“This Is Your House”

Water Jars

One of the first things we noticed upon our arrival in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, were the clay jars of water on every block – water put out by businesses or residences for passersby in this dry, hot country. The jars are covered, to keep out the dust and the insects, with a metal cup on top of the lid, or metal bowl inside the jar with which to scoop out water. (Here, unlike in India, people do not have a problem drinking from the same vessel.) And the water is cold from the evaporation through the unglazed jars. What a wonderful custom!

Mark and I are in Sudan as members of a four-person team researching the use of firewood and cooking habits of the women in the internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps in Darfur, in western Sudan, in order to introduce more fuel efficient cookstoves than the three-stone fires currently being used by most of the IDPs. Mark gives the background of our project in his posting “Entering the Fray” on memestream.

We have taken an immediate liking to Sudan and the Sudanese, and I would like to share some of our observations of the incredibly generous, hospitable, and trusting Sudanese:

The greetings here are frequent and effusive. Good friends hug and pat each other on the back; people to whom you want to show respect are touched on the chest/shoulder with the right hand before shaking hands. For everyone else, there is a whole lot of handshaking going on. Every person you pass will greet you – and the verbal greetings can go on for quite some time.

Water is the first thing guests are served upon entering a house, and guests are treated with abundance. When you visit a Sudanese house, you are served more food than you can possibly eat. The Sudanses would rather throw away food than to appear stingy towards their guests. Even the very poor will give everything they have in order to treat a guest well.

Many people will invite you to their house after meeting you once. A typical greeting is: “This is your home” or “this is your office”. We were invited to the wedding of a cousin of the woman who sat next to Mark on our flight from Dubai to Khartoum. We were invited for lunch at the home of our interpreter in El FAsher. And we were invited to share meals with everyone who happened to be eating when we visited or passed by in the camps in North Darfur.

People will extend credit to total strangers. You can eat a meal, take a taxi, or buy anything on credit. And Sudanese all over the world will ask any traveler going to Khartoum to carry medicine or cash to their friends and relatives in Sudan. In the camps, people share food, firewood, pots, axes, and almost anything else that someone needs or has.

“I am your brother; I will take care of you and you will take care of me; we will take care of each other.”

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