Mon 6 Dec
For one of my classes this week I decided to use the lyrics of an obscure singer-songwriter I had admired in the 70s as our text for reading and discussion. It is a commentary about the end of a relationship.
Here in Sudan, the expectation seems to be that everyone will marry when they are the right age regardless of whether they have met the "right" person or even in some cases whether they have met the person at all.
As I packed my bag and left the house I was beginning to feel rather unsure about the subject; maybe it would be all too alien to them? I decided to go ahead anyway.
At first we talked about what it is like when it rains, the colour of the sky, how – if we are silly enough to go out - we avoid getting wet. Unfortunately, it only rains here for a few days a year. It evokes much the same emotions that greet the first hot sunny day back in the UK, and why avoid getting wet when you would rather dance in it?
We talked of how we might travel from Khartoum to Atbara (air, river, vehicle, train, and pony) and whether there are any stations along the way. About chatting, sharing the journey, and at some point going separate ways.
We talked about life being a journey starting at "birth", and soon identified other "stations" along the way like: first day at school, going to university, getting a job, getting married, having children. We zoomed in on getting married and the station before, yes they knew about the station before marriage; they call it engagement.
In my class of mostly older, married, women it turned out that some of them had been engaged more than once. Many had been through the process of getting to know a prospective husband. They assured me that this was essential and that if either had misgivings they could call it off. I revised my impression: better off, better travelled Sudanese had a more westernised attitude to marriage. I was delighted that the topic I had chosen was not so alien for them after all.
So we looked at the lyric and wondered why the latticed wooden benches on Brighton sea-front would be empty on a grey November day and what this symbolised a feeling of emptiness, if not desperation, in the story line.
I think they liked the lesson and understood a lot. In fact, the only phrase that seemed to mystify them was the line "and the place is as deserted as a plaza in a heat-wave".