5 Jul 2012

Masalaama Sudan

Before I know it my last week in Sudan arrives.  It feels kind of surreal in a way - the first few months in Sudan were like a strange 'out of body experience' looking down on someone else's life; everything was so different from life in England.  Now memories of my life in the UK feel like watching a favourite old movie that I once starred in!  I've grown so used to my surroundings, job and all the people around me to the extent that it feels that I've lived here all my life - even my Arabic is starting to improve!
Regular readers will know by now that the Sudanese are legendary in their ability to throw a party and celebrate in style.  On the Tuesday night I was told to be at the Extra Institute for 6pm and arrived to find all the tables and chairs set up outside and a few of my students waiting for me.  I felt quite sad chatting to the group for the last time, they had been such fun to work with, and their English has improved so much - I made them promise that they would keep up with their studies and attend the twice weekly speak out club.  Gradually the institute started to fill with people and become a hive of activity.  Food arrived and then some huge speakers were put up. 

I couldn't believe it when I recognised the students I had seen perform at the Independence Day Celebrations amongst the people arriving.  It was then that I put two and two together and realised that they were going to be singing at MY party!  I was completely blown away - so much thought, time and effort had been put into giving me a send off that I would never forget!  There were several speeches from those who had know and worked with me over the 9 months I had been there.  Such lovely things said about me - I hadn't begun to imagine how much my presence had been appreciated.  It was the least I could do to give my thank you speech in Arabic, which was doubly terrifying due to the amplifiers and speakers broadcasting it to the town!  I had an incredible time dancing the night away with friends and students, and thanks to my friend Amar, I have plenty of photographs to relive the party!

The next evening my friends Assim and Majid picked me up to take me to the Vice Chancellor's office for my formal farewell from the University. Another evening of food, amazing speeches of thanks and beautiful gifts, with the media department from the university there to record the event for posterity:
 http://www.kordofan.edu.sd/index.php/en/component/content/article/205-2012-06-17-06-14-52.html. Again I was blown away by the lovely comments and warm gratitude shown by my colleagues and students whom I'd worked with for 9 months. One of my semester 6 students was amongst those who gave speeches in my honor.

I was presented with a beautiful framed certificate with the dedication in both Arabic and English which I will hang in pride of place once I have a more permanent resting place, a delicious cake; made for me by the Vice Chancellor Prof. Meshaal Abdelgadir's daughter; and a range of other lovely traditionally made gifts making this another truly memorable evening.

On my last day in El Obeid, my friend Rabha and I attended the wedding lunch and evening celebration of our dear friend Khansa's sister, Shima.  This was my last chance to be the 'embarrassing khwajia at a wedding' and I danced to the ladies playing the Dalooka for one last time at their family home in the afternoon before attending the formal celebrations in the evening.  I will always look back fondly at the amazing hospitality I was shown at all times, and the warmth with which I was included on such family celebrations I had the pleasure to attend during my time in Sudan.

Early the next morning we left Rabha's family home for El Obeid bus station to travel to Khartoum.  I couldn't speak to Rabha's aunt who was travelling with us as I just felt so emotional to be finally starting my journey home.  Knowing that I wouldn't be seeing the now so familiar sights of the town and area again.  The bus station was very busy and I was pleased to get seated on the bus, out of the way of the crowd.  As we waited to depart I saw Mohammed Shams Aldin making his way through the crowds - bless him, he'd come along to say a final farewell to me!  I could feel the tears in the back of my eyes as the bus edged its way out of the bus station and through the early morning traffic of El Obeid.  Around 4pm we arrived in Khartoum and said our goodbyes to Rabha's aunt and got a taxi to Rabha's sister's home, where I watched in amazement as the Ethiopian maid carried my suitcase up two flights of stairs on her head!

That evening we met up with my SVP friends Omar, Christine, Rebecca and Suleman (who'd accompanied us on our camping trip to the desert).  It still felt slightly unreal to think I would not see them again (with the exception of Christine, who I hope to see when she returns to the UK).

On the Sunday, my last day, Rabha and I went out shopping for me to buy some last minute gifts for family and friends back home and had breakfast coincidentally in the same restaurant where Billie, Jess, Shafaq and I had eaten during our first few days in Sudan.  In the evening we went to '41' for ice cream as a final treat before Rabha and I set of for the airport in the early hours.  It was so lovely to spend my last few days in Sudan with Rabha, we've become such close friends over the last few months - I am sure we will meet again - insha allah!  Like me, she hates goodbyes, so we promised each other there would be no emotional scenes, as this was not so much a goodbye as a farewell - 'murrer jai' - until next time!  Which is how I feel about Sudan itself - I have to return in the future, if only for a visit.

During my journey home I spent some time reflecting on this amazing adventure.  I have learnt so much during the last 10 months - about Sudan, it's wonderful people, their culture and Islam, but also I have learnt a tremendous amount about myself!  Sure it had it's moments and there were times when I really just wanted to go home, back to everything familiar and 'safe' (as in my comfort zone).  I got through it all without the aid of alcohol or anti depressants (two of my crutches over recent years), and realised what a strong, adaptable, resourceful person I can be when I set my mind to it.  I wouldn't have missed it for all the world.  I met some fabulous, genuine, humble people some of whom I am sure I will remain friends with for the rest of my life.  I learnt about their country, culture and religion, about the daily challenges they face with a smile on their faces and joy in their hearts.  I realised the many things we take for granted in the developed world and the things that really matter in life - people, relationships, health and happiness.  I feel ready to take on what ever life chooses to throw at me and what ever new adventures it brings.  What next??  Watch this space!

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