a travel-loving westerner, fears a conventional life.

I write about the Muslim way of life in the tri-cities of Omdurman, Khartoum and Khartoum North (Bahri), a capital region dealing with the aftermath of civil wars, blazing desert heat, power cuts and constant traffic jams.

I’ll be reading from my novel and answering any questions at the New Voices event, along with four other authors: Suzanne Chiasson, Roxanne Barbour, AK White and Joan B Flood.

BlognewvoicesVPL100

DETAILS:
Date: Sunday, April 30, 2017 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Venue: Vancouver Public Library, 350 W. Georgia St., Vancouver. B.C. Alma VanDusen Room, Lower Level.
Price: Free!

From Darfur to Salt Lake City

I had just boarded the ferry at Horseshoe Bay in Canada when my cellphone rang.

The line crackled and it took a while to realize who it was.

“Is that you, Mohammed*?

“Yes! I am here! I am so happy – everyone is so kind.”

“Where are you?”

I learned he was finally in Salt Lake City in the western U.S. It was the end of five long years in limbo in Turkey, desperately waiting to find a country that would take him in.

I first met Mohammed in the dusty desert capital of Khartoum in Sudan. It was 2007, and I was teaching English there. He was one of my more advanced students, always working hard to improve his English.

I left Sudan and the school later that year but kept in touch with Mohammed by email and Facebook. He completed his studies at Sudan University of Science & Technology, but had a difficult time in Khartoum and his time in Darfur before that is his story to tell, not mine.

The next thing I knew, it was 2008 and he’d fled to Turkey as an asylum seeker. Two years later, he received formal recognition as a refugee. However, Turkey only gives temporary asylum to refugees from non-European Union countries. So, like many others, Mohammed was stuck waiting for another country to take him in.

I tried to get him accepted by Canada, but had no luck with the United Nations refugee agency in Vancouver. In the end, it was the U.S. that accepted him.

Last week, five long years after he fled Sudan, Mohammed arrived in the United States to begin his new life.

Welcome to North America, Mohammed, and may your future be bright.

*NOTE: Mohammed is not his real name

[Posted by Alison Bate on Sept. 29, 2013]

Bitmakaly helps immigrant women

My Sudanese friend Lubna Abdelrahman is a very enterprising lady.

In the last 18 months, she has set up an organisation to help immigrant women and their families and is also busy writing articles for and promoting the new Alqalam Arabic newspaper in the Vancouver area.

Lubna Abdelrahman speaking at Edmonds School, Burnaby, BC (Pix by Richard Greenwood)

Pix Kathy Corrigan

Kathy Corrigan, MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake (Pix by Richard Greenwood)

Her new outfit, Bitmakaly Women’s Association, hosted a community fair at Edmonds Community School on Feb.25.

One of the guest speakers, Burnaby-Deer Lake MLA Kathy Corrigan, told the audience that even though Canadians believed in equality, Canadian women still only made two-thirds the money that men did.

As a result, it was even more important to encourage immigrant women and their families and help them settle into their new country effectively, she added.

Lubna described new workshops she is setting up to help women with a Middle Eastern, Sudanese or Somalian background set up new businesses and learn more about financial institutions in Canada.

“I know it’s very hard. Most new businesses don’t know how to sell their products. You are not alone. We will try to help you,” she said.

Lubna worked for the Ministry of Health for UNICEF in Sudan before moving to Burnaby, B.C. with her husband more than 10 years ago.

Since then, she has worked as an outreach worker, community health worker, program coordinator, translator and hosted numerous workshops. She is also kept busy raising two young daughters.

Bitmakaly Women’s Association (also known as Bitmakaly Women’s Empowerment Organization) can also be contacted on 778-919-1208 or via their Facebook site.

Sufi dancers in Omdurman

Pix Sufi dancers in Omdurman

 

Sufi dancers in Omdurman

It seemed an indelicate way to arrive at a religious ceremony. We bumped in, out and around gravestones set in desert scrub, before pulling up in the minivan in front of a huge circle of men in white robes.

The pounding beat got louder as we walked to the edges of the circle and saw what they were all watching: green, red and leopard-clothed mystics swirling and dancing in a hypnotic fashion in the middle of the circle.

Their faces told the story: blissful is the only way to describe it. The bumpy ride forgotten, all things forgotten but the compelling dancing, chanting and smiling faces.

It was Friday evening in Omdurman and I’d never seen the Sufi dancers before, despite living in Sudan for five months in 2007. At the time it seemed too touristy, and a long way to go on my one day off a week. Big mistake. Continue reading

Sudan suffers separation pains

The old and the new in Khartoum (taken from Omdurman).

By Alison Bate

The capital of Sudan feels a little lost and empty these days.

The distinctive Dinkas – the impossibly tall, thin Southerners – and their fellow compatriots have mostly left Khartoum for their new homeland and the deadline for the rest to leave is just months away.

After April 9, 2012, any southerners remaining will become stateless or, if they are lucky, have to get work visas like other foreigners.

The new country of South Sudan, born on the 9th of July, has taken with it the biggest chunk of Sudan’s oil revenues and Khartoum seems totally unprepared for the loss of all that money.

It will have to find new ways to make an income and meanwhile the residents of Khartoum and its sister cities of Omdurman and Khartoum North are hurting as prices shoot upward.

“Everybody want to leave Sudan. Why you come to Sudan from Canada?” asked one resident, only half-joking.

The price of a sheep shot up to between 400 and 700 Sudanese Pounds (SP) for the Haj earlier this year – the religious occasion when every family buys a sheep.

Translating this into US dollars is not even easy, as there’s a huge gap between the official exchange rate and what you can get on the black market. Continue reading

pix of man in Kassala

10 travel tips for Sudan

1. Take lots of US dollars in cash, in fact everything you’ll need, as none of your western ATMs or credit cards will be accepted.

2. Change money on the black market, not in banks or official exchanges. As of Dec.1, 2011 you’ll get about 4.2 Sudanese pounds to $1 US on the black market, compared with only about 2.75 SP to the dollar officially.
To change money in downtown Khartoum, the moneychangers’ area is near the Al Kabir mosque, on the northeast side, where they also sell cellphones, ones that likely fell off the back of a truck. Just wander along and you’ll hear plenty of murmurings of: “Change dollars?”

3. If you are travel light or backpacking, don’t bother with a big towel (you’ll dry quickly without one) or lots of soap, toothpaste etc (all readily available and cheap).

4. If you like reading, bring a few books or your e-Reader as pickings are pretty slim for English books, and more likely of the deadly “Elements Of English Grammar” kind.

5. If you want to meet up with local people, everyone uses a cellphone in Sudan and they’re really useful. A cheap cellphone is about $10 US, then pick up a Zain SIM card for about 5 SP ($1.25 US) and a 10 SP top-up card (about $2.50). Continue reading

Coffee and lamb fright in Kassala

Pix Alison Bate and Sudanese man in Kassala

Drinking Ethiopian coffee in Kassala, East Sudan

By Alison Bate

I went to look at the striking Taka Mountains yesterday, but as is the way in Sudan, never quite made it, sidetracked by friendly people at the street cafes.

I’m in a cute little town called Kassala, a long, eight-hour bus ride east of Khartoum. The bare mountains rise up suddenly out of the desert and pulled me toward them. I was heading there when I wandered by a store selling all kinds of luscious desserts. I bought a Sudanese baklava, which you order by weight (so I couldn’t just get one), and sat down to eat them. Continue reading

Khartoum at dawn

I ‘ve just arrived in Khartoum after a four-year gap, and this morning between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., it was pretty magical.

Pix Khartoum shepherds

Khartoum shepherds feed their flock in the early morning

After a sleepless, jetlagged night, I went up to the rooftop of the Bougainvilla Guest House, where I’m staying.

It was still dark, the moon and stars were out, and a cool breeze swept across the patio. Four or five mosques started competing with each other, and the mullahs’ prayers bounced all around the darkened city.

I stayed up there until the skies began to lighten, and the sun landed on the concrete buildings below and little birds with fanned tails flitted around the dirt streets. Khartoum by day is a hot and dusty city, so it was neat to see it this way.

No one in the city seemed in a hurry to wake up. A donkey cart and driver ambled across the dirt square below, and the air smelled of burnt sand. I wandered along one of the streets, where a few sleepy people were heading to work.

And after breakfast I’ll have all the fun of sorting out registering with the police and getting a SIM card.

(Posted Sat. Nov.19, 2011 by Alison Bate)

Selecting tech toys for my trip to Sudan

I can pack a backpack or suitcase for a trip in under an hour, but deciding what tech toys to take is another ballgame altogether.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching cellphones and agonizing about whether to take my beloved Macbook with me.

I’m meeting various friends in Khartoum, and everyone uses cellphones there. But of course, many Canadian cellphones (sigh) – including my own – don’t work outside North America. The cellphone with my Telus account doesn’t even have a SIM card, and I foolishly gave away my old unlocked FIDO phone, which would work overseas. I toyed with buying one of Future Shop or 7/11 ‘s unlocked phones, but all the online research drained my limited shopping energy.

So while in Bahrain on a second tedious eight-hour stopover, I bought a $27 US Nokia 1616. Hopefully, it’ll work with a Sudanese SIM card. I’m sure it will – the Sudanese seem to do cellphones better than Canada.

As for my MacBook, I couldn’t face worrying about losing it (and all my pix and personal data). So two days before leaving, I bought a cheapo HP 10.1” Intel Atom N455 Netbook for $249 plus tax from Nanaimo’s Future Shop. Asked them to load Skype and VLC to save time, and set up the Arabic version too. My friend David kindly installed a spare copy of Microsoft Office, and I was all set to go.

My other toy – definitely an indulgence – is a Zoom H4Ns digital recorder that cost $319 plus tax from Tom Lee’s store in downtown Vancouver. It replaces my fancy Sony minidisc recorder, which is basically obsolete after four years of minimal use, and had annoying proprietary software that never worked. The new Zoom seems to download MP3s easily via a USB port. Thank you, Zoom.

And, of course, when I got to Khartoum (just last night) all I wanted to do was write longhand in a ruled notebook . . .

(Posted Saturday, Nov.19, 2011 by Alison Bate)

The ancient history of Sudanese perfumes

South African-based Sophia Shuttleworth has written a well-researched and fascinating article about Sudanese perfumes on her African Aromatics website.

Sophia, who describes herself as a artisan perfumer, starts out this way: “On Sunday 9 July 2011, South Sudan seceded from Sudan and became the world’s youngest country. The conflict in Sudan has been well documented, but little attention has been paid to the crafts and arts of Sudan.

Few people realize what a rich reservoir to the aromatic past Sudan is, and that Sudan once played a vital role in history of Perfumery and the trade of aromatics. . .” See Sudan’s Aromatic Culture for the rest of the article, which also discusses Bint el Sudan.