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What I Cannot Forget*

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

It took me a long time to realise how special and unique my upbringing was. As a Dutch-Italian-Indonesian-Greek-Sudanese boy growing up in a diverse country like Sudan, I found echoes of my own convoluted background in the rich multi-cultural tapestry of the Sudanese peoples. I remember hearing languages flying left and right at home, and dialects floating up and down outside. My ears were moulded into hearing the deft intonations that separated words and letters alike, and the replacement of certain vernaculars as I moved from dialect to dialect, and then from dialect to language.

On certain days I’d hear the word peanut butter said in three different ways: دكوة ، زبدة من الفول السوداني، فوفو. My mind would marvel at the confusion of travelling between different worlds, a more Westernised domestic household, and a land dominated by Islam and Sufism outside, coloured by intermingling with Christianity. I would navigate my day according to the calls to prayer, using them as temporal landmarks and estimates that would inform my routine, regardless of how mundane and yet fulfilling it was.

I treasure the memories of endless laughter among friends along the Nile, the intimacy of seeing my Muslim brothers in prayer, drinking tea with the tea ladies, going into the desert to wait for the kiss of the sun on the horizon to take my breathe away, and bathing in the deep of the night in starlight and moonlight. Sudan has always been a crossroad of places, a confluence of not only the Nile, but cultures and religions too. Sudan has always been a place in flux, a place on the move, a place in process. It has always been a place of places, a people of peoples, an idea of ideas, a home of homes. In Sudan, I always experienced a sense of recreation and renewal, regardless of how stagnant dominant political forces may have made it seem to be. I see renewal and defiance in the sanctity and honour of Sudanese hospitality, I see hope and respect in an acceptance and tolerance of difference — regardless of how instrumentalised it has been —, and I see love and compassion in the generosity of my Sudanese friends’ households.

As our home is ravaged we must not lose sight of our idea of it. Despite loss and trauma, it is in the safety of our minds and our imaginations that we hold onto what once was, and prepare for what will be. It is in the refuge of our interiority that we heal, and go out once again into the world to face the harsh realities that engulf Sudan. There are many who are unable to do this, many in unprivileged positions that do not afford the same introspection and reflection that I ask for. But it is in their name that we do this, as Sudanese people scattered and displaced all across the world, we are in the process of our reinvention and rebirth, regardless of how difficult it may be. And it is that idea of home that we cling on to, and will not let go of or forget.

By Christopher Francis

Oxford, United Kingdom, October 2023

*This is an original piece written exclusively for PeaceofSudan.Space and has not been published elsewhere.

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1 Comment

Yara Fathalla
Yara Fathalla
Oct 25, 2023

What a beautiful piece, it made me emotional. Thank you for sharing this

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