Friday, November 13, 2015

Don't Tell Me How to Grieve: On grief and loss

Don't tell me how to grieve. You do not understand my loss; you do not feel my pain.

Don't tell me how to grieve.

The loss of a child is unimaginable, the loss of a parent shakes your very existence. He was a baby, they may say. He is in heaven, they soothe. He was of me, you silently reply. He is connected to my soul.

A year or two. A day or two. Maybe younger than the ages you know or define. A butterfly in my womb; he was still, my child. Your parents, they say. Saw you grow, shared your joy. My parents, you say, have been with me all the way. I don't know life without them, I don't understand how to be. In their absence... I am not me. Of course there were fights, slammed doors, angry nights. But there were many, many hugs. Shared meals, shared tears. No success is complete, no triumph crowned without your mother's happy tears and your father standing proud.

Don't tell me not to mourn, don't tell me, life goes on. You don't know my pain, you can't feel my loss.

A grandparent sitting silently, in the corner of the room. His soul, soothes mine, in ways I can't define. Many times we complain, she's too demanding, or he's in pain. And then, one day, their silent presence is deafeningly loud. 

You're left to wonder about the relatives you'll never know and those old stories, Do you think they were true? That random cousin that visited once, What's the relation? You ask. That village they lived in, Where is it now? No one knows or no one cares, they are gone and that is that. 

Don't tell me how to grieve, as I lose my history.
Don't tell me how to grieve a future that will not be. 
I know you mean well, or maybe not. 
Right now, I don't care for I have loss and I have lost.

I've lost comfort or I've lost dreams. I have lost a part of me.





Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Only In Sudan: A Quest for Injera

I will not let a stranger in my car again. I will not let a stranger in my car again. I will not let a stranger in my car again.

I repeated this to myself over and over while I waited for the stranger to call another stranger to give me directions to a strange place. Not very smart, I know, but I still like to consider Khartoum a relatively safe place where one can go a little off script and come back with a story to tell. So here it is.

Hankering for some tibs firfir and having duly purchased the exotic sounding chili pepper from the Ethiopian church street vendors, all I needed to be on my way to an authentic Ethiopian meal was the injera.

I asked a few people where I could find it and eventually, the answers downsized from the ambiguous “Anywhere” to “Ethiopian places” to a slightly more convenient “Eldeim”. I was given vague directions which I thought I could navigate, having a finite area to work with that did not involve straying too far from my usual route.

I looked up the first location (Souq Eldeim, last left on Street 15 extension) and saw no sign of a market, bustling or otherwise (my bad for not checking Google Maps before I left the office). I then went to the second location (second left turn after El Ghaali Gas Station “right on the road”) and saw nothing. No restaurant, no shop, no nothing. I continued down my usual route and stopped at a place with a sign written in Amharic. Good a place to start as any, I figured. 

Trying to park off the road without disturbing the people waiting in the street for a ride while avoiding scratching my car on the rickshaw that had been flagged down simultaneously by two women was an #OnlyInSudan moment. Moving on, we politely smiled and tried to avoid squashing each other in a me-get-out-of-half-open-door, woman-not-getting-in-rickshaw-without-agreeing-to-price and other-woman-just-wants-out-of-heat-will-pay-rickshaw-anything and normal traffic dance.

We negotiated our way around each other, and I came face to face with “This is all I’m paying” lady. Thinking I had to start somewhere, I asked if she knew where I could find injera and I pointed at the Amharic sign, asking if they sold any. That’s a restaurant? It’s a beauty salon, she said.

“You want injera? Start your car, I’ll take you to a place!” she declared, barely waving away the rickshaw driver who had already welcomed his next fare, the more accommodating shade-seeking lady.

“I’m a fortune teller” she said, “I read coffee and water and other things”.

Bloody hell, I can’t roll my eyes while driving and I don’t know how this is supposed to go. What are the follow-up questions to fortune teller, I wondered.

“You want injera on a Wednesday, that means you have a zaar” and said something about boxes or containers.

“I honestly don’t have any idea what you are talking about.” First of all, I really didn’t (and still don’t) and second of all, I wanted to change the subject – witchcraft, sorcery and possession are really not my forte.

She got the hint and told me that she was looking for a job and was going to give me her phone number. She’d told me her name as soon as she got in the car and directly asked for mine. However tempting it was to say any made up name I could think of, she *had* told me her name – fair’s fair – so I told her mine. This resulted in her punctuating all her sentences with a resounding “Tagreed!” as I cringed with the familiarity of it all.

Names are powerful. We all know that (my buddy even wrote this blogpost on the subject). I remember watching Beauty and the Beast, back in the day and Gabriel never said the name of the child because to give someone your name is to give them power over you. (Yes, I was actually thinking all this in the car, before saying my name out loud). But I gave her my name because in my mind, lying would be worse (I’m pedantic like that).

So, we got to a place after a failed fishing attempt (“I know someone with heart trouble and we need medicine” “Go to the Salam Center – they’re free” which she dismissed with a simple, “Ah!”) before she got out to call the friend that she had come to visit who was going to lead me to the injera place. This is when my litany started.

I will not let a stranger in my car again. I will not let a stranger in my car again. I will not let a stranger in my car again.

She called her friend and they asked me to stay inside the house while they got the injera for me. Remember? That’s what I set out to buy. Even I had slightly forgotten at that point. I told them that I just needed the directions. Come on in, they insisted, have a cup of coffee. I really need to get back to my kids (bless their hearts for all the alibis and excuses they have given me over the years). It’s really close by, they insisted. Then I can drive there fast and head home, I replied.
They conceded the round.

I got the directions and guess what? The injera lady literally lives on my street! So I went inside her house (wondering for half a second if that was a smart idea), waited amongst a couple of sleeping cats while she poured, folded and bagged the goodies and I went on my merry way.

Lunch was delicious. Alhamdulillah.


I will not let a stranger in my car again. I will not let a stranger in my car again. I will not let a stranger in my car again.

Yes, she was very helpful. Yes, she got me where I wanted to go. I guess my problem is that I prefer sorcery and possession, or any mention of either, in books and movies. Water? Boxes? Zaar? Kindly maintain a safe distance. Thanks for everything!




Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ode to Addis: Taggy & Co. Visit Abyssinia

Taggy & Co. Visit Abyssinia: These are my impressions of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which I visited with my family for a few days around August 2014.

The good life is good but the simple life is amazing. 

On vacation, I usually seek basic necessities peppered with creature comforts and a splurge or two. So when I walked into the simple "villa" in Addis, I was a little skeptical.
The metal doors clanged loudly, most of the lights weren't working and the faucets did not respond to a simple command ("You had one job"). The landlord assured us that the water would be back by lunchtime (like it had gone on an errand) and the "groundskeeper" lady would replace the light bulbs and see to our needs.

Little did we know that in 3 days, we were talking about negotiating purchase of this bungalow that hit our family in all the right places.

The boys were fascinated by the small porch and rocky yard. We asked them to stay away from the overgrown garden but that didn't stop us from gazing at it lovingly, resting our eyes from the harshness of dry Khartoum.

The day we left home, the rains had started in Khartoum, so although it wasn't dry per se, nature remained conspicuously absent. The purpose of this trip to Addis was to reconnect with nature. Not camping or hiking reconnect but tree, grass and the occasional mountain reconnect.

We wanted our family to experience something different from the vicious cycle that was long work days followed by collapsing in our concrete box of an apartment. I wanted the boys to know that life as they know it, is not the definition of life. They needed to understand and appreciate different cultures, different worlds. I hoped that they could see a rainbow.

I am always surprised and offended how visitors and tourists look down on countries they are visiting.
"The food is not edible". Such arrogance! 
A more accurate phrase would be "I was not able to appreciate their cuisine" "It was too spicy for my palate" or something similar. The failing is yours, I assure you. Don't blame the vanilla if you prefer the chocolate.
You don't go to another country to be snide; you go as a guest, behave yourself accordingly. 
I noted how the place smelled different than what I was accustomed to; I assumed we smelled different to them too. Any public transportation system anywhere in the world will confirm that every nation has a particular "scent" so I wouldn't be too smug, my fellow tourist; you smell too.


Then we come to the effortless beauty of Ethiopia. The grace, the languid movement that does not hide the energy within. It's like watching a resting Panther. The people move slowly and gracefully but you feel they can start running or can break into dance in a heartbeat. 

I would have been more intimidated by the gorgeous physiques that surrounded me, had I believed it was in any way attainable. Seeing as I am not delusional, I absorbed the beauty like any appreciative star gazer.

The faces that surrounded me spoke to me of the heart of Africa, the kingdoms of Abyssinia. Regal, natural and effortless. My husband remarked at the absence of bleached complexions. I replied that they were comfortable within themselves, which is how I would describe the Ethiopia I saw. Unpretentious. Unassuming. Confident. 
They did not need pomp and circumstance so they did not seek it.

Our groundskeeper would leave early in the morning, wearing a crisp white shirt over her tight jeans. A black leather jacket and knit beret for warmth, carrying a compact umbrella for protection against the flash showers and she was ready to go. Her simple "look" will never be achieved by fashionista wannabes the world over.

One of the many tragedies of Sudan is nothing is effortless. Some Sudanese strive for Western culture, others dream of oil riches and the associated trappings and an attitude of discontentment is pervasive.

I absorbed this natural culture, this practical land. The beat up cars spoke to me of a pride not to be found in the shiny modern cars of Khartoum and their crippling installments. The glorious crowns of natural hair reflected a freedom that my flat iron will never give me.

I came across a few unnatural blondes and contrived curls but in my newfound theory these were an attempt to compensate for paunches and love handles. They were still breathtakingly beautiful. Men and women that were not beautiful in a "traditional sense" were still full of grace.

Inexplicably, the beauty and confidence that surrounded me, made me feel beautiful and confident. Like my subconscious had decided that I was looking in reflections. One would assume I would feel inadequate and secure but walking those streets, I too became an African queen.

Oh, Addis. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? What hidden treasure had we stumbled upon? Why were people seeking Atlantis or El Dorado? Addis was home to raw gems that shone in their natural habitat, in a cloudy backdrop of mist and rolling green mountains.

I cannot ignore the beggars that filled the streets. Their hard faces, dull eyes, clothes caked in mud. Their grace was well hidden, buried beneath their hard life and rags. Several were obviously organized, working in tandem. Life in Khartoum taught me what signs to look for when it comes to beggar gangs.
We saw one European man tackle a thief and pry his mobile phone out of the youth's hands. We held our children closer but that scene was probably being replicated in the gentleman's hometown so we did not feel overly threatened.

I felt that we had stumbled upon a magical land that was quaint without being genteel. It reminded me of Zanzibar, where my parents and I had called our second home for a few years.

I know I was looking through tourist goggles, I know the reality of their lives forces them to seek their livelihoods abroad, like us Sudanese and I know that I could never comprehend the challenges they face at a glance. But I wanted to see beauty and peace and serenity and joy and Addis Ababa gave me all that and then some. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you, honor and cherish you.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sudan: Murder & Heartache and a forgotten hashtag

I wrote this in April 2014, after the murder of Ali Abaker Musa but it was never published. The recent death of Sumaya Bushra and other victims of the authorities brought this to mind - and I inserted some updates in asterisked parenthesis. The sadness is still relevant even if the news is old. His last Facebook post is dated a year ago tomorrow. May God have mercy on his soul.


#DarfurIsBurning. The ominous hashtag began to appear in my twitter feed in March 2014. English and Arabic posts that grew increasingly alarming.
Observers believe that the source of the conflict comes down to a dispute over resource allocation, in gold rich Darfur. Reports of skirmishes between government forces and pro-government militias surfaced in 2013 and the ongoing conflict is considered an extension of last year’s violence, with no clear end in sight (*The conflict is still raging in 2015 - with still no end in sight).
According to Human Rights Watch and Darfur observers, the “Rapid Support Forces”, the new and improved “Janjaweed” government-backed militia had renewed attacks with warring factions resulting in burnt villages and destruction of infrastructure. This tactic insures that residents will have nothing to return to, leading to the displacement of over 270,000 people since the beginning of 2014 (source OCHA Sudan). Many of them have taken shelter outside the UN Camp in Saraf Omra.



Every day, I was bombarded with news and images of the forgotten conflict. With every word I read and photograph I saw, my heartache would grow. 

During this time our household battled various infections, including measles and mumps – and the sadness around me grew. Every visit to the hospital was a reminder of no healthcare for hundreds of thousands of my countrymen. Every meal on the table reminded me of outstretched hands crowding for “aid”. “Aid” and “relief” are words that imply something supplemental. The people of Darfur had fled with what they could carry. They were not lined up for “relief”; they were lined up for sustenance that could see them through another day.

One photograph composed exclusively of women moved me deeply. The look in their eyes spoke to me of a silent desperation. I doubted these women would even partake of what they were to receive; they would probably rush with their pickings to feed their families. I chided myself that I could not independently verify the date or location of the picture but this image is seared into my brain.





Western media generally refers to Darfur in the past tense. The premise that if George Clooney wasn’t talking about it, it wasn’t really happening. Alas, similar to the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner, the death and destruction that the world heard of in 2003 continues, and the numbers of displaced increases .
The resignation of UNAMID spokesperson, Aicha El Basri, in protest of the UN silence on Darfur confirmed what activists have been saying for years. The UN has failed the people of Darfur.


Dr. Asaad Ali Hassan, political activist, Facebook page portraying Bashir destroying Darfur after tearing South Sudan away.

On March 11th, 2014, University of Khartoum students organized a seminar to raise awareness of the situation of Darfur. In an all too familiar scenario repeated when political rhetoric did not meet the approval of the powers that be, University gates were opened to receive riot police and armed pro-government militia. Ali Abaker Musa, a Third Year Economics student was fatally shot in the process.



Photo from Ali Abakar Facebook page

His death sent out shockwaves, the epicenter his friends and family, outwards towards his fellow colleagues, on to the heart of every parent that sends a child to university not knowing if they will come back alive.

His death reaffirmed the harsh reality that human life was expendable and voices of dissent would be silenced. Last September, we saw images of school students lying in their own blood, reportedly shot dead by pro-government forces, in their school uniforms. Less than a year later, here we are again.

I read of his death late at night and was filled with despair. I grieved as I looked at the graphic images Sudanese social media do not shy away from posting.
On the morning of March 12th 2014, I found my friend crying in the morning. I did not have to ask why. It was clear that we had to go to Ali’s funeral procession. We were carrying too much pain to put on a brave face and carry on living. We wanted to be amongst people who could share the burden so we headed to the Al Sahafa Cemetery.

A plainclothesman approached us as we waited for the funeral procession to arrive. I waved him away as if I had mistaken him for a vendor or beggar. He understood the ruse, as any Sudanese citizen can smell a pro-government henchman a mile away, but he chose to walk away and observe us silently.

We learned that the burial was delayed, as authorities had cordoned off the morgue and reportedly instructed the victim’s family to move the burial site to El Sahafa Cemetery. A location not easy to reach but quite easy for them to monitor.

Another cause of delay was a confrontation between his family and friends and the authorities. The former insisting that Ali would not be hastily sent off in an ambulance, as per official instruction, without the masses that had gathered to accompany him to his final resting place. 

When the envoy carrying Ali Abakar’s body arrived, the funeral procession was heartwarming as tears flowed as freely as prayers mixed with defiant chants (“The death of a student is the death of a nation!” “Freedom, peace and justice; Revolution is the people’s choice!”).

Fellow students spoke lovingly of their fallen comrade, assuring the crowds that Ali knew that he might die so that his people should live. They told us of his dreams of a peaceful and prosperous, united Sudan – that would never be achieved without sacrifice.



In an unprecedented gesture, University professors had come to the funeral, in a clear statement that this time, they would not stand idly by as their students were killed.

Ali Abaker Musa was in his early twenties and had his whole life ahead of him. His death was not the first political discussion gone deadly. This time, what is different is that University of Khartoum students and staff organized protests demanding an investigation into his death and bringing the perpetrator to justice. They also called for a campus free of weapons and armed militia. These demonstrations and demand gave us hope, however unlikely, that the death of Ali Abaker will be the last (*It wasn't).




We share pain in suffering – but we also draw strength from each other. No one is na├»ve enough to believe that the on again off again protests in Sudan will bring about radical change in government policy. This is glaringly obvious as Government rhetoric of political freedoms seems to be synchronized with arbitrary arrests. However, as one by one, people rise to demand their rights, one by one the bricks of the citadel will fall and the dream for a better Sudan, with freedom, peace and justice will become a reality.

On April 21st, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Khartoum decreed that the University’s “Jihadi Units” be disbanded. One small step on the road to a better Sudan and perhaps, one life – or more – saved. (*This never happened and they still exist, in one form or another, in all public universities to this day. Feb. 2015)


POSTSCRIPT:   
Meet the pro-government student militias. They call themselves "Jihadi Units" although they only attack fellow students and anyone that gets in their way. No jihad about it.

This photo from Dr. Ismat Mahmoud Ahmed Facebook page – portrays armed students – not necessarily from these latest incidents – but representative of the norm.






Dr. Asaad Ali Hassan Facebook page captioning this photograph as portraying Pro-Government students.









Friday, May 23, 2014

Sudan: The Case of the Missing Professor - Pambazuka News

Khartoum, Sudan


Professor Omar Haroon Al Khaleefa left his home on Friday, September 14, 2012. His family continues to search for him and holds the Sudanese authorities responsible for not investigating his disappearance or providing plausible information as to his fate. 


Professor Omar Haroon Al Khaleefa left his home in an upscale neighborhood of Khartoum North and was never seen again. His family holds the Sudanese authorities responsible for his disappearance, saying they have failed to investigate new information that has come to light.


On Sept. 14 2012, Omar Khaleefa, a distinguished Sudanese psychology professor, told his family he was going for a walk and would be back for lunch. He left his home in El Safia at 4:30 p.m. for his regular exercise routine on Shambat Bridge – a popular jogger’s destination. Khaleefa’s young son asked to accompany him on the walk but when he came down a few minutes later, he found his father had already left.


Ali Haroon Khaleefa, his younger brother, sits in his educational toy store which his brother helped curate as an expert in children’s education and intelligence. He tells his brother’s story in a quiet yet determined voice. Khaleefa had been missing for over 16 months when Ali decided to end his silence.


He describes his brother’s state of mind in the weeks leading to his disappearance as agitated. Khaleefa continuously voiced concern over the deteriorating state of Sudan, with specialists leaving the country in droves and those that stayed remained marginalized and underappreciated. Khaleefa was also a vocal advocate for the rights of the South Sudanese people and colleagues report that he was visibly shaken after the death of Dr. John Garang.


“He called me on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 and said he had to meet me regarding something urgent”. The regret in his voice is unmistakable as he recounts how he was unable to meet him that day but promised to catch up soon. He never saw him again.


Omar Khaleefa’s exercise routine involved a walk or jog interjected with a cup of tea prepared by a lady stationed near the bridge. After his disappearance, the tea lady confirmed that he had passed by her for his tea and headed towards the bridge. She is the last person to have seen him to date.


Ali Khaleefa continues his story of finding a missed call on his cell phone when he woke up on the morning of Sept. 15, 2012. A relative had called to inform him that his brother never returned home after his walk. Ali immediately headed to El Safia Police Station to file a missing persons report. He was told that since the professor had not been missing 24 hours, it was too early to file a report.




A few phone calls were made and the police agreed to proceed with a report and investigation, due to the high profile of the missing person in question. The police summoned Khaleefa’s wife and daughter for statements. From the house, they fetched his cell phone and laptop which had been in Omar’s car, left parked at home that fateful Friday and his official will.


A website and Facebook page call for his release, a prevalent theme among his supporters. These pages reflect the conviction of his sympathizers but have a limited following in a country where social media activism is in its nascent stages.


In Sudan, political detentions and censorship continue even as the government speaks of reform and dialogue, while the reality on the ground is increased press censorship and continuing detentions – most recently political activist Izzeldin Hireika detained February 8 2014.


According to an article published 10 days after Khaleefa’s disappearance, the police pursued eight avenues in their investigation, two of which were not disclosed.  The remaining six theories included:


1.      Suicide


2.      Meditation (Religious retreat)


3.      Abduction at the hands of a foreign nation


4.      Political or Criminal Detention


5.      Voluntary disappearance


6.      Murdered and body disposed of in unknown location




The article states that authorities categorically deny detaining Khaleefa although his family maintains that they have not received any official denial, to this day, from the Sudanese authorities regarding his detention.


The article considers the voluntary disappearance the most likely theory, a sentiment echoed by a colleague of Khaleefa that considers the disappearance another attention-seeking stunt from a controversial man who enjoys being the center of attention and courted the limelight.


Directly after his disappearance, concerned family members assembled outside his home were upset when a police officer reported a sighting of Khaleefa walking near the airport in a disheveled state, munching on a grilled ear of corn. The police told the assembly that psychologists were prone to mental episodes, suggesting that Khaleefa had suffered a form of nervous breakdown.


 The family was outraged. Khaleefa is considered a tribal leader among his clan and the suggestion was borderline blasphemous to them. Ali Khaleefa believes that this rumor was circulated as a distraction, to disperse the assembled family members.


 He urged everyone to stay calm and rejected their idea for demonstrations. He advised everyone to assist in the investigation, in his hope that it would bear fruit. He has lost that hope now and has decided to take matters into his own hands.


He stated that the family had previously avoided escalating matters in light of the tense situation in Sudan but in his opinion, they had shown enough patience and are moving forward now.


Ali Khaleefa began making statements to the press in December 2013, holding the Sudanese authorities responsible for the disappearance of his older brother after the family’s continued patience and cooperation.


Ali’s frustration shows when he recounts taking a lead he considered viable to the authorities in November 2013. He gave them all the information he had obtained and asked to be kept abreast of the situation and accepted the authorities’ request to keep the information confidential, as they followed the lead and processed it. The information which he has now chosen to go public with. 


Ali also tells how the officers in charge of the case and designated family liaisons eventually stopped taking his calls and responding to his messages.


After his queries went unacknowledged, Ali Khaleefa informed the authorities that he is going public with his information and appeals, as he has lost confidence in the official investigation and will pursue all available options to find out the truth about what happened to his brother.


In December 2013, over 15 months after the disappearance, Ali Khaleefa began meeting with tribal leaders, human rights lawyers and leaders of the main opposition parties, including Farouq Abu Eissa, Elsadiq Elmahdi and Hassan El Turabi. He has vowed to go public with all the information he has and plans to submit a memorandum to the United Nations.


In addition to these meetings, Ali Khaleefa has made statements to the local press to raise awareness to his family’s plight. He believes that his brother has been abducted or is under compulsory detention and holds the authorities responsible for not ascertaining the fate of Prof. Khaleefa and giving his family closure.


Ali Khaleefa says they have no idea if Omar Khaleefa is dead or alive. He severed ties with the authorities after their continued lack of response and, in his words, inefficient handling of the investigation.


“They say the “Prof.” is a national asset but we have not seen this reflected in the investigation. They tell us they used police dogs and military planes in their search but we have no evidence to support that claim.”


In the first week of February and in light of the recent activity on the part of the family, Sudan National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) summoned Ali Khaleefa and provided him with a progress report regarding the investigation and the tip he had provided. He was assigned new liaisons with the authorities in a blatant overture of appeasement.


On Wednesday, Feb. 5 2014, a meeting was held, attended by approximately 30 family members, friends, colleagues, human rights activists and political leaders to outline the next steps to be undertaken. The first resolution was to unify the efforts of the various committees, to proceed as a single entity. This committee is set to organize a demonstration at the Human Rights Commission in Khartoum and meeting government officials.


Ali Khaleefa also took this opportunity to go public with the information he had previously given the authorities.


At 12:16am on November 2, 2013 he received the first of several text messages from a person stating that Prof. Khaleefa was in good health, incarcerated in a nearby state on the authority of a government official. The sender stated that he had participated in the abduction and requested a total of 500,000 Sudanese Pounds ($85,000 as per official exchange rate) to secure the captor’s safe passage to another country after releasing Khaleefa, as he did not believe Khaleefa was an “infiltrator”, as he had been told.


This latest accusation likely stemmed from Khaleefa’s interaction with foreigners at professional events abroad, commonly perceived by his colleagues as inappropriate..


The text contained a warning against approaching the authorities, press or telecommunications companies and gave instructions for further communication, concluding with a prayer that the family be reunited soon. In the afternoon of the same day, he received another message to “forget about it” since he had not responded. A final text message was received on November 20, 2013 that the sender was headed to Darfur, signaling the end of their communication.


The disappearance of Prof. Omar Haroon has not actually caused a stir among the general Sudanese public. This could be due to his Islamist background or his flair for the dramatic. At the end of the day, a college professor left his wife and three children in the middle of a Friday afternoon and was never seen again. His family deserves the truth and is now demanding it in a voice that is steadily rising.



This article was first published in Pambazuka News. 2014-05-22, Issue 679





Sunday, May 18, 2014

8 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Sudanese People

"A cursory web search will inform you that Sudan was once the largest country in Africa and recently underwent the unique process of giving birth to the world’s youngest nation of South Sudan. However, there is a lot more to the country than past glories and current human rights abuses. Meet the people of Sudan."



http://www.buzzfeed.com/taggysudan/8-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-sudanese-pe-iphs




Posting link for now because piece will need some time for formatting.
Hands down my fastest distributed piece to date, alhamdulillah.


Thank you for your support and encouragement.




Much love,


Taggy

Thursday, December 12, 2013

When Women Fall Silent in Sudan

Posted in Al Monitor on October 9, 2013

KHARTOUM — Thursday, Oct. 3, was a defining day in my life. It was the day a wall of silent women demanded the release of our fellow female prisoners – and won. They were released three days later. In recent weeks, my country has witnessed the largest protests against President Omar al-Bashir's regime since he seized power two dozen years ago.

That day started when I heard of the women’s demonstration at the home of Dahlia El Roubi, a mother and activist arrested at her home in an upscale Khartoum neighborhood on Sept. 30. Other women who shared her fate were Rayan Shakir Zein Abdeen and Amal Habbani, a mother and journalist.

The mental vision I get when I hear the word “protest” does not involve refreshments and photo shoots, so it dawned on me that this day was not going to be normal. The atmosphere was evocative of a tea party of friends, family and varying degrees of separation that never reach six in Sudan.

I was happy to find a banner with “Freedom & Justice” written on it, in English. These words are the reason I became involved in the issues of Sudan, they are my path and my destination. If I am arrested, I thought, let it be said that it was for calling for freedom and justice.

After taking pictures in a lovely garden, we were told to regroup at the infamous Security Compound (al-Qiyaada al-Aama) in the Airport District (Hayy al-Mataar). Upon reaching our destination, a woman next to us gave directions over the phone, “Yes, we’ve arrived,” she said into her headset, “next to the American Club.”

Luxury cars kept coming, women delicately stepping out of chauffeured vehicles, making their way to the assembly point. We formed a line facing the gate, silently raising our banners and flyers. Then, we stood. And stood. And stood.

The security guards manning the gate did not realize what was happening until they were faced by a wall of silent women. A main street separated us. Cars began to slow down and gawk. A coordinator explained to the guards that we were there to present a memorandum.

First, they slammed the gate. One security guard donning a bulletproof vest went in, came out and cocked his gun. He was a kid; we had grandmothers on our side. We were unimpressed. A flow of security personnel in uniform and plain clothes began. All the while, the heavy traffic of the adjacent al-Qiyaada Street turned sluggish when drivers came upon our wall of silence.

One woman was wearing Gucci sunglasses, we noted as other demonstrators greeted each other. Chilled bottled water was distributed.

The security guards did not attempt to engage us in any way. We were silent, so we could not be charged with disturbing the peace. We were on a sidewalk so we could not be charged with disrupting traffic. We were all women, mostly mothers and a few grandmothers, so we couldn’t be slapped around. They were stumped.

Cars honked their horns in solidarity, occupants raised their fists in the Sudanese version of a thumbs-up. Passing women raised celebratory ululations and chanted slogans. We responded with fists and peace signs. We were on top of the world.

After about an hour of this silent face-off, 10 women crossed the street, carrying their memorandum. Among them was the wife of jailed activist Amjed Fareed. She held a sign that stated simply, “Let our father go.” (They were released a couple of weeks after the women). Two entered and the rest returned to join us in our wall of silence.

The memorandum addressed to Mohammed Atta, head of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), opened with passages of the Quran regarding justice, followed by appealing to his duty to uphold the constitutional right to freedom of speech, to treat people humanely and to advise families of the whereabouts of their loved ones. They called on him to press charges if any were in breach of the law and allow detainees access to legal counsel and give them free and fair trials. In closing, the women said, we will stand vigil until our demands are met.

Suddenly, a pickup full of young, plainclothes security men drew up beside us, wielding heavy black hoses, the local intimidation weapon of choice. They started shouting, talking to each other, not addressing any of the protesters.

One misguided fellow raised his hose in warning from the top of the pickup above the head of a lady who was clearly a grandmother, “Are you going to hit me?” she asked him calmly, looking him squarely in the eye, forcing him to lower his arm and turn away.

Guards ventured across the street toward us, emboldened by the increased numbers and rubber hoses.

As they took away our banners, the guy charged with this task looked at my English banner with some confusion, looked at me and said, “Please” as he tore it away from me. Color me impressed, multilingual thugs, I thought.

"The Constitution allows us to demonstrate peacefully," my brave companions told him.

"With a license, barked the ring leader," well-versed in his "constitutionese." "No assemblies, you submitted your memorandum," he said in exasperation. "Just leave."

"When our people leave your offices," was the reply, referring to the elderly ladies that had gone in but had not resurfaced.

As soon as the gate opened to release said applicants, they were showing us to our cars.

“They all came in private cars,” one security man whispered to another. Clap, clap, clap, clap. “Hurriya!” we shouted on the way to our parked cars. The popular Sudanese triple-clap, punctuated by “Freedom!” was a common protest chant that everyone could get behind.

Some women berated the young men, calling them tools of oppression against their own people. “You are as old as my mother, I cannot talk back to you,” one security officer replied, according to one woman.

Suddenly a young lady in a lab coat started screaming at the security men, "How did you get like this? What did they do to you? Aren't you one of us? How could you?" She was dragged away by fellow protesters. We were soon escorted to our cars, followed by security men taking pictures of us and our license plates, in a scene reminiscent of the first chapter of The Godfather.

The young children of journalist Amal Habbani passed by us with their father. I could only imagine what he was going through.

Security forces stopped traffic on the main road and allowed us to leave the scene without further incident. To my knowledge, no women were detained at this protest.

What did we accomplish with this silent protest of old women in chauffeured cars? A great deal.

The average age and social status of our protesters was a clear indication that the current issue of the people of Sudan is not about gas prices and aspirational rhetoric. This time, it’s personal: people against government. There have been 200 reported deaths in the demonstrations of the past few weeks and between 600 and 2,000 reported detainees. This is a popular movement that has reached every home.

Publicly, the greatest fear is that the protests will lose momentum as people struggle to earn their daily bread, or stay home, fearing for the lives and safety of their families. The disillusioned public fears that the blood of martyrs will be lost and that it will not be granted the justice it deserves. Members of the public fear that the government will win, and that we will be forced to swallow our pride as we rummage for sustenance in their trickle-down dumpsters.

Then there is the hope.

We have seen heartwarming demonstrations where neighborhoods and entire districts came together to call for freedom and to celebrate the lives that were lost.

We may never know if we played a part in the presidential pardon issued a couple of days after our stand. Participating in this silent vigil gave me a sense of unity and empowerment. This demonstration showed us the fear and confusion of a government when women fall silent.

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/10/sudan-protests-women-wall-of-silence.html