Monday, May 30, 2011

Documenting Earlier Abuses

This month, three journalists are facing trial for writing about Safia Ishaq's gang-rape by security agents in Khartoum last February.

Amal Habbani's trial is on the 9th of June.
Omer Al-Garrai is on the 21st of June, and Faisal Mohammed is the 28th of June.

Support them by campaigning for them and attending their trials!

To give you some background, I wrote this in Feburary.

Sudanese people have never before witnessed the extent of these abuses. In the last two decades, thousands have been subjected to disabling torture at the hands of intelligence officers and security men in what have came to be known as ghost houses. These are two of the many stories:

Marwa Al Tijani, an Arts student at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, begins, “I was arrested at 4 p.m., my friends and I started walking away from the protest after security officials cracked down on the protesters and started arresting people. Out of nowhere, a normal car pulls up in front of us and two men wearing civilian attire came out of the car and one of them pointed a gun to my face and asked us to get in the car.”

This is the story of Marwa Al Tijani, an Arts student at the University of Khartoum in Sudan.

Al-Tijani was arrested on 3 February in a protest in Bahri in north of the Sudanese capital. When she arrived at the police station, insults were hurdled at her and she was savagely whipped while she was interrogated about her tribe, her family, and living conditions.

Al-Tijani remembers hearing the loud screams of men in nearby cells as they were beaten with whips and canes: “I saw a young man named Ahmed. They shaved his hair off and they were making fun of him as they beat him mercilessly.” Although she did not know Ahmed, she could not stop crying as she heard him scream out of pain in the next room. "They beat him for over an hour and kept telling me that he deserves it," she remembers.

Then they brought a badly-beaten Ahmed into her interrogation room,and one of the men said, “This is the man you are romantically and sexually involved with.”

Marwa continues, “They used such explicit sexual terms. I couldn’t even look at him, his body was covered in wounds. They kept saying, 'Look at him , he is weak and scared, do you still want him?'"

Marwa had never met Ahmed, but they were arrested at the same protest. This was enough for a connection between them in the eyes of the security men. “They proceeded to ask me about our relationship and they kept focusing on our sexual relationship. They kept insulting me and Ahmed, you can’t even imagine what they said. I didn’t say a word, but Ahmed fought back after each and every word they said to us,” Marwa recalls.

The ordeal continued until very late: "At 2 a.m., I was released after they made sign a document stating that I would not take part in any protests."

Although the government denies "ghost houses" exist, the Sudanese President of Sudan, in a slip of tongue in May 2009 during talks with journalists, confirmed they exist. Activists have been died there, including Ali Fadol, Mohammed Abdel Salam, and Abd Al Moniem Salman.

I knew Ali Fadol. He was arrested an hour after he returned home from a party my parents threw for me. His hair, strand by strand, was plucked out of his scalp. His body was so badly deformed that the state would not hand over his corpse to his family.

Ali Mohamed Osman, a politically active student of Economics at the University of Khartoum, was arrested on 14 February in Omdurman along with two members of the Umma National Party. He was tortured by six men for an entire day before his release.

A Facebook group by the name of “The Popular Uprising” has tried to organise mass protests, but police forces so far have surrounded marchers and arrested dozens. Amongst the detained were the two sons of Mubarak Al-Fadil, a well-known Sudanese opposition leader, and many students not affiliated with any party.

The security forces are now on a binge. The National Intelligence Security Service (NISS), the notorious force known for its human rights violations, has the authority to arbitrarily detain any Sudanese citizen indefinitely without trial. All members of the NISS have immunity from getting prosecution.

One more story: Safia Ishag, a graduate of Fine Art and an activist was kidnapped this in front of her house in Khartoum. At the headquarters of the NISS, she was gang-rapped by three officers before she was dumped on a road in Northern Khartoum. When the hospital's rape report was presented to a police station, it was rejected with the demand that she be examined by the doctor at the police hospital.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Where is Safia now?

Do you know anything about her?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Console me

I have lost relatives and friends before, but I wasn't in touch with them right before their death.
This time it is different.

My boss passed away last Friday and I can't seem to get any work done.

I just email people the news about his death and reply to their sad emails, consoling them. I listen to his students, colleagues and friends burst into tears and lock themselves in his office. I hear their loud cries through the walls.

There are only six of us in the office and three were gone this week so its only me and two other men. My desk is currently in the hallway between the director and the late deputy director's offices. If you want to enter the late deputy director's office, you basically have to run into me.

They come everyday to offer their condolences. Men and women...mostly young women. They break down in my office, some weep in my arms as I try to console them. I get them water and encourage them to drink to calm down. Then they unlock the door to his office and close the door behind them. I always thought that Hollywood movies over-dramatize scenes of grief, but maybe they don't. On Sunday, one of his former students came to the office. She weeped hysterically, her body was shaking uncontrollably. After a few minutes, she got up and went into his office. I really didn't know what to do.

"He was my only friend, I have noone left," she told me. She repeated this sentence for a few minutes.


I heard her say " why did you leave me, why did you have to die?"


I left her alone in his office, worried for her sanity.


I don't spin on my chair anymore. I just sit there staring at the screen. When I get up to get a glass of water, a cup of sweet tea or use the toilet, I look at the floor. His office is right behind me and I don't want to look inside.

I'm wary at first, but I feel the need to step inside his office one last time. The first thing I see is a note I put on his desk. It reads "PLEASE SIGN THIS".

A pink sticky note caught my attention. Seven names are written on it, they are divided into two groups. The first group died in the accident, the second group survived except him.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I am not...

Jamal Mahjoub.

I guess some readers look at the quote I have under the blog name and think I'm Jamal Mahjoub. Not that Jamal Mahjoub is known for quoting himself ( although he should).
So read the "about me" part :)

I have to admit that I have the biggest crush on Jamal Mahjoub. He is a great writer and one of my ultimate inspirations.

Read his recent interview with Ahdaf Souief.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Death ...always takes us by surprise

Last night, I received a strange message from a friend

"Hey reem, this is sara, Q asked me to check up on u he is really worried plz reply asap"

I replied telling her "I'm fine and tell Q , I'm gonna call him on skype later". Two minutes later, a guy called Amro calls me asking me the same thing. Q gave him my number to check up on me. I said I was fine and asked him to send me Q's number.

Q is a friend not living in Sudan. I texted Q telling him I was fine and why is he worried? was a common friend hurt?"

My sister and I assumed that he heard about the accident on the bridge next to my house. We basically had to reverse the car halfway through the bridge and take the other lane. But the accident on the bridge wasn't even fatal.

Half an hour ago, I get a phone call from the finance officer at work. I pick up and he tells me the bad news. My boss has passed away in a car crash on the way back to Khartoum. Another colleague is in the hospital.

I tell him, I get it now, my friend thought I was with them in the car.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this. I just started this job a week ago and my boss gave me the secretary's office (she is on leave) so I'm right next to him if I need any help with work. I basically spend the whole day emailing him, calling him or in his office asking questions. He has been very helpful, introducing me to people and telling me to meet writers on my own to get used to work.

On Thursday, I asked my other colleague ( the one currently in the hospital) for a favor. So he drove me to the science building and helped me sign up for the bus so I don't have to drive or ask my sister to drive me to work everyday.

When I went back to my office. I was basically done with work, but spent a few minutes skyping a friend and sending my boss one final email. My boss came out of his office and asked me to close the door when I decide to leave. He said he is going out for a bit. I was probably the last person from work to see him.

It is true what they say, all events before a person's death are very normal. Thursday was a normal day. He told me to send all my emails to his gmail account because I'm bombarding his work email. It was normal. He told me to have a nice weekend and we will meet on Sunday.....

البقاء لله
May he rest in peace

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The job

I have a lot to write about, but I've recently started working at the University of Khartoum and I'm currently overwhelmed with having a full-time job for the first time in a while.

I will be back this weekend :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

The story of Awadia

Previously published (

Sometimes when I describe my house to my friends, I tell them to get off the Omdurman bridge and go straight after they see “Awadia Fishes” to their right. Awadia has become a landmark in Omdurman, hundreds of people commute from Khartoum and Bahri to eat Awadia’s fish. When you go there, you probably wouldn’t see her sitting at the reception desk, if you look outside the new, fairly-modern restaurant, you will see a woman of significant size dressed in black sitting on a tiny metal chair under the boiling sun.

After years of observing “Awadia Fishes” expand in size and grow in popularity, I decided to find Awadia, the woman no-one knows much about.

Someone told me she galavants around on one leg.

Does she even exist?

She exists.

Her chocolate-brown skin glistens under the skin and her larger-than-life personality strikes you every-time she utters a word or gives you a smile. She said she feels self-concious when she smiles because half of her teeth are missing. She remains beautiful despite years of living in grinding poverty, sitting under the sun and walking for miles because she couldn’t afford spending money on transportation.

When I asked her to speak about herself, she told me she was born in the mountains, the Nuba Mountains. She later confessed that she was born and raised in Omdurman, but she still feels loyal to her place of origin. She asked me to write that she is from the Nuba Mountains.

She embodies the repercussions of war. Many were forced to flee the south and move to the safety of the north. Even if they’ve never seen the south, they still feel a connection to it. When you are displaced, you start idolizing your home.

Awadia’s journey with the sea started seventeen years ago.

She was working as a tea-lady in different parts of Omdurman , but she couldn’t make enough money to support her family. One day, she asked her daughter to read the Qu’ran. Her daughter read “Surat Al Baqqara” aloud and Awadia repeated after her since she was illiterate. After she finished reading the sura, Awadia went to sleep. She slept for a long time and in her dreams, she had a life-changing vision.

” If I told you about my vision, you wouldn’t believe me. I saw the sea, people working there, a lot of fishermen and fish. I saw fish everywhere. I woke up and I felt very happy,” she said.

Shortly after that, her neighbor suggested they work as sittat -chai in the area close to the sea.

“I started out as a “sit chai” , I used to make tea, coffee and leigemat,” said Awadia.

Struggling to support her many children, Awadia did the unthinkable and worked after 10 am.

“When I first started working as a sit-chai, all the women left the market area before 10 am because it was unacceptable for them to stay after that, but I had no choice but to stay. I stayed and since I was the only tea-lady there ,I made a lot of extra money.”

To cater to the needs of her growing costumers, she started making traditional Sudanese dishes like Kamoneya and Faseekh. Shortly afterwards, her friend suggested they start making fish. They started buying fish, frying it and selling it.

The building of a restaurant called Golden Gate commenced and the workers building it were helping Awadia’s business grow. She was working day and night to cater to their needs and her income steadily increased. The honeymoon lasted for two to three years until the Council of Omdurman decided to kick out the tea ladies based in that area.

With only a donkey cart, Awadia used to bring fish from the market and sell it at Al Moatamar School in Al-Morada for a little less than a year.

After the Council of Omdurman came under a lot of criticism for its inhumane actions towards the tea ladies, they allowed Awadia to return.

Awadia returned to her old location and continued making fish. As the number of women making fish and tea increased, they started facing problems.

Once again, Awadia had to collect her belongings and find a new place to start from scratch.

Awadia walked for miles under the boiling sun, too poor to afford a tok-tok, she had to find a place as soon as possible.

She finally found a small store in Kenouz, a neighborhood in Omdurman ,but a few weeks later, someone from the neighborhood filed a complaint and she was kicked out.

She rented another store ,yet again she was kicked out because people in that neighborhood filed a complaint.

“They said I attracted too many costumers and women didn’t feel comfortable walking around,” said Awadia.

Being the person she is, she didn’t hold grudges or complain. She gathered her belongings and began looking for another place.

For two weeks, Awadia walked around Omdurman looking for her next venue. She finally found a makeshift tiny store on Al Morada-street. She sat there for hours looking for the owner and when he finally arrived, he refused to rent it to her.

“He left me sitting there, contemplating, attempting to plan my next move. I prayed Duhr and stayed there for hours. When he came back and found me still sitting there, he said yes. Maybe it was God answering my prayers, but he just agreed,” said Awadia.

“3 months later, I had to leave my store. The council said I was blocking the road with my costumers,”added Awadia.

She was looking for a new location. Her many responsibilities encouraged her to persevere against all odds.

Her final stop was her current restaurant. Located only a few minutes away from the Omdurman-Khartoum bridge . It’s next to “Coach Fresh Juices”, a tiny store managed by the former coach of the Hilal Club.

“First Awadia used to tell people that she is situated right next to Coach Fresh , now I tell people I’m next to Awadia Fishes”, said the Coach.

He helped her get the first venue and he also helped her expand into her new restaurant. Her old store is currently where everything is prepared, the new one is modern and caters to families.

Even on a Sunday afternoon, I struggled to find an empty table. It was packed, cars were blocking the road, more people kept arriving. As I entered the restaurant, I saw a group of young women at a table talking and enjoying the fish. The tables are not very close together, giving each group much-needed privacy.

Decades ago, when Awadia, a young girl disabled by polio embarked on a difficult journey called life, she didn’t know what to expect. Through her work as a tea-lady, she served sweet cups of tea to thousands of workers and fishermen. She also inspired poets who came everyday to work on the banks of the nile.

Despite her non-existent educational background, disability and bad luck, she continued to make the best out of each and every opportunity.

Outside her restaurant, a BMW, two land-cruisers and many fancy cars are parked. All her costumers know her by name. They greet her as they walk from their cars to “Awadia Fishes” to eat her signature fish in the comfort of a modern restaurant.

She sits outside in the boiling sun observing her business as if she is a mother watching her baby growing up. Strikingly tall with strong features, she obviously spends a fair amount of time as the observed as well.