I was born and raised outside Sudan.
Actually, I was 22 years old when I first visited Sudan. But I live in a country where Sudanese presense is more than just noticeable. They are EVERYWHERE. No… really. No matter where you go, odds are, you will meet/see/interact with a Sudanese person. Example? so I go for an interview at a FRENCH company… I get interviewed by a Sudanese young man. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t bother me; they are hard workers and are often manifestations of #SudaneseExcellence
Growing up, I did not exist to the Sudanese community who lives in this Gulf monarchy. I liked it better that way. I didn’t have Sudanese friends, kept my relationship with my distant cousins to a bare minimum, Eid greetings and what not. I avoided Sudanese women in the mall, avoided Sudanese guys in cafes. I avoided anything Sudanese that could talk.
And the reason was simple. All Sudanese people abroad, from all age groups, and all genders GOSSIP so much. And not the gossip-over-coffee-about-what’s-new, it’s the spread-rumors-to-as-many-Sudanese-people-as-possible-till-it-get-to-the-subject kind of gossip. GROSS.
Gossiping about other Sudanese people is CENTRAL to the Sudanese community abroad, and everyone does it. Everyone wants to know who is dating who, who broke up with who, who was at the club, and who was wearing a skanky dress at the wedding. Daughters aiding their moms with gossip from what they see around them at university or school, you know, places moms can’t reach, so Sudanese youth would be at ease and act like they want. Guys bragging about who they slept with, and who sent them nudes.
Now, just to be fair, of course not ALL Sudanese people are like that. But because of the structure of Sudanese societies abroad, you will either be the topic of gossip, or you will be the one doing the gossiping. So the best solution? Let them know NOTHING about you.
So, what is this “Sudanese Societies Abroad Structure” that I am talking about?
Sudanese people seem to kind split into three groups:
- The proliferating kind: those are the one who want EVERY other Sudanese resident to act like them. Be a member of their group. Show up to their charity events – the ones that ask us to donate money and goods that we never know where they really go. These peeps are in bed with the government, in bed with the opposition, and in bed with everyone else in between. God forbids you don’t want to be part of this group, or don’t want to take part of their activity. You will be shunned; you will be the outcast, the subject of gossip and hate. And mind you that they are quite influential, so I guess if you want to survive, maintain social relationships with them as individuals, excuse yourself on case-by-case basis from taking part in their activities. Hate yourself for having to be on their good side and allowing them to rule your life more or less. Then, when you are strong enough, isolate yourself and expect to hear things like: “She/he thinks they are too good for her/his Sudanese brothers and sisters” or “He/she wants people to think they are not Sudanese, uh! Ashamed of his/her own people!”
- The popular kind: These are often part of the proliferating kind, but they also often hate them. I guess they are just pragmatic. They are supposed to be the cool ones. They are often young, and most young Sudanese people in the same country want to be part of their crew. They are supposed to simulate a “typical” Sudanese group; fun guys and girls, with a favorite chilling spot. But because they are often loud and noticeable, they start getting a lot of attention and become center of gossip by the proliferators. So, they kind of try to get under the wing of the proliferators, to protect themselves, And next thing you know… they are the representatives of Sudanese youth abroad, they become source for gossip on other Sudanese youngsters, etc. etc.
- The chameleons: They are the ones who adopt the culture of the host country completely: dresscode, language, accent. They avoid admitting to being even remotely Sudanese, and try to assimilate to everything exclusively related to the host society. It is true that identity is flexible and you are to identify yourself as whoever you want to be. But, when you start looking down at us “Sudanese” residents, making fun of us. Referring to us in a derogatory “them”… then we have a problem. The minute you start making your mother in Sudan wear Abaya, because her Toub is too “African” or isn’t “real hijab”… then we have a real problem.
I guess what pains me the most, is that regardless to what kind you are, you will be negatively judged. But they will obviously smile to your face. The hypocrisy is real, I’m telling you.
Of course, there is the rest of us. The ones living on the margins, and are on good terms with everyone. Which constitutes a good number of a Sudanese community abroad.
Growing up, the Sudanese community where I lived seemed to be absolute extremes: The “westernized” open minded kind, and the forced-hijab-at-8 years old kind. And I was stuck in between, with my local primary education, American university degree, semi-conservative parents, and sweetly saturated household with Sudanese culture. I also had my extended family with me, my grandparents lived right next door. Aunts with their families living no more than 30 minutes drive away from me. I had a strong sense of the Sudanese society that seemed more similar to the Sudanese community in Sudan than the Sudanese society abroad. So, I never felt the need to mingle with this weird-ass, gossip-loving, self-centered society.
They had nothing to do with people in Sudan. Really. I don’t care if they send their kids to the Sudanese school, or if they wear Eimma or Toub. Their behavior is not even a mixture of Sudanese behavior and host community behavior, it is something so exclusively theirs. They are far more reserved, they think as one mass, depending on which group they belong to. Yeah…
And I understand that Migrant communities face issues of integeration and identity when they are aborad. But then comes the disconnect of the second generation. Sons and daughters of immigrants, like myself, are often confused by what is compatible to this new hybrid identity and what isn’t. The parents think that they haven’t changed. They believe that they have an extension of their homeland community in this Sudanese community abroad. But to me for example, I know I am a hybrid, a result of all the experiences I went through, as second generation Sudanese, born and raised abroad. And thus, I have to deal with, let’s say, things that I am allowed to do in Sudan, that are absolute taboos while living abroad. And to my parents it is clear as day; because, “people here don’t understand” is somehow a legitimate argument to restrain expression. But to me, I’ll have to wade and fuddle till I find answers.
This was exactly what happened. I was usually mistaken to be part of different groups of the Sudanese community in this country, depending on who is asking. So, those who met me at university were so sure I will be the life of the party next weekend. Others never missed a chance to invite me to talk in their Qura’an memorizing session. I was confused. The Sudanese community seemed to follow a binary: you are either good or bad. You are either in or out.
That was overwhelming to an 18 or 19 years old, who was not only questioning things like the rest of young people her age: you know, thinking about things like religion, and boys and what not. But also had to figure out where she belonged.
So, I went on a trip of self-discovery. Of course, I didn’t even realize I was going on that trip. It was nothing like Eat, Pray, Love (the book was a complete waste of time, and the movie was even worse btw)
I tried out almost all the crews, the religious ones, the party animals, the “Soudana foug” type, the rebellious-with-no-cause type, the Wahmaneeen/West-Coast-represent type. And I forced myself to fit in, I had little parts in common with each group. But everything had to be clear cut to them… all or nothing.
So, I never really fit in… and I was devastated. I had to explain why I don’t have Sudanese friends, why I’ve never been to Sudan. I had to constantly explain myself.
I hated the Sudanese community, and not only just for gossip now. I hated it because it made no room for me to be everything at once. It could not accommodate for the fact that I can go to an American university, and not be a representative of American foreign policy. That I can criticize Sudan, and not be “brain washed” by the “Zionists” or the “communists”. I hated the Sudanese community, because it never made hating it a viable option for me.
I admit. I still hate this Sudanese community abroad.