“Thoughts From Sudan,” No Longer Are They Just In My Head

What do Dave Chappelle, Malaria, and the FBI have in common? They all make appearances in the latest publication from the Maurchives, Thoughts from Sudan. Once I graduated with my master’s from the Khartoum International Institute for Arabic Language in 2011, I thought I had closed that chapter of my life, but the thoughts from Sudan kept on coming back to mind. The emails and stories I shared with my family and friends throughout my travels and studies gave us all a good laugh. Some have encouraged me to publish them. So as of August 21, 2022, Thoughts from Sudan, the monograph, is available for the world to chuckle at.

Order it here.

Cover of Thoughts from Sudan

Thoughts is one of the works I will be publishing in the Islamic Literacy Series, in which I will address the elusive topic of how to embark on a path of studying the sacred sciences of Islam. My goal is to increase the Islamic literacy of the American Muslim community, young and old, by sharing my experiences, providing sound advice on study plans and strategies, and using my connections to facilitate travel to the Muslim world for advanced studies, if they choose to do so. Thoughts will be followed by the title, Towards Islamic Literacy, which will provide a definition to the much abused term “Islamic Literacy” and a practical model one can follow to achieve it.

Before I conclude this post, I want to share with you a brief passage from Thoughts. It’s about my landing in the Khartoum airport after being stranded in Detroit due to an interrogation with the FBI and Immigration, which made me miss my initial flight. This passage describes a nightmare scenario in which I landed in a foreign country with nothing three days after I was scheduled to be there. Check out my initial reaction to life in Sudan. The rest of the book is full of these types of scenarios.

From the chapter “My journey:”

As I flew into Khartoum, all I noticed was low level square hut-like dwellings. From my vantage point, it did not look a lot different from the Detroit terrain I just left. When it was time to finally exit the plane, I felt a gush of hot air overcome me; one that would not leave me until I left ten months later. I stood in a long line of people passing through customs, eventually entering the airport about an hour later. I waited quite a while for my luggage at baggage claim. Most people from my cohort grabbed their bags and left, followed by another cohort. However, I and a handful of other people were still waiting for our bags. It became evident that something went wrong, and a significant amount of people’s luggage did not arrive with the flight. So those of us still waiting, surrounded a 20-something airport employee and described to him our bags and their contents. He seemed like a nice guy, but he was unbearably slow.

Employee: “What was uh… in your bag?”

European Traveler: “I had some clothes…”

Employee: “Ok, clozes…” Writes something down for about fifteen seconds. “What kind of clozes?”

European Traveler: “Let’s see, I had some socks…”

Employee: “Yes. Sooks.” Writes something down for about twenty seconds. “How many sooks?”

European: “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe ten.”

Employee: “Yes. Ten.” Writes something down for about thirty seconds. “What color sooks?”

After what had to be several hours of chasing these rabbit holes, finally it was my turn, and I was the last one. Once I finished, I had something else to think about. How was I going to get to my destination? Dr. Lo’s Senegalese friend studying in the Sudan, Muhammad (Mamadou) Diouf, was assigned to meet me at the airport, but I could not imagine him waiting so long. First, I was three days late. Secondly, I exited the airport several hours after my flight was scheduled to arrive and it was already dark.

Upon stepping out of the airport, I was quickly approached by a taxi driver, whose question in Arabic I understood as, “Do you need a taxi?” To which I said (no). He looked at me in surprise and said in Arabic, “You speak Arabic very well!” This is something I and many other Westerners traveling in the Arab world experience. You say one word of Arabic to a native speaker, and they quickly compliment your Arabic proficiency, even if you know nothing more than that single word. Nevertheless, I welcomed the official transition from English to Arabic.

Shortly afterwards, someone who appeared to be Senegalese caught my eye. He was a lean, dark-skinned man with piercing eyes. We both approached each other asking the other by name. Alhamdulillah! It was a big relief that he waited. He ended up negotiating with that taxi driver to take us to the dormitory. First, we had to stop and exchange some of my dollars for Sudanese guinea, then we were on our way. Muhammad wondered where all my luggage was, to which I told him it was lost, and I had to go back to get it later. He said that the next day was a holiday in the Sudan, but we would make plans to go after that.

An image from Sudan I will never forget.

We arrived at his dark and dusty dorm room where he promptly began chopping up onions and putting rice in a pot on an electric heater. He gave me a pair of his shorts, a pair of sandals, and a bar of soap and directed me to the bathroom. Only in Moroccan rest stops had I seen bathrooms so filthy. Brown streaks ran up and down the ancient tile walls and pieces of hair were tucked between crevices. Was this the place I was to live for the indefinite future?

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