The happy return to Sudan

Translation courtesy of Clara Bonfiglio

Several posts ago, as I wrote about our journey across Sudan, I have dedicated a great part of my tales to express the immeasurable hospitality of the Sudanese people, who in every corner of the country touched our hearts in such a way that made us stay there quite a lot more than we expected. Our stay in Sudan, as in every other country, started as one of ordinary travelers but ended up becoming pretty much like a family visit. Such is the case, that by the time we left Khartoum, we already knew we were going to return soon. Ahmed, our wonderful friend, was getting married in August, and considered that our presence in his wedding was essential. That's why he decided to treat us both with a plane ticket to Khartoum from wherever we were so we could attend his wedding. We accepted without hesitation because this is what travelling is all about, being surprised, changing direction, establishing bonds around the world and expanding our own family.

And that's how we left our bicycles in Kampala and filled with enthusiasm boarded back a plane towards the country we love so much. Nevertheless, such enthusiasm was initially mitigated by a surprise factor. Curse our luck, from all the airlines from across the globe, the only option to fly to Khartoum was with Ethiopian Airlines! Just when we thought our brutal Ethiopian nightmare had been left behind forever, our fate was drawing us back to it. The mere fact of thinking of the reencounter with the Ethiopians on the plane and on the layover in Addis Ababa altered my pulse. Evidently, I hadn't got over my anger yet. For a moment, before leaving for the airport, I thought of travelling with the helmet I never use but carry around hanging on my bike, because I was convinced that the flight attendants were going to throw stones at us on the plane, while the pilot was going to shout through the speakers “give me money, give me money, give me money, give me money, give me money” non-stop, instead of the usual announcements. Luckily my post-trauma fantasies never occured, but the savage take-offs of both flights reminded me of the suicidal act of putting yourself in the hands of Ethiopians at the helm of an aircraft.

The wedding

Describing with words a Sudanese wedding could take a whole chapter of a book about Sudan, and would probably be the most extensive one of all, for what it exceeds the capacity of this blog. Briefly speaking, our dear Ahmed's wedding lasted no more and no less, than 5 full days. Days in which people celebrate continuously day and night. All the family, both nuclear and extended, friends, friends of friends, acquaintances and acquaintance's friends attended the party or parts of it, making up thousands of people. The affection seen between the people, is, as usual in Sudan, overwhelming, and like we had already experienced in the Nubian wedding, this is the most pure and genuine form of entertainment, because there´s not a single drop of alcohol around and nevertheless the people spring, dance and overflow with joy, which makes their eyes sparkle and draw smiles on them without the need of any body altering substance.

The “henna parties” are the ones that generally precede the wedding itself. In them, the groom celebrates every night with his people while the bride celebrates somewhere else with her's. During these days, they can't be together. Ahmed celebrated 4 consecutive nights of “henna parties”, of pure eating, dancing and of course the henna ritual for Ahmed and all the close men and women. A different band every night, a different tradition every night. During the day, the celebration isn't less intense, with different types of ceremonies and an endless series of encounters and visits that must be carried out so as everything turns out successfully, which leaves the groom with no more than a couple of hours a day to sleep. Their parties took us from ancient Sudanese traditions to the contemporary ones.

The wedding in pictures

Every night Ahmed enters sitting on the shoulders of a relative or a friend. All the guests wait for him anxiously, men on one side an women on the other.

Every night, a diferrent band plays traditional sudanese music.

Traditional music has its corresponding traditional dance. Two dancers delight us while the band plays squandering energy and everyone else dances around it. The energy of its pace raises the sand of the desert which covers Khartoum.

One friend of the family is in charge of the henna ritual itself. Ahmed lays back while his hands and feet are dealt with and women surround him and sing to him without a pause.

Until well into the night women surround Ahmed with improvised drums, play and continue singing traditional songs whose rythm make us vibrate with emotion.

His sisters encourage him from the public.

During the day Ahmed is drifted around his neghbourhood along his neighbours clapping and singing.

Some days he arrives on someone's shoulders, and others mounted on a horse.

But everyone in the neighbourhood always wait for him anxiously to sing for him and honor him.

Nights go by, the tireless celebration continues. The vals is not a custom here, Ahmed dances with his mother and everybody jumps around them.

Always a different dress. Ahmed's grandmother and mother look stunning in their tobs

As well as his aunts, cousins and friends

I hand myself over to the women so they can apply henna on my hands and feet.

While Julia, radiant, has fun dancing with Mohammed, our Sudanese father.

Together with Ahmed, my Sudanese self and Julia, my Sudanese love, the most beautiful woman in the whole party.

On the final day of the wedding, tradition is left aside and Ahmed and Wamda dress in sync with the contemporary, Western custom, combining the tradition of the henna on their hands.

This has been one of the most touching experiences of my life in which I feel I settled even more my deep love for this country and it's wonderful people. Julia and I continue to seed the best friends of the world we run into on our jurney, we bring them into our lives and we grow with them, we feel blessed by the people who come across it. I'll carry this memory for some months in the henna staining my hands and feet.