Sudan – A place called Soba

MB was chased by a bunch of young Sudanis through a poor Khartoum neighbourhood shouting ‘Khawajha, Khawajha’.

Well maybe ‘chased’ is an exaggeration. And maybe ‘bunch of Sudanis’ is a poor description of some very cute good looking Sudani kids. But ‘poor neighbourhood’ is not an exaggeration. And, oh ya, ‘Khawajha’ is not an insult or a threat. In Middle East Arabic the word means ‘gentleman’. But in the Sudani Arabic it means more accurately a Western guy or Western gentleman.

MB visited the neighbourhood of Soba, which is few kilometres outside Khartoum although still considered part of the greater city, with it’s approx total 10M population. Soba is poor. Very poor. No electricity. No running water. No internet. No sewage or sanitation of any sort. No cars. No roads – just dirt tracks. No shops. No nothing really.

The Soba population live a subsistence lifestyle. They herd goats and sheep and some have cows for milk. Some also have donkeys. A few dogs lie about in the Summer heat and suffer the annoyance of the Soba flies. Herders move goats and sheep to areas where some rudimentary grazing exists. And that’s about it as far as Soba lifestyle and living standards go. The shacks the people live in are same as the ones the animals live in. No different. MB suspects, from the evidence of his own eyes, that people and animals share same accommodation. That’s the way it seemed to MB anyway.

And as in many third world countries, the women have it the hardest. They look after too many children. Cook. Clean. Work with animals. Gather firewood. Satisfy the needs of their men. Make babies. Make more babies. And so it goes. Day in day out. 24/7/365. No let-up. No respite from the hand of cards that life has dealt. They are heroines of Soba. One and all the heroines.

The men were not many in number when MB arrived. YSL reckoned most were gone to the city. Or asleep. Local Soba men might try to earn some money selling fruit or vegetables or bottled water at traffic light intersections in the city. Or maybe some might drive 3-wheeled tuktuk taxis to bring home some meagre takings to Soba families. And try to make it last until next income  windfall. Feed the family and get some basics. Kill a goat and eat some meat. Basics. No luxuries. No ice cream or chocolate. Definitely not. Just eat to survive and think how you might get through the following day. That’s Soba.

Soba is not the kind of place you would go unless you had some locals with you. Two friends from Khartoum (YSL & the wedding groom) plus two Soba locals accompanied MB on the walkabout and looked after him. Introduced him to some of the residents and MB was not too flamboyant or brash with his camera or his general behaviour. MB was amongst people to whom life had given very little and MB did not want to be seen to be glorifying their poverty or their lack of life’s pleasures. MB was respectful as he could be. Took some photos as and when circumstances allowed. Not too many. Not as many as he would dearly have loved to have taken to show people who complain far too much about nothing much at all. But could have been mistaken for something else. So MB did not. MB generally just observed and made eye contact and exchanged some respectful words of greeting when the chance arose. Salam. Assalamualaikum.  Shukran jazilan. Afwan. Maa salaama.

If wealth was measured in smiles then Soba would be rich. But wealth is not measured in smiles. So Soba is not rich. Sadly. Would be revolutionary if the Gods granted wealth to those who smile the most. Africa & Sudan would be full of billionaires for sure. But that’s not the way of the world. And despite that being so, the smiles are broad and bright, and light up the poverty stricken Soba sky.

Human nature being what it is, means that in such places some will wilt under the heat and some will shine bright. MB met a great Soba lady who spent most of her day making moonshine whisky. An illegal alcoholic drink using dates as the basic ingredient, and a little water. To make herself a little income. Just like the farmers up the mountains back home make the Irish version we call ‘Potcheen’. It’s illegal of course, because all alcoholic drink in Sudan is illegal. She gave permission for MB to enter her home, which was just a small shack with a few similar sized sheds out back. One of the sheds contained the ‘still’ for making the moonshine. And another contained just a roof of sorts where a man like MB could sit and chill under the protection of the roof from the daily sun and drink his moonshine. And that’s exactly what MB did. As a small wooden stove burned beside him, wafting out smoke from the smouldering timber to help keep the Soba flies at bay.

One of the Soba lads thanked the lady when MB had finished his glass of goodness. MB thanked her too. Shukran jazilan. And as YSL explained to MB later, despite the fact that alcohol is haram in Islam, the local Soba lad thanked the woman in a very Islamic religious way. ‘May God bless you for giving me and my Khawajha friend your great drink. God bless you again and thank you.’ Or similar words, as MB is not quoting verbatim.

And that was MB’s trip to Soba. Grateful thanks to YSL who arranged it and asked his two Soba friends along to assist. We smoked a little shisha together on the Soba outskirts in thanks. God bless all.


Click on any of the pics to view in greater detail.

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The lady who makes the whiskey dumps the ‘wash’ in the sand, and the goats just love it!
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“Khawajha, khawajha”
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8 Comments on “Sudan – A place called Soba

  1. Hi Every body and including ma mate MB thank you for the great pics of ma reall life and ma home town Soba. I loveher to death


  2. Dear MB…
    Your report is just like the report BBC does about India. Only one side of Sudan what about the culture and tradition, richness etc, monuments, etc…


    • Thanks Mr J. Look at my previous post on the henna party (Sudani wedding tradition). Wait for one or two more posts still to come, from that trip in next two weeks inshallah. I was Khartoum for less than 4 days. So if you wish to pay my salary for one or two months they I will happily include much more – including ‘richness’ & ‘monuments’. But please comment again after next two posts and tell me honestly if you believe I could have done more in 3.5 days. Shukran!


    • Really?
      With my utmost respect, I can get a 1-page overview of everything you just mentioned on Wikipedia or with a quick Google search …
      What MB gives here is a ‘day-in-the-life’ in an area many of us won’t ever be privileged enough to visit or appreciate fully. I’m assuming it wasn’t meant to give us a comprehensive overview of Sudan in 6 paragraphs. If it had, I would have probably skipped over it. It was just a few hours, on one day, in one village.
      The human dimension, human experience, human perception is what makes blogging so rich.


  3. Absolutely. Mind. Blowing.
    Thanks for the pics … chances are I’ll never make it that far inland …
    Love it.


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