Rafed English

Ramadan in Sudan's deserts

by: Khalid Roy

I took the declaration of faith, when becoming a Muslim, sat on the sandy floor of a desert mosque in the middle of Sudan. The imam, who was leading me through what I had to say, wrote my new Muslim name in the sand and said, “You will see this again on the Day of Judgement”.

Not long after, and no sooner than I became accustomed to praying five times a day, it was my first Ramadan. In another religion we might call it a ‘baptism of fire’. Ramadan in the desert involves 45C (113F) heat in the shade, not much to eat at Iftar, and extreme physical hardship crowned by an unbelievable thirst.

Community spirit

The upside, of course, was that most subsequent fasts were a relative pushover. Many of these were also in Sudan. The most wonderful feature of a Sudanese Ramadan is how an entire street or neighbourhood bring their food out into a public space just before sunset so that everyone sits and eats together.

Ramadan in Sudan is nothing if not deeply communal in spirit and in practice. Should someone find themselves far from home as the evening call to prayer sounds, it is entirely acceptable – even commendable – to approach one of the many families eating outside and simply join in ‘breaking-the-fast’.

Drink is the most important item on the large platters, and the Sudanese have come up with the most exotic and delicious ‘Aseers’ (pressed juices) known to mankind. Favourites include ‘Tabaldi’ which is from the famous desert Baobab tree (also good for upset stomachs), ‘Aradeb’ from the tamarind family (with anti-malarial properties) and the ubiquitous ‘Karkade’ made from the wonderfully red and inviting hibiscus flower. When drunk by the jug-load along with the rather hard and unique Sudanese date, blood-sugar levels are usually restored enough to allow the evening prayer to take place.

Tricky food

This is then followed by the main part of the ‘breakfast’ - and here there is simply no substitute for the two staples of ‘Aseeda’ and ‘Fool’. ‘Aseeda’ is the Sudanese version of the pan-African porridge made of whatever the local grain staple happens to be. In Sudan this is usually either sorghum or millet.

The porridge forms a large mound in the middle of the plate which is then semi-submerged in any of a number of spiced sauces or ‘mulah’. Everything is, of course, eaten by hand and the trick with ‘Aseeda’ is not to get the porridge stuck to your fingers as it's hard to dislodge and the heat generated can be painful.

The other staple, ‘Fool’, is simply stewed Egyptian fava beans mixed with oil, onions and other delectables like hummus, boiled eggs or perhaps yoghurt. Eating always extends until night prayer, which in Sudan is invariably in the open air, under the moon, with a satiating wind blowing over one’s face in seeming reward for a long, hard and very thirsty day.

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