The Tusk Blog

Journey Into ‘Ascension’

By Sara Elhassan (@bsonblast)

On March 2, 2017, Sudanese producer Sufyvn surreptitiously released his latest beattape, Ascension. The 5-track EP floated its way across the interwebs to reach me a full 4 days later, in the form of a screenshot tweeted by the artist himself - his EP was featured on Bandcamp’s New and Notable section. 

After a short, high-pitched squeal of excitement, I scrambled to SoundCloud - where I usually indulge in Sufyvn’s music - but only found one track, ‘Dust’. Before I could panic, a notification went off on my laptop: a Twitter message from Sufyvn sending me a link to the full EP. 

Much like the rest of Sufyvn’s work, Ascension is unmistakably Sudanese. You cannot overlook the influence, and yet its Sudaneseness does not alienate. The master producer expertly blends the sound with other styles to produce something that can only be described as ‘apart’. In a nutshell, Ascension exudes Sudaneseness in a way that says, “If you know, you know”.

Dust has an eery quality to it, one that perfectly matches the EP’s cover art (designed by Sufyvn). The track flows smoothly into Whispers, a transition that takes the feeling from eery to calming, until the beat drops and you get pure vibes. 

But unlike the transition from Dust, Whispers ends fully to give way to a whole new feeling - and rhythm. Ascension maintains the purity of the track before it, but more upbeat - a delightful mix of Sudanese beat and Asian melody. Rupture further picks up the pace, boasting a faster rhythm and edgier sound, literally speaking. Heavy electronic sounds dominate this track, which only lasts 1 minute and 43 seconds. True to its title, the track disrupts the flow, providing a different vibe to the rest of the EP. 

Al Laffa* is the crescendo that brings us back. Its quick tempo and sound is reminiscent of Khartoum public transportation - a well-arranged chorus of beeping Hiace horns (a quintessentially Sudanese experience). 

Ascension is a work of art and #SudaneseExcellence, produced in a silence that speaks volumes.


https://sufyvn.bandcamp.com/

Have a listen and share your favorite tracks (mine are Dust and Whispers). Also, be on the lookout for an Elephant Media interview with the man behind the work, Sufyvn - coming soon!

(*note: Al Laffa is an area in Khartoum and a main transportation station)
 

Resistance Compounded: Sudan's Female Protest Movement

By Nafisa Eltahir (@nafufa)

Photo via WhatsApp 

Photo via WhatsApp 

Late last year, public outcry in the streets, homes, and social media feeds of Sudan followed the implementation of several unpopular economic policy decisions. Reminiscent of many earlier moments in Sudanese history, the loudest voices condemning the government have been distinctly female. As women all over the world now march against Donald Trump and his inane policies, Sudanese women look on with a knowing familiarity.

Liberation of the exchange rate by the Sudanese government in early November closed the threefold gap between the official Sudanese Pound-to-Dollar rate and existing devalued black market prices. Prices immediately spiked, most notably for fuel, electricity and medicines. The drug price surge became the most common rallying cry, and the anger was compounded by the feeling that the government had been intentionally mismanaging its budget.

As small scale demonstrations spread throughout the country, people started to take notice when groups of young women, using social media, organized demonstrations in various locations throughout the greater Khartoum area. 

Starting around November 16th, large female-only Facebook groups suddenly became organizing spaces. This occurred primarily on one group known as Fasikh w Jalikh. These groups are perceived to be confined to conversation surrounding beauty and skincare treatments, and are often ridiculed by the general public, as women-centric spaces often are.

However, this was not the first time such groups had become politicized.  Similar discussions had sprouted up surrounding earlier protests at the University of Khartoum, when several young women were arrested. This time around, the young women began to plan their own peaceful protests on major streets throughout the capital.

The first such protest occurred on November 17th, and featured only 6 women. Following their example, other stands took place throughout the next few days, attracting larger crowds. The demonstrations were peaceful, and the images of young women on the street pleading their case — often for the first time — were potent. Their decision to take to the streets came with considerable risk, enough so that it was near impossible to interview any of them for this piece. Many of the young women were arrested and tried for disturbing the public peace and public nuisance. They also faced abuse online, from both men and regime-aligned women.

These young women were joined by those even younger. The morning of November 24th witnessed an outpouring onto the streets of Khartoum North high school students. One student recorded an impassioned video, demanding that her fellow students rise up, and criticizing the men who she said would rather stay at home and let girls fight for them in the streets.

Older women also made their voices heard. A viral message came from a woman named Um Kabas, who decried the high prices’ effect on her family, criticized the lack of public outrage — particularly from men — and called for a general strike. She was arrested from her home on November 26, the video of which was also distributed widely.

The recurring criticism of men in these videos and elsewhere hints at a building frustration. As exists throughout the world, men are persistently dominant in Sudan’s political sphere — both within the regime and opposition — yet have few results to show for. As daily life becomes more difficult, these women appear poised to cast aside this form of paternalism.

The three-day nationwide general strike began on November 27. The deadly September 2013 protests loomed large on people’s minds. Those demonstrations, also against price increases amid government mismanagement, were met with live ammunition resulting in the death of around 200 people. The strike, requiring people to stay at home, thus allowed both men and women to participate fully without fearing for their lives. Social media played a role in encouraging and tracking participation. At least 3 women arrested for distributing flyers for the strike in different locations. No to Women’s Oppression, a group representing women of different political affiliations, held a three-day hunger strike concurrent to the nationwide strike.

———

While the prominence of women in this last period is noteworthy, it is not at all new. A quick look back at Sudan’s history reveals a women’s movement that has been active not only on women’s issues but in the larger politics of the country. 

The Sudanese Women’s Union was founded in 1952, four years before Sudan gained independence from Great Britain. It was founded with a specific anti-colonial vision: “There was nothing that would be accomplished for women if Sudan did not first become independent. … So, the women’s movement was tied up with the general nationalist movement and the democratic movement,” explains current executive board member Azza Eltigani Eltayeb.

 

Photo via Facebook

Photo via Facebook

This attitude continued within resistance movements against subsequent military dictatorships, through to the present day. Heavily involved in the resistance against Nimeiri, the group was abolished by his regime. However, other organizations sprang up in its place. By being active participants in popular revolutions, women were able to advance their own agenda, including demanding full political participation. 

It hasn’t been an easy march. As Ms. Eltayeb explains, “Women are forced to resist in many arenas: in their parties to gain a leading role, in their home and work lives. … Just as the pressures on them are compounded, their resistance is also compounded.” While women are very often foot soldiers in resistance, efforts are not always rewarded with full representation when it matters.

The current regime has also proven to be a major roadblock. “From the start, this regime has made a point to antagonize women and make an enemy of them. They wanted women to either follow their path or sit at home,” says Ms. Eltayeb. Several restrictions have been imposed under the much-maligned “public order" laws which attempt to lessen women’s role in the public sphere. That said, given the gains already achieved, the regime’s efforts were not entirely successful, and a women’s movement persists.

———

Current resistance efforts differ from the past in that many of the women now on the front lines come from outside the traditional activist circles. Experts note that as more women continue to take advantage of higher education, they have become more empowered. 

“Within the universities, there was a break of the taboo of fear, the taboo that women shouldn’t go out in the streets on demonstrations," explains Dr. Balghis Badri, Director of the Institute of Women, Gender, and Development Studies at Ahfad University for Women. As an example, she cites the anti-austerity protests of Summer 2012, which emerged from women’s dormitories.

Social media use has spread rapidly, and across age groups. WhatsApp and Facebook in particular have provided an alternative to state-controlled media, and lowered the barrier to participation. Women are able to both gather information and make their voices heard from the safety of their homes.

Sudanese Dream, a writer and blogger active on the aforementioned Facebook groups, noted that there is a narrowing gulf between traditional activists, with specific political affiliations, and the everyday women now making their voices heard, who are often less privileged.  She explains, “[The traditional activists] used to make fun of those Facebook groups, saying they were useless. That kind of attitude creates gulfs. … Now they see that those girls can play a role.” On the other side, “The girls on those Facebook groups, and the [older] housewives, discovered that the girls who used to get beat up in protests in the past are the same as them, that they didn’t do anything wrong,” she says.

Activists note that much of the disconnect is due to the regime’s stranglehold on media and education, whereby students are taught about women’s accomplishments in centuries past, but there is little open discussion about current resistance. Social media has played a major role in bridging that knowledge gap and motivating people to take to the streets.

Sudanese Dream says, “There is a condescending patriarchal mindset that likes to say: ‘look, the women came out for the first time, good for them,’ but the next day that is forgotten. So when women go out again, they say the same thing, [as if] it’s the first time.” This attitude calls into question whether women — though driving forces in protest — will ever succeed in securing their seats at the decision-making table.

What seems certain, with increased numbers and renewed fervor, the future of the movement will be decidedly female. While many women complained that they went out in the streets while the men stayed at home, Sudanese Dream argues that that’s the wrong attitude: “[protest] isn’t by default men’s job. You went out because you wanted to.”

A Sudanese-American Digests Trump's Presidential Election

By Sara Elhassan (@bsonblast)

It is Day 3 since Donald Trump was announced president elect of the United States. This is the first time I write this in such clear terms. The last two days, I have been struggling to even mention his name next to that title. It's all been vague, hypothetical, vacuous. Before that, it was a joke. President Trump were not words I would put together because they were so outside the realm of possibility. And now I have to. How naive I was.

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook)

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook)

Despite my naïveté, I am not surprised at the outcome. I understand exactly how America was duped into voting for that man. Because America wasn't duped - it willingly walked into and allowed itself to be swallowed whole by the nightmare of a Trump presidency. Because to the millions of Americans who allowed him to win, a Trump presidency is not a nightmare; it is a guarantee that they may continue to live in the basic safety afforded to them by their whiteness. 

I am not concerned with the argument being made that he gained these votes for being "anti-establishment", for being the antithesis of Hillary Clinton and American politics, for his win being "not about race". Because that argument only works for people who were not affected by the vitriol he spewed throughout his election campaign – racist, sexist, islamophobic vitriol that served as the blanket in which he wrapped his "anti-establishment, pro-working class" bullshit. In that vein, I am not concerned with the pockets of minorities who gave him their vote; I can’t explain their choice, can’t justify it, and thankfully don’t have to do either.

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook) 

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook) 

Nor am I concerned with the "approachability" or "business savvy" that he touted and that was lapped up by white working class Americans. Because they had this entire campaign (and his work history) to see him for the fraud that he is: a born-rich billionaire with a skewed sense of business who made and kept his money by swindling the State and the working class Americans he claims to support. He is a walking contradiction of what he alleges to uphold, devoid of the very skills he claimed would make him best fit for the job, and people looked past all that and granted him a seat in the Oval Office. 

I'm not even concerned with the overwhelming number of his followers who subscribe to and proudly tote his sweeping brand of bigotry, and I'm certainly not concerned with "white moderates" who are shocked that so many of their skinmates could think, feel and act this way. Because to quote Evelyn from the Internets: "do you not know where you reside? Do you know not what your country stands for?" This shit ain't new - it's just new to you

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook)

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook)

What I am concerned about is the fact that what little safety was afforded to me – a black African Muslim woman, an American citizen, a daughter of Sudanese immigrants – is now gone. Because how can I feel safe when my country elected a man who doesn't believe in my right to identify and proudly be an American? How can I feel safe when every single aspect of me has been labeled either threat or conquest by the same man I am now asked to respect and support as my leader? How can I feel safe when that very same leaders rhetoric is the reason why so many of my compatriots now feel encouraged and empowered to show me and people like me in no uncertain terms how little they value us – no, how much they hate us. 

As I write, for the first time in my life, I am concerned about the consequences of posting this. I'm worried about how I will be treated for making these words public. I wonder if I will be given the same right and freedom to express as my white counterparts. The irony of fearing my opinion as an American when I live that fear every day as a Sudanese is not lost on me, and I am now consumed with laughter. 

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook)

 by Sudanese Cartoonist Khalid Albaih (Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih on Facebook)

In a larger sense, I am concerned about white supremacy. Someone on my Twitter timeline called the Trump win "the last stand of white supremacy". I don't know what that means, but I do know that Trump winning means we can finally dislodge the term "post-racial America" from our throats after being force-fed it for 8 years. As incidents of racially driven violence erupt in different parts of the country following the election results, it’s clear that racism is not only alive, but literally kicking. And though we may no longer be forced to live in the illusion that America is a seamless melting pot, I am concerned that as the people Trump demonized and stepped on to get his position – the people our white compatriots sacrificed to "make America great again" – as always, we will be the ones to bear the blows of what is to come. Many argue that now that he has secured the presidency, Trump will have no choice but to “tone it down”, to become a tamer, more diplomatic version of the leader he portrayed himself to be during his campaign. But what does that matter when he’s already paved the way for every repressed bigot to unleash their pent-up hatred and armed them with the catchphrases to go with it?

Since the announcement, citizens across the US have taken to the streets to protest their new president. The irony is not lost on me, and I am once again consumed with laughter. 

Born into Duality (or Watch Me Make An Interview with Oddisee All About Me)

By Sara Elhassan (@bsonblast)

 

On Tuesday, the podcast Dukkan Show uploaded the interview that I’d been waiting for since I learned of Sudanese-American producer and rapper Amir Mohamed, a.k.a Oddisee. 

 

I discovered Oddisee in 2012, a few months after the release of his album, People Hear What They See. His work was a revelation, a blend of lyrical depth and East Coast sound that felt like home and made me long for ‘home’. 

 

Four years later, AlWasta drops and I sit in front of my computer sobbing as “Lifting Shadows” plays in my earbuds. The song so succinctly encapsulates everything I feel about existing at the rocky intersection of America and Sudan and the triggering time in which we live that I am unable to contain my emotion. I felt a fully shared experience with him that I had not felt with any other artist. So I spent time sifting through interviews, trying to find one in which he discusses this balance of identity.

 

The Dukkan Show interview comes at the heels of a similar conversation exploring ‘the Sudanese New School’ of musicians who live that Sudanese-tinged otherness that has shaped my life. 

 

The conversation left me unfulfilled; not through any fault of those who engaged in it, but more so due to my own expectations. I was looking for these artists to say they all managed to consolidate their otherness with being Sudanese. I was looking for them to resolve my specific struggles with identity and give me clear and defined parameters in which to exist, rather than allowing them to simply be as individuals and creatives who are not defined by that burden. 

 

Because that’s what it had always been to me - a burden. The burden of proving that I was “authentically” one while simultaneously having to prove to be “authentically” another. The burden of showing that I was more of one thing than another. The burden of hiding the desire to be both one and the other. The silent desperation to be neither, to have nothing to prove, to be free to be whoever. 

 

So I listened to Amir describe the way he views and interacts with his Black American and Sudanese identities, and had what my friend calls a “Beautiful Mind moment”. As he tells the story of his upbringing, it becomes apparent that Oddisee has managed to rise above the petty playing field of a singular identity, completely avoiding the turf war - choosing to be a spectator instead. 

a2705091770_5.jpg

 

“I wasn’t Black American to my mother’s side of the family, and I wasn’t Sudanese to my father’s side of the family. I was just alone. So that actually allowed me freedom to develop my own personality and not be indoctrinated into any belief system.”

 

It took me a long time to not feel lonely in the aloneness of being other. At home, Sudaneseness reigned king, queen and court jester. My parents imparted every aspect of the culture, wove it into every fiber of my being, taught me to boast it as a badge of honor. 

 

At school, I put it away. Tucked it under the folds. Drowned it out with American drawl. Being out in the world gave me the chance to flex all the parts of my identity that were left to atrophy at home. It was a break from the pressure of having to uphold a culture that felt so distant, practically theoretical.

 

‘Back home’, I knew that my personality would give me away, so I preempted the bit Amrika (American Girl) label by boldly brandishing my badge - flaunting my Arabic skills and breadth of cultural knowledge. Instead, I was labeled 7aboba - grandma. All the ‘genuine’ terms I was made to learn by my father were baladi, outdated, uncool. “Who even knows what that means? Who cares?”  The loneliness closed in - shunned by my elders for being American, and ridiculed by my peers for being lame. 

 

Eventually, my self grew too large to remain quelled, forcing me (and my parents) to accept the reality - that my identity was complex, three dimensional, and that this did not diminish or tarnish its authenticity. In fact, it added a richness to my experience.

 

“I can see Sudan as a Sudanese and as an American; I can see America as a native and as a foreigner.”

 

This duality of perspective is a powerful tool, if we allow ourselves to wield it. Part of accepting my complex identity was also granting myself permission to fully claim each part of it. But when I finally did, I found that my opinions were often dismissed, and I was deemed “unqualified” to speak on anything. “Aren’t you from Sudan?” and “What do you know about Sudan to speak on such matters?” were often retorts to any argument I made, no matter how sound or secured in fact it was. 

 

The irony is that our dual identity makes us unfit to speak on behalf of its individual parts - until it does. In the summer of 2002, I was confronted by a relative who demanded that I explain why I “cared so much” about 9/11. In 2016, I am urged every day by relatives to fulfill my duty as an American citizen and vote against Trump, so that “things don’t get worse for us”. 

 

“When I leave the country, I’m checked as a Black American and a rapper, and when I enter the United States, I’m checked as an Arab and a Muslim.”

 

In the same way that we are the sum of our parts, we are also the sum of their stereotypes, making us bear, perhaps, the biggest brunt of all. I find that I represent a collection of fears that I never imagined myself capable of instilling in people - and thus vulnerable to attack from any of these sides. I am at once a threat as a Black Muslim child of immigrants, and as an American imperialist sell-out influenced by Western culture and ideals. 

 

It is exhausting to exist in this epicenter of incongruity, but I am comforted in knowing that there are others who live this otherness and claim it as I do. It is my identity - “I can’t pick sides; I was born into a duality.”

 

Tourist in My Own Country by Najla Salih

"السودان جميل بي ناسو"

“Sudan is beautiful because of its people”

  Viewing the landscape atop a hill in Ferraig, 30 km south of Wadi Halfa, Sudan. By Najla Salih

  Viewing the landscape atop a hill in Ferraig, 30 km south of Wadi Halfa, Sudan. By Najla Salih

I was approaching the one year mark of my stay in Sudan, and I was miserable. The high of being back & resettling amongst family, surrounded by things that I had once pined for in the diaspora was losing it’s charm.  I had come to a crossroads in my stay in Sudan. Had I come back only to fall into another state of habits? I’d left the US to get away from the nine to five uninspired life, but found myself adapting into even more numbing patterns. I was limiting myself to the same bubble of the same five restaurants in Khartoum, only getting to know the insides of living rooms and the array of beverages & candy given to me as a guest, or the insides of hospitals, or the insides of wedding venues, listening to the same music, having the same conversations, complaining over the same grievances, greeting the same faces that I’d see in Ozone or funerals, or house parties. The redundancy of it all was taking a toll on me.

Is this what Sudan was to me?

 

I remembered my father’s words.

 

“Travel is the best thing a person could do. It is more valuable than gold, than books or an education. It makes you into a human being.”

 

 Seats with a view onboard a transport ship coming from a 16 hour trip from Aswan, docked in Wadi Halfa, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

 Seats with a view onboard a transport ship coming from a 16 hour trip from Aswan, docked in Wadi Halfa, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

From a young age we’d listen to my father recount his memories of Sudan. He knew his country intimately, traveling to its most northern, western, eastern & southern points. I remember how I’d enviously trace Sudan’s map from Wadi Halfa to Dongola to Abu Hamad to Khartoum to Kosti to Malakaal to Juba to Nemole, promising I’d make the same journey. I wanted to know Sudan just as intimately. I wanted to make up my own mind, come to my own conclusions not having to rely on the opinions or slanted memories of others. My father told his stories; I wanted to tell my own.

 

"الخواجات بستمتعو بى بلدنا اكتر مننا"
"Outsiders enjoy our country more than we do"

 

Motorcycle resting against a mural in a city fair in Port Sudan, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

Motorcycle resting against a mural in a city fair in Port Sudan, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

I have family and friends who have lived their entire lives in Sudan and had traveled extensively throughout Europe & North America, but had never once left Khartoum to visit other cities in Sudan. This can be attributed to many things - a nonexistent tourism industry, lack of interest, but I think mostly a lack of knowledge. When we view images of non-Sudanese partaking in adventures across Sudan visiting the pyramids, camping in the desert, snorkelling in reefs, the reaction is always of genuine shock. “This is really in Sudan?”

 

So it wasn't much of a surprise that my travel plans were met with confusion & even discouragement. I was told it wasn't safe to travel as a girl, that I would be attracting the attention of NISS or worse, be labeled a spy. I was warned I would only be disappointed by what I’d find and it’s all sadly linked to the perception that anything outside of Khartoum was a wasteland of primitive villages that lacked electricity & water.

 

I would not be dissuaded.

 

I have since visited Wadi Halfa, Kerma, Al Begrawiya, and Port Sudan. There a few things I have learned on these trips. The map of Sudan can be misleading. What looks like a short distance from Khartoum to Port Sudan is a nine hour bus ride. Sudan is not just Khartoum. You do not realize just how vast and diverse Sudan is. The amount of dialects, cuisines, how the toub & 3ima are worn, the architecture & style of homes are so distinctly varied.  

Fishing boat on Lake Nasser in Wadi Halfa, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

Fishing boat on Lake Nasser in Wadi Halfa, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

I learned to observe in silence.

 

For hours I’d watch the landscape from car and bus windows transform & unravel before me, seeing and experiencing my trip mile for mile. All the frustrations I had for Khartoum, my family, friends, society, the regime, fell away into awe.  

 

In the past, I was in love with the idea of Sudan. The only concrete certainty of my love was in it’s people, which was mostly family. What I felt and how I perceived was based on blind loyalty, memories watered with romanticism, making a weak foundation that was shaken easily & often. When faced with the stark reality of Sudan’s current state, I judged harshly, gave up easily, only to be drawn back when I was abroad, pining after a ghost of Sudan. I now have something that I can grab onto, hold onto. I saw it in the hours that I sat pondering at the scenes that we passed. I heard it in the random conversations that I struck with strangers. I felt it in the hospitality shown to me by every single place I’ve visited. Just as my father’s love is unshaken, I now have reasons for mine to grow.   

 

Mark Twain said it best; “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”

 

We were at a stop near Dongola and as soon as we stepped out of the car my sibling hissed at me & my camera.  "Stop taking photos! You look like a tourist!"  

 

I was sincerely baffled. This was supposed to make me feel embarrassed. Laughing, I responded "But we are tourists!" There is no shame in that. Although this is my heritage, linked by blood & history, I will readily admit that I am still a visitor who is not too proud to ask, to wonder, to take note & acknowledge my knowledge is limited.  

 

Men watching the sunrise at the harbour in Port Sudan, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

Men watching the sunrise at the harbour in Port Sudan, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

With each photo that I took my understanding expanded, each shot revealing a small facet of Sudan. It was never my intention to share these photos, and even when I did through Instagram it was more for myself as a reminder of the stories behind each image. I was not prepared for the amount of support & even more so by the individuals reaching out to me. This excited me the most, especially since the majority were Sudanese women asking for travel advice and tips for Sudan.  

 

  Fisherman casting a net in Jabal Awliya, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

  Fisherman casting a net in Jabal Awliya, Sudan. By Najla Salih.

My advice to them and to anyone who visits or currently lives in Sudan is; be a tourist in your own country. Whatever qualms, frustrations or disappointments you have, let them go.  Give Sudan the chance to speak for itself while you just listen. Treat what you see, hear, & feel with kindness. Travel with tenderness. You not only owe this to your family & country, but most importantly to yourself.

 

Najla Salih is a visual and written storyteller often exploring women and Sudan. You can find her work at ww.nubianq.com, FB: @nubianq1, Twitter & Instagram: @QNubian. Check out more images from her travels around Sudan on the Elephant Media Instagram - @elephantmediasd - following her week of curation. 

At the Intersection by Safia Elhillo

american boys who flirt with me often open with the question, what are you. if i am feeling cute i say, an alien. a sagittarius. simpler times, before the world started to crack along all its invented edges. now i wake up every day more tired, every day at the intersection of what is most hated, most hunted. black. arabophone. muslim. a woman, too, so my death might not get a name.

 

&, you know, american muslim, taking my god for granted. ya allah, the benevolent, the merciful. hi. now six, seven prayers a day, just to offer the plea each night: please let everyone i love still be alive tomorrow. 

 

please don’t forget us. i am here i am here & it hurts.

 

fourth of july, second to last day of ramadan, end of a week marbled by explosions. holy month i used to think would protect us, would lock all the demons away. our neighbors set off fireworks & don’t know what the sound means in the rest of the world. i sit inside & watch the news even though it makes me tired. i watch gray bits of body carried from piles of rubble. died breaking their fast. died drinking mint tea. died buying little gifts for loved ones for eid.  

 

& on eid, still dressed in our bright festival scarves & gold, hands painted with henna, we watch the black man on the news dripping blood. our wound reopens & our holiday clothes turn to mourning garb. my brother is out late at a party & everything in my body tells me that he too is dead. killed for his skin or his god or the language he calls home. killed for his height or the length of his name. everything in my body tells me that we, all of us filling up dark bodies, are all dead. a race with more dead than left alive. a ghost people, haunting the world that killed us.

 

i hear him return at dawn & only the smell of leftovers heating in the microwave can convince me he still lives in his body. 

 

i spend days & nights & hours at poetry readings where we pick our scabs & name & rename our traumas & most days i am desensitized, immune by habit to the smell of conjured blood. but tonight a poet says a dead black name & the hurt reopens & this time i cannot close it back up. & they all float backwards into the room, every ghost, the ones i knew & the ones i will never meet & the ones i know only by name, the ones whose names we never learned. all the missing dead & all the murdered dead & all the ones assigned a bullet at birth. light pouring from their wounds. this time i cannot make them go away.

 

i wake up in the mornings unconvinced that i am still alive. i line up my wet blue hurts & take inventory of the things that mark me to die. bloodied language in my throat. my hunted god. my black hand pressed to my black mouth to keep the tears in. 

 

Safia Elhillo’s first full-length collection, The January Children, is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press in 2017. Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, a Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly: a journal of black expression, she received an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. In addition to appearing in several journals and anthologies including “The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop,” her work has been translated into Arabic and Greek. She has shared her work on platforms including TEDxNewYork, BBC World Service, and the South African State Theater. Follow her @mafiasafia on Twitter and @safiamafia on Instagram.

Bashir's First Tweet

by Sara Elhassan (@bsonblast)

Earlier this year, the Sudanese press announced that President Omar Al-Bashir would be launching his official Facebook and Twitter accounts. If indeed the case, September will mark the moment Bashir joins world leaders like Barack Obama and Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum who, with millions of followers, already have an established presence on social media.

Not to say that the president's presence hasn't been felt on these popular platforms. Besides parody accounts, a handful of twitter handles boasting his image and a variety of "official looking" bios litter the twittersphere. But their sporadic activity and ambiguous content often betray their authenticity. 

So what kind of social media user will President Bashir be? Will he adopt the first-person approach of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Or will he prefer a combination official and personal posts, as seen in Russian President Vladimir Putin's account? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, however: Sudanese social media users are anxious to see how their leader will utilize this new platform - when news broke, Sudanese twitter users shared their speculations under the hashtags #BashirsFirstTweet.  The satirical trending topic has now mysteriously disappeared off the face of twitter.

"Muhammad Ali Clay"

By Sara Elhassan, as seen on her blog Alucan

Yesterday afternoon, I overheard the following conversation between my mother and her friend:

Friend: Hay ya Samiera, ma galu Muhammad Ali Clay raggadohu mustashfa
[Oh, Samiera, they say Muhammad Ali Clay has been hospitalized]
Mom: Ay walai kallamatni Sara, kur3alai
[Yes, Sara told me, my goodness]

That is the name by which he was known in Sudan – Muhammad Ali Clay (pronounced cl-EYE). I’m not sure how he would have felt about that last addition, knowing how much he disliked his ‘slave name’, as he called it. But in a country where every other man is named Muhammad, and Ali is as common a surname as Smith, I imagine the Sudani-flavored ‘Clay’ helped make his name memorable to the nation.

Muhammad Ali at Wad Badur Mosque & Quranic School in Omdurman, Sudan (via Facebook)

Muhammad Ali at Wad Badur Mosque & Quranic School in Omdurman, Sudan (via Facebook)

Since his death, the media has been pushing Muhammad Ali’s “transcendence”: how he transcended race, how he transcended religion. His Black and Muslim identity, which was at the forefront of everything he did and said in life, is now something he could (/should?) shed in death. They poured out faster than the punch he laid on Sonny Liston; everything from Time telling us “Why Muhammad Ali belonged to everyone” to the various RIP Cassius Clays, as if the man didn’t tell the world in his own words how he felt about that name, as if they knew better than he did about his own identity.

But Muhammad Ali was transcendent, in my eyes.

My childhood was a tug of war between the need to correct the damaged image of Black Americanness in Sudan, and make Africanness (because no one ever knew what or where Sudan was) visible and acceptable in America. Along with Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali was one of the characters who bridged my two homes and identities and spared me, even for a few moments, of this struggle.  I was comforted in knowing that both of these important figures that I so admired visited my homeland and knew who the Sudanese people were, and that in a way also strengthened my sense of belonging to the Black community in the US.

Muhammad Ali shaking hands with Sudanese former boxer Abdellatif Mohammed Abbas. Sudan, 1988. (via Ahmed Tariq)

Muhammad Ali shaking hands with Sudanese former boxer Abdellatif Mohammed Abbas. Sudan, 1988. (via Ahmed Tariq)

Muhammad Ali made an indelible impression on the Sudanese people. His accomplishments and persona were widely known, respected, and celebrated. The proof is in our collective mourning; all day, my mostly-Sudanese social media feed has been flooded with heartfelt posts and photos of Muhammad Ali’s visit to Sudan. Other Africans were also sharing how the legend impacted their lives. Muhammad Ali, undeniably, transcended American history to become a symbol for the Black Diaspora at large.

My bridge is now gone. And while I am saddened that the world has lost a man who taught it how to unapologetically follow one’s convictions, uplift one’s people and have the courage to, as my grandfather used to say, “tell Error it’s wrong to its face”, I am relieved that God has granted him peace and ease from ailment.

Muhammad Ali with the people of Sa'ad Al'agleen in Jazeera State, Sudan. (via Facebook)

Muhammad Ali with the people of Sa'ad Al'agleen in Jazeera State, Sudan. (via Facebook)

Today, the people of Sa’ad Al’agleen, a village Muhammad Ali visited on his trip to Sudan in 1988, held prayer in memorial of The Champ.

Rabbana yar7amak ya Muhammad Ali Clay, w ysabbir ahalak. 

Abdallah Abbas: Sudan's Essence Through a 3rd Culture Lens

By Sara Elhassan (@bsonblast)

  "Quasimoto" - "Music is one of my biggest inspirations, and Quasimoto is Madlib’s alter ego, and as such, I tried to bridge the gap and highlight the cultural clash that I feel and go through, and the characteristic draws a clear picture of my life in Sudan."

  "Quasimoto" - "Music is one of my biggest inspirations, and Quasimoto is Madlib’s alter ego, and as such, I tried to bridge the gap and highlight the cultural clash that I feel and go through, and the characteristic draws a clear picture of my life in Sudan."

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Abdallah Abbas describes himself as being “just like any other Sudanese third culture kid”. His art exhibits just that - a clever mélange of cultures with Sudan at its heart, exuding soulfulness beyond his 22 years.

Abbas’ first visit to Sudan was in 2012, at the age of 18. “That trip was life changing, a wake up call that sparked something in me that has been missing during a large part of my developing years.” It also marked the beginning of his foray into art. As he tells it, Abbas’ visit prompted him to create works that reflected all of what he saw and experienced, which went far beyond the stereotypical images of Sudan seen in the media. “My first pieces were inspired by the pioneering wave of Arabic artists such as Hassan Hajjaj, Shaweesh, Ali Cha'aban, and Fida Alhussan”.

His style ranges from collages and videos to stenciled street art, which he shares on Tumblr and Instagram. The digital medium provides him the convenience to create art wherever he is, while the internet gives him access to a wider audience.

  "Seed Al-Laban in New York"

  "Seed Al-Laban in New York"

My works revolve heavily around Sudan and cultural references that the youth would find appealing, and simultaneously be widely understood.” Pieces like “Seed Al-Laban in New York”, with its traditional Sudanese milkman atop his donkey surrounded by the skyscrapers of the Big Apple, and “Padawans”, which features Hedandawa warriors battling it out with light sabers, are perfect examples of this – quintessentially Sudanese images seamlessly blended with easily recognizable elements of pop culture.

 "Padawans"

 "Padawans"

I felt like it was my responsibility to change the perception of Sudan, especially being a person who’s standing outside looking through using pop-culture as globally understood language to repaint Sudan as its true essence."

 "Bringi"

 "Bringi"

 You can find Abdallah Abbas’ work on his Tumblr page and on Instagram @abdallah_abbas