MB is not a Sufi.
Day Nr 1 in Sudan was warm. But not too warm. YSL (Young Sudani Lad) eventually arose from his slumber following the late-night arrival in Khartoum. YSL had trekked through Saudi Arabia and Dubai on previous day. Well, not ‘treked’ to be accurate. Just like MB, YSL had avoided taking a camel train across the desert and the two months of hardship to get to the capital city. He had instead flown economy class with Flydubai, the Ryan Air of the Middle East, to get home. That’s how modern-day trekkers do it. Forget your camels and your horses and your goats.
YSL had eaten his fool & pitta bread, drank his glass of laban, and was ready to show MB the streets of Sudan. On entering the bashed up 4×4, YSL set the rules that would apply for the next four days. Doing his best to sound like the Somali pirate who threatens Tom Hanks in the Captain Phillips movie, YSL looked MB in the eye and said – ‘Look at me Irish. I’m the captain now’.
“So where we heading YSL?’ enquired MB’. “We gonna pick up some brothers, and then we gonna go to a mad bad Sufi celebration. Where mad Sufi Muslims do mad bad things. But you’ll be ok. Everything gonna be ok Irish, I’m the captain now” replied 24 year old, going on 60, YSL.
Over next half hour YSL picked up 3 friends (the ‘brothers’), introductions were made to ‘Brother MB’ (aka ‘Irish’) and onwards then in the direction of a very large Muslim graveyard on the outskirts of Khartoum, where the Sufis would be doing their doings.
MB grabbed the front-seat passenger position and took in the sights and sounds. Khartoum is like many third world cities. Too much traffic on too few roads. Or no roads. Donkeys and small carts mingle with the cars and trucks. The sweet smell of petrol fumes fills the North African Arabic air. In the back streets, YSL’s 4×4 drove over dirt tracks that were uneven and pot-holed, causing the car to rock from side to side. Part and parcel of the third world thrill.
Traffic police take the place of traffic lights at many intersections. Or act in addition to the lights. Which is just as well as road etiquette and good practice and manners seem to be in short supply. Street sellers offer all sorts of stuff when your car comes to a halt. Water, fruit, veg, perfume and many other goods are on offer at every signal from locals trying to make a buck to support themselves and families. There is no welfare system. So the choice for all is an easy one. Make some money and eat. Make no money and do not.
Lots of poverty and a huge lack of infrastructure would sum up much of what MB witnessed. Internet was available at times and at other times not. Electricity blackouts are common, as MB was informed. Although MB did not suffer any blackout during his brief trip. All Sudan’s problems are easily solved if corruption did not exist and some competent politicians were in positions of authority, and some good governance came into play. Sudan has an abundance of natural resources. And fertile land for agriculture with enough rain to make it all work and to make crops grow. The Blue and White Nile rivers converge at Khartoum and travel onwards to Egypt as the single Nile river. Sudan should be a wealthy country providing a decent living for it’s 30M population, give or take. But it’s not. It’s one of the poorest on the planet for much the same reasons that many other third world countries are dirt poor.
MB never got the impression of danger during that day or the days that followed. People were friendly. MB received many curious glances when locals noticed the ‘khawajha’ sitting in the car or walking about. But just the natural curiosity that comes to us all when we see something out of the ordinary. Lots of smiling faces despite the daily grind. ‘The struggle is real’ said the Somali Pirate, aka Tom Hanks, aka YSL, to MB many times during that day and those that followed.
MB met many highly educated Sudanis. Young unemployed people with degrees in Telecommunications, IT, Medicine and others. If you travel through the Middle East or further afield you will regularly meet educated Sudanis in higher management positions. Which makes the failures of their country and its political/economic system all the more poignant.
MB ate in some very fine restaurants. Some would not have been out of place in London or Paris. And very reasonably priced, if you have a decent job or you are a tourist. But unaffordable for the vast majority of the general population.
One of the brothers informed MB that he works in an electrical goods shop and earns USD 80 per month. Life is a very large struggle. The struggle is real, as YSL says. With USD 80 per month there will be times in any given month when buying food becomes problematic.
The family of the brother will soon sell their house. The father has promised to give USD 3,000 to his son who earns, as MB already said, USD 80 per month in an electrical goods shop and struggles desperately to survive with no future prospects for anything better. The brother will hand over the USD 3,000 to people-traffickers. They will pass him through some middlemen and onwards to an unsafe boat which will attempt a crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. And hopefully not sinking in the process. And also, hopefully for the brother, landing as an illegal immigrant in Italy or France.
A few days before MB’s Sudani trip, MB had read of a similar boat overturning in the choppy Mediterranean waters with all 50 Africans on board drowning to death. The brother had also read the story and he & MB discussed it in context of the imminent journey. If the journey is successful then the brother might hope to eventually get a job of some sort in Europe. And perhaps one day get proper papers and become legal. Then marriage and starting a family might be a possibility. But until then….
Back to the Sufis. The Sufis hold a small festival or celebration once per month in Khartoum and MB was lucky that it happened to be taking place when MB was in town. MB is one lucky dog!
The Sufis consider themselves the original Muslims from the time of the Prophet (PBOH). All spirituality, chanting to Allah, playing drums and enjoying the celebration. And at same time putting on a real spectacle for the many non-Sufi observers who attend just to observe and enjoy. The more extreme Salafi & Wahabi schools of Islam would consider the Sufis to be heretics or some such and would not have kind words for them. In fact, many on the extreme wing of Islam (like ISIS) would have all the Sufis killed if they could. MB prefers the Sufis, with their dreadlock hairstyles and their music and drum playing, and the happy smiles on their faces. Smiling is not a strong point with their Islamic opponents.
Long live the Sufis!