New Testament

Serving Christ

In Sudan

Cush Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God.


This material was written in 2001.  Most is still relevant, while some has needed to be updated.  It will be further updated as more information is requested.  Sep06.


Welcome to Sudan.

We hope that your stay will be long and pleasant.

Sudan is a wonderful place, and the sooner you begin to discover it the better. This booklet is an attempt to help you with some of those initial adjustment phases. Many of the ideas presented in here have been learned because people did them wrong and found themselves in embarrassing situations. Others were learned from Sudanese friends and others were observed. Remember, Sudanese culture is extremely varied and colorful. Something that may be true in Khartoum may be not so in Darfur or Port Sudan. In general, the observations in this manual apply to Khartoum and its environs.


Towards the end of the booklet, you will find some more practical information, such as educational options for learning Arabic and for your children. Our goal has to make this a manual for those have already arrived and also for those on their way to the Sudan.


Introduction to Khartoum

The city of Khartoum has somewhere between 9 and 13 Million inhabitants. Actually, there are three towns which make this urban center. In the south there is Khartoum, in the north there is Khartoum-North or “Bahri,” and in the west Omdurman. They all are separated by the Blue and the White Nile.


For the first few days it is good to discover your new “hometown” with someone who knows the area and can help you to discover the markets (called “suugs”).


An even better way to discover the culture is to live with a Sudanese family for a few weeks. This can be arranged through someone who has been here for a while. Several people have had wonderful experiences living with Sudanese. Also, it is good if a Sudanese shows you around and explains all the foreign customs. Expatriates’ insights are valuable but cannot replace local insights. Once you get your bearings a little bit, you do not feel as lost.


Khartoum itself is divided in Khartoum 1 (the Centre), Khartoum 2 and 3. It is the centre of trade, government, and administration for the whole of Sudan. The scenery is therefore mainly made up of banks, shops, cars and a lot of people of course. The centre is set up in a relatively symmetrical way, therefore it is easy to find your way through pretty soon (with the help of a map :-) ).


The further you get out of the centre of Khartoum, the more rural it gets. At the beginning you think everything looks alike, and it takes a bit of practice to find your way.

How to greet

Sudan is a culture of relationships. The ceremony for the greetings is therefore very important. You can never greet too much! By greeting, you are showing that you acknowledge and honor the person.


Among Sudanese greetings can last up to 10 minutes. The usual greeting sequence begins with something like “As Salaamu ‘Aleekum” to which the answer is “Wa ‘Aleekum a Salaam.” You proceed from that point on to ask how he/she is doing and then answer his/her question with “Thanks, good” and than you ask about his/het family, work etc. The more detailed your questions, the better. Usually, during the greetings, a person will not say how they are actually doing, this part of the sharing will occur later during your conversation. This is not a steadfast rule though.


There are some phrases for greeting people which you can find in the list of vocabulary in the books made available by the local language institutes. In public locations you always greet with “assalamu aleikum” and “ma’a Salaama” to say goodbye.


Among members of the same sex, to greet someone you have to shake their hand not only once but several times or you hold their hand during all or a part of the greeting. Members of the opposite sexes shake hands only very briefly. Only use your right hand for greeting someone. Never, ever greet with the left hand. This is a real insult. Friends in Sudan will begin their greeting by reaching forward with their right hand and touching the shoulder of their friend. The hand is then withdrawn and moves into a normal handshake. However, if you are close with someone, they may pull you in close with their hand to give you a hug. You should left them initiate this level of greeting but relax if it does happen. It means that you are now more than a simple acquaintance to them. Observe your friends for your clues.


If you meet a group of people, you should shake hands with everyone, even those you don’t know. If you are sitting when someone comes into the room, it is important to stand up while greeting. It is very important not to leave anyone out. After shaking hands you can also put your right hand on top of your heart and bend forward to show your respect.


If guests arrive while you are eating, or if you arrive when people are eating, still greet by offering your forearm. They will hold it just as if it were your hand. The same courtesy will be offered to you if their hands are dirty or wet.


In the street where you live or your local area you should greet everyone you meet. Exception: Women should not greet men except if they know them very well. A short nod of the head in that person’s direction is sufficient. It is absolutely crucial to avoid making eye contact with members of the opposite sex, because it is seen as immoral or a “come on.” Even if you have seen someone and greeted them extensively earlier in the day, you should always recognize them again, even by sending a short greeting such as “Keef?” in their direction. These later greetings are not expected to be long. They are rather just a reaffirmation that your relationship with them is still good.


A note for parents. Children are expected to greet as well as adults. Little babies are taught to greet from a very early age. If your children will greet politely, the Sudanese will respect you more.


What to wear

This is an important point you should have thought about before your arrival. Many Sudanese have never met a foreigner whom they knew well enough to call a friend. For this reason, their concepts of what foreigners are based upon television shows and movies. A stereotype is that western women are loose and western men are womanizers. How you dress will seriously affect how you are treated. We want to dress appropriate according to the culture so that they cannot find any fault in us and say that we are immoral people. You can be put in a box right at your first meeting and to getting out of this is not so easy. How you dress will be a first step in helping overcome misconceptions about the kind of person you are.

Important for the women:

This is a difficult area for women coming from cultures where styles of dress are not restrictive. In considering how you dress in Sudan, you will want to consider what kind of message you want to communicate and how you want to be viewed by Sudanese. Women are generally very nicely dressed, especially in public. We should imitate this. Big T-Shirts, trousers and trainers are not considered feminine and should be avoided. Long skirts or dresses are more appropriate. Underneath it is common to wear an underskirt especially if you wear a skirt with a long slit. Ladies most often wear sandals with heals. Burkenstocks and other flat bottom sandals are more comfortable but are rarely worn by Sudanese women.


You will need to decide on how closely you will imitate the culture in this area, keeping in the mind that the closer you dress to the ladies of the culture, the more respect you will be given. Whatever you decide, we strongly recommend that you avoid shoulder free and sleeveless shirts or blouses as they are not appropriate in almost all contexts. Some of the younger generation will wear these outfits at private parties but never in public.


Don’t forget the head covering. It can be a small thin scarf, but better is one which covers the shoulders. Married women wear usually a “toob”, which is a big peace of material wrapped around the body. They are more respected by wearing it. Although this isn’t necessarily expected for us as foreigners, you will gain a tremendous amount of acceptance by wearing it. But you can surprise the locals by wearing during a celebration. It probably will have a good effect, because through it you show that you accept their clothes and respect their way of life. Pant suits seem to be currently in style among more affluent women, though they will still wear a matching head scarf with the outfit.


For special occasions (e.g.  weddings, parties) women should dressed very, very chic. Make up and a lot of jewelry (gold mainly) is absolutely necessary. Otherwise you will appear underdressed. The sign of a respected wife is that she has nice clothes and jewelry to wear. You can not over dress for a party, but you will real strange if you are underdressed.


For men:

On principle button up shirts are good. Only the poor people wear T-Shirts and therefore it isn’t appropriate to wear them for doing business etc. and it looks very careless. For leisure time around the house they are OK.


In general, Southern Christians wear short sleeved shirts tucked inside their trousers, and Muslims long sleeved shirts that are left un-tucked. You have to decide how you will adjust to it. Business professionals are more and more emulating their western counterparts, wearing long sleeve button up shirts tucked in. Another outfit that is seen as professional is what is called the “Safari Suit.”


You will find that linen trousers are far better than jeans and are what is mostly worn by locals. They are more comfortable and not so hot. Short pants are only acceptable in your own house or garden, or on your way to your car to the Sports club.


The garb of choice of men when they are away from work is the Jallabiyya, the long flowing robe. There are several different kinds of Jallabiyya, each appropriate for different situations. The prefabricated kind that you buy in the market have a few buttons on the front and are good in casual situations. However, the Sudanese see these as cheap and they should not be worn to parties or formal events. Spend a little bit and have one custom made in the market. The custom made Jallabiyyas have a breast pocket on the front and in the back. Make sure when buying material that you purchase enough to have matching pants and shawl made at the same time.


Jallabiyyas are worn with “seerwaal”, special pants that are worn underneath, and markuubs, leather or snake skin shoes. The outfit is polished off by a hat called a tagiyya if you are a young man. Mature men most often wear a turban, and sometimes a shawl. As goes for the ladies, no one expects you as a foreigner to wear this outfit. However, if you do so, with all the proper add-ons, your Sudanese friends will love you for it.


If you have unexpected visitors and aren’t appropriately dressed, welcome them, offer them a seat and then go and get changed. Having a Jallabiyya on hand is a quick outfit to throw over whatever you are wearing when unexpected guest show up.


For swimming it is better to wear shorts than “speedo” or bikini type shorts.

Public transport

There are many different varieties of public transport here in the Sudan. If the drivers don’t scare you to death, you will find public transport both a safe and economical means of getting around the city. It will take you a little time to figure out the bus routes, but once you know where you want to go, things will be fairly simple.


There are special bus stations, you just have to know where they are. Usually, you can find large bus stations located around the major markets. You can also flag down any public transport as it passes you on the street by putting your hand out about waist high and motioning downwards several times as the vehicle goes by. If they have room, they will stop and pick you up.


Recently, there has been a move to color code the buses according to their route. The bottom of the bus will have a large strip indicating their destination. For example, buses with a large yellow stripe on the bottom terminate downtown Khartoum, blue stripes in Bahri and Green stripes in Umdurman. Their origination point will also be written on the bus, but in Arabic text. However, once you learn the color scheme, you can be fairly confident when riding a bus where you will end up.


Prices as of 2006


The big ones (ca.50 people)=> 500 Jenee per person: They have fixed stops.  

Hafla (ca. 25 p) =400-700 Jenee per person. They stop at each point you want them to stop. You indicate that by snapping your fingers so the conductor (Kumsaari) can hear you.

Minibus (ca.6-8p) => 1000-1,500 Jenee per person. They stop at each point you want them to stop.

Amjad: These are a step down from taxi and a step up from the bus. They are little microvans, holding only about 7 passengers if totally full. They will take you to wherever you want to go, all the while picking up other riders along the way who are going in the same direction. On an Amjad, you pay per person, and the cost varies on the distance traveled.


Taxis: Khartoum has many taxis. You recognize them by their distinctive yellow color. For your fare, you have to bargain. Assume that 60% of the first price they ask is still a good price for them. The longer you drive the more it costs. As example: From downtown to Khartoum 2 should be 4000 Jenee maximum. It is common for the driver to first ask you for what you are willing to pay. Don’t fall into this trap. Insist on negotiating a price before you get in vehicle. You can always get a better price by beginning to walk away.


Riksha: 1500-2000 per drive (not per person!), if you go a longer distance, you have to bargain. From Amarat to the beginning of downtown Khartoum may be 4000.


How to shop in a Suug

There are different types of suugs (markets). Some are for vegetables and others food, clothing, furniture, tools, etc. See the attached maps.


The bigger suugs are normally open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. You can always expect the people consider you to be wealthy. They will initially offer you always a price which is about double the real price, sometimes even higher. (This is especially true for the suug vegetable shops. In the ‘dukkans’, the little shops, where you can buy daily things, and in supermarkets, staple items have fixed prices. In the suug where there are a lot of competitors, you find the prices are not as fixed.)


Be aware of the closing times during the prayer times, especially at Friday prayer between 1-2 p.m. Shops don’t normally reopen until late afternoon on Friday.

Prices for food as of 2006

The prices differ from season to season. Generally most of them are the cheapest at autumn and wintertime, which is Oct-Feb. “SP” Stands for Sudanese Pounds, 10 times more than what is written on your money. No one in the market speaks in dinars, the official currency.



Tomatoes        1kg= 1000 SP (seasonal)

Cucumber        1 kilo=2-3000 SP

Carrots             1 bunch=500-1000 SP

Potatoes          1kg= 2-3000SP

Zucchini          1kg= 2-3000SP

Onions                        1kg=1000SP

Aubergine        1kg=1000SP



Oranges           12= 4-5000 (seasonal)

Grapefruit        12= 12000 (seasonal)

Bananas           1kg= 1000

Melon              small= 2-3000

                        large4= -5000


How to bargain

If you want to buy something expensive, it is worth comparing the prices in several shops, because there are big differences. If you have got an idea about the average price they offer you at the beginning than you can start to bargain.


Begin by talking to the store owner, exchange greetings, show them that you like them, and that you have time. Ask about several things, don’t show too much interest in what you really want. Then you can wait for the price and react with a smile: “That’s a little bit too expensive isn’t it?” Or: “Is this a special price for a Khawadja (white man)?” They will realize that you want to bargain, and hopefully come down with their price.


Start with a counter offer to his (ladies are almost never shop owners) price, which is somewhat less that what you are willing to pay. In the whole bargaining process, there has to be some give and take. Than he will complain and will say another price in between. You should know: He will never undergo his fixed price in mind. Decide what you are willing to pay and after a few exchanges, make your final offer and hold your position. If he will not come down anymore, you can decide to leave (which is a good idea at the first shop anyway). The owner might follow you and come down more. If you are satisfied with the price you can say: “tayib,” o.k. and give him the money.


It is always good to bargain for one or two items first, and then try to get some more items for a complete price. A hint: The more you buy in one shop the better the discount.


Always remain friendly and smiling!! If you want the best price, you have to be willing to take your time. If you are in a hurry, you will end up paying much more.


How to shop for daily needs

You might have a dukkan(shop) close to you. You can buy daily items there like sugar, milk powder, juices, etc.  It is good to have a good relationship with the shopkeeper because he maybe can help you in some situations and he is an informant for the neighborhood.


The things you cannot get there, you will get in the supermarket (special things for cosmetics, baking etc.) or at the suug. You can get your milk and eggs from the milkman daily but you should ask your neighbors first to see if his offer is good for the price. A custom that is very different from the west, Sudanese men usually do the shopping. If women go, they go only in groups.

Being a Guest

The first visit or on special occasions you should bring a little gift for the host, usually something along the line of sweets. Generally, you honor your neighbors more by visiting them than by inviting them. Whenever you visit somebody, make people a priority over time. Don’t plan your visit with a certain amount of time in mind. Plan to take as long as needed. That said, for the first visit it is okay to just stay for half an hour or an hour. The closer your relationship, the longer you will be expected to stay.


When you arrive, you knock at the door and wait until somebody opens it. If the door is already open then you can call out the name of the person. If you don’t know them, you simply call “As Salaamu ‘Aleekum.” Clapping your hands is also a good way to get attention, because you don’t want to accidentally wander in if the women in the house are unveiled. Don’t be surprised if you are shown in by someone you don’t know and left alone in a room for a while. They have most likely gone to get the person whom you came to visit.


In traditional families men and women sit separated. If you arrive as a couple be aware that you most likely will end up sitting separately, most likely even in different rooms. In modern families you can sit together as men and women, but try not to sit too close to members of the opposite gender. Normally men and women sit on separate chairs or beds, which double as couches.


Relax, you will be treated as a king. They will serve you the best things they have. After a few minutes most hosts will serve  a cold drink. Usually, water is brought first, but then either a soft drink or juice. In the evening maybe tea with milk may be served along with some snacks, biscuits or sweets.


Whatever they serve you, you should at least try some of it. Otherwise you will be considered impolite. When they offer anything to you it is a good idea just to say “shukran”. Then you leave to them whether they want to interpret it as a Yes or a No. Of course you have to decide for yourself what to do if you are served obviously dirty water. Personally I always remember that Mark 16:18 is still part of the Bible, ask the Lord to bless the water and drink it.


If you are really full, you may say “shukran” and show with your hand that it is enough. “ana shab9aan (add an “a” to the end if you are a lady) means: I’m really full up. Don’t wonder if they will argue with you that you have to eat more. It is their way of serving you. You will repeatedly have to turn down second and third helpings. Don’t feel bad. It is also a good idea to make your first helping a little one or to eat slowly, as you will inevitably end up being pressed to eat more.


If you visit during morning hours keep it short, not more than half an hour. If you are invited for breakfast (fatuur) this will be sometime between 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. If you are invited for lunch, the time is between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. One of the best times for visiting is the time between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. From 3.00 to 5:00 p.m. the people have a short nap after their work and lunch, thus it is not a suitable time. After 8:00 p.m. it isn’t recommended to visit a person you don’t know well. The people will eat supper (‘asha) at about 9-10:00 p.m. This is the time for family or good friends sitting together.


If you sit in a room with chairs, you can keep your shoes on. However, if you sit outside on a mat, or on one of the beds, remove your shoes, place them near in an accessible place, and sit down. Point your feet away from those to whom you are talking. Sudanese never show the bottoms of their feet to guests. It is considered very impolite.


A rough idea of what your visit will be like.

Your friend will invite you to come to his house for tea or a meal. In my experience, Sudanese rarely drop it for an unexpected visit around meal times. Meals are reserved for special  invitations, as they will want to be able to prepare properly and serve you their best.


Let’s say for example, Mohammed invites you to Ghada (lunch) at his house. He will tell you to come sometime around 2 in the afternoon. If you arrived at 2, you would expect to sit for a few hours. You may want to ask if that is Sudanese time or Khawadja time. He will laugh and tell you a time that is closer to the real time he expects you to arrive.


You arrive around 3 p.m. with your wife and everyone in the room greets you. Your wife then disappears into the back of the house. Don’t expect to be given a tour of the house, or even to meet everyone who is there. Some members of the family you may not see for several visits, especially the ladies. Most of your visit most likely will take place in one room.


Almost immediately, Mohammed or someone younger than he brings you water on a tray. They will pull up a small table and place it in front of you. Drinks are always served on a tray because to hand someone a drink is considered impolite. It also seems that the older members of the family never serve the younger ones.  The women serve the men, and the boys and young men serve their elders.


Then he may bring you something else to drink, along with some sweets. Don’t eat many, even if you are encouraged to, because you want to have room for the actual meal that is coming. From that point on, you will sit and talk. If there are several people in the room, Mohammed may stay with you for the entire visit. If he is concerned about the preparation of the food, he may repeatedly disappear for minutes at a time.


It’s now somewhere around 4:30 and you are beginning to wonder if food is coming. Finally, Mohammed pulls a table into the middle of the room and disappears again. He then reappears with a large metal tray, upon which are placed several different plates of food. Your hosts may all excuse themselves and go to wash before they eat. It is a very good idea to go along and wash also.


You go with Mohammed and wash. You wash your hands, forearms, and mouth. Together, you come back and distribute yourselves around the large tray. Eat what is presented to you, and observe Mohammed. He will never use his left hand, except maybe to hold a larger piece of bread which he tears with his right hand. He will only eat out of the plates that are in front of him. He will also pass the plates to you that aren’t within your reach. Take some, put it on the plate that is close to you or on the tray, and pass it back. Return the courtesy by passing around plates that are in front of you.


During the meal, you most likely won’t be served anything to drink. Sudanese think that it is not good for your digestion to drink during the meal.


After you eat, you go and wash again. You return to the room and Mohammed disappeared again. He returns almost immediately with something to drink. Drink your fill of water, drink Pepsi and other sugared drinks slowly, as they may not have a lot more (depending on their financial situation.)


This is the relaxed part of the visit. After an undetermined amount of time, Mohammed will bring out tea or coffee. Don’t consider leaving until this happens unless you know the family really well. Tea is usually served at the end of a visit, and you can begin to look towards leaving. You drink your tea and a little while afterwards indicate that you need to be getting home. Mohammed will encourage you to stay a while longer. You talk for a few more minutes, then again indicate your intention to leave.


Your wife appears or you ask for her and head to the door. Make sure you greet as many people as you can before leaving, thanking them profusely for their kindness. Mohammed walks you to the door and waves as you drive away. In discussing with your wife, you discover very similar experiences.


Visiting during Ramadan

The visiting times during Ramadan are different and you should ask how it works in your particular neighborhood. Everybody handles this time different. Maybe they will invite you for fatuur, which is the breaking of the fast, in the evening-around 6-6:15 p.m. For fatuur during Ramadan, don’t be late. The times of sleeping and staying awake are also different. Most of the people sleep during the day, so the normal visiting time is not a good time to visit. Most women are very busy at this time. Maybe after fatuur, 7:00 p.m., is the better time if they are not going to the mosque. Evenings during Ramadan are generally a wonderful time for visits, as people readjust their schedule to sleep as much as possible during the daytime hours.

Visiting in case of a death in the family.

In the case of a death you should go as soon as possible to visit the family. The longer you wait the more the more it will stretch the relationship.  Sudanese typically will set up a tent outside their home where they welcome the male visitors who come to offer condolences. The ladies remain inside. The first couple days, there is lots of loud crying and wailing to show how much the person will be missed. The tent remains for 3 days, but the official period of mourning is 40 days. If you have been away and hear of a death, go immediately and express condolences.


When you arrive, you will greet the family members you know. Express condolences and you will be shown a place to sit. Someone will come and serve you water, then most likely some tea. If the family member sits beside you, you can ask him some small questions such as “ when did it happen”, “ was it unexpected?” or “was he/she sick?” However, much like Job’s friends, the custom is to sit mainly in silence for long periods of time. If you are there during a meal time, you will sit and eat with other mourners.


This period of time is difficult on the family in many ways. They are suffering the loss of a loved one. People are visiting from morning till evening. And visitors are expected to be fed. One way that you may help is by giving a financial gift. Anything is appreciated, but in general, the closer you are, the nicer the gift should be. This is not something that is expected of you as a foreigner but will be very appreciated.



When hosting or being hosted, you need to keep in mind what I call the Principle of Insistence. When offering something to a Sudanese, be it drink or food, you need to continually urge and insist. They will always say no the first time something is offered to them. According to one Sudanese friend, this is especially true for women. They will only taste or sip what you give them unless you really insist. It is a sign that you care about them and are not just serving out of politeness. Offering something once it not enough, nor is it enough to encourage them to eat only once. Do it many times throughout your interaction with them. Remember, asking is not enough. Insist!


If you are the host, take time for your guests. Even if you have an appointment, it is strange and impolite to tell your guests. Exception: if they are good friends or you are already at the door ready to leave.


You have to decide how to treat your guests, but keep in mind that every Sudanese will open the door for you at any time and will welcome you. If you have unexpected guests , you can serve just a cold drink and some sweets. For guests who visit you the first time, it should be a special drink like Pepsi, juice, etc.


If you have an appointment with somebody, serve just a drink and biscuits. If you have invited guests, first serve a cold drink and after the meal a cup of tea. Sudanese don’t ask if you would like something to drink when you arrive at their home. They will simply serve you a glass of cold water, and maybe something else. This is a good practice to emulate. If you ask, they will always refuse. Go ahead and serve them without asking. If they really don’t want it, they will most likely just take a sip and leave the rest. This is OK.


When serving the drinks, remember to serve them on a tray. Pull up a small table or stool and place it in front of them, then place the tray with the drinks on it. If they are friends you can serve water instead of a special drink and the same if they are worker in your house. If serving juice, remember that the juice needs to have a tremendous amount of sugar in it.


As mentioned above, serving is the work of women. So as a man you can bring the drinks on a tray, but if you serve several things it should be done by the women of the house.


1. NEVER serve the tea before dinner or lunch because it is a sign that you want them to leave now.

2. If you serve something other than water, bring them a fresh glass.

3. Remember to sit separately if the guests are traditional people.



As men:

Usually men never cook, nor do they do any domestic work inside the house. If they can’t afford a worker, they may clean the Hoosh or spray water on the dirt outside the house. If you help your wife with domestic chores, avoid mentioning this to your Sudanese guests. They will think less of you.


As women:

Learning to cook Sudanese style: The best way is to ask a neighbor, whether you can come and peak over her shoulder. She will feel very honored, and you get a glimpse what and how they cook.


As a rule they cook very similarly like Europeans, i.e. soup (shorba), stew (mulah), vegetables (khudra) and meat (laham) or fish (samak) Side dishes are often potatoes, rice and pasta.


For Fatuur, Foul, a bean soup with a lot of fat, sheep cheese, some onions, and tomatoes, is very popular among the Sudanese people. Besides this Asiida, a kind of porridge, is eaten a lot, mostly among poorer families. Unfortunately it has no taste. Meat will be often cooked with a lot of fat and the bones are not taken off.


As mentioned before, the food is served on a big round dish tray, on which are a number of plates containing the food: Salad, soup, meat, side dishes, etc., including bread which is part of every meal. You will eat most of the times without knife, and fork, using only with your hands. Use only the right hand! It is considered the pure one, the left one is used for the toilette. As a spoon you use the bread with which you take the food from the plates. The best is just to watch the Sudanese and mimic them. You will see that they are quite skilled at it. Spoons will also be places on the tray for soups and other softer foods. What your hosts for clues. If at all possible, try the local specialties and get to know their names. Weeka, ‘Asiida. Guraasa, Bamiyya, Foul, Salata, these are all Sudanese specialties and are all delicious!


There is a custom to bring food or sweets as a gift to neighbors. If this happens to you the rule is: Never return a plate empty. You are supposed to bring it back with a gift from you. This may be just a little. You may also keep the plate for some weeks if you don’t have time, that is no problem.


Behavior between men and women

As already indicated above you should be aware that there is a respectful distance between the sexes in this culture. Too big a familiarity will be easily misunderstood and considered an immoral offer.


Men should not make eye contact with women. When talking to each other  only briefly glance at the woman and then look above her shoulder.


In no case is a man to stay alone in a house with a woman he is not married to. Even if it is expat friends who are visiting there should be a third person with them. Don’t be mistaken! Your neighbors watch very carefully who your visitors are and when and how often they come. Therefore: If you have a visitor of the opposite gender let your husband/wife come to the gate in order for the neighbors to see that the two of you are at home. The some goes when your guests are leaving again.


If there are visitors for your husband/wife, but he/she is not at home, then don’t let this person in. Rather tell him/her when he or she can come again. Everybody should understand that.


If you are a single person, be very careful in hosting other single persons without the presense of at least another person of the same sex. This is difficult, but it is your reputation that is on the line.


If you live on your own, then do not visit other single men/women of the opposite gender without someone with you. If you give a person of the opposite gender a lift it is better if they choose the back seat in the car, even if it may look stupid. In the bus, if you have the choice, one should preferably sit by a passenger of the same gender.


Couples should not exchange endearments in public. Even holding hands is still considered inappropriate. Tenderness in the eyes of Sudanese is something which is supposed to take place only discretely in the own home hidden from the eyes of others, although it is slowly changing in the younger generation. An unmarried couple should never travel on their own, every Sudanese would suppose something is happening between them.


Young people nowadays get to know each other also at work or at the university. You can more and more see young people sitting together at the river bank of the Nile or in a park. This seems to mean a loosening of the gender separation. However in many families it is still not permitted for a girl to meet with her Fiancée on her own or that she get to know him outside of the confines of family visits. “Platonic” friendships also are frowned upon outside of group interaction. However, the young people still interact, merely keeping it hidden from their families.


Money: A few suggestions

Perhaps from the very first day you arrive in the Sudan, you will begin to face requests for money. It is a reality that the city of Khartoum has thousands of beggars, street children, and other swindlers, all out to get some money off of you. However, the money pressures go beyond just street beggars. You will find that friends, acquaintances, and people you don’t know at all will ask you for sums of money, both large and small.


First, it would help to understand the economic situation in the Sudan. Because of the war, millions of people have come here as refugees. Hundreds of thousands of others have come because the prospects of life in the village are dim to non-existent. This has created a large problem with unemployment. There just aren’t enough jobs to go around.


Secondly, money is not handled individually as in other countries. What a person earns may in fact get taken up by any number of relatives who are living at that person’s home. One local pastor had over 20 relatives who had shown up on his doorstep and were staying at his home. None of them had jobs, and his culture forced him to provide for all of them for as long as they chose to stay.


Inevitably, you will have requests for money. The approaches are varied, but here are a few examples. People often ask for school fees for their children, transport money so that they can get to their new job, money for food, and medical bills. Others want loans to get businesses started. Sometimes these are legitimate, sometimes they are not.


In general, it is our opinion that it is not a good thing to give large sums of money out. Once a pattern of help is established, that person will come to expect you to provide for their needs and requests. Then when you have to draw a line, you may loose someone you had considered a friend. If the person is a friend and you want to help, give 10% or 20% of what that person is asking of you. It is cultural to ask for the entire amount, and is acceptable to only give something. Another way to say no is to give a token amount, say 5000 or 10000 pounds. Better still is to help a friend unsolicited. If you find out second hand that someone you know is struggling, then helping that person out before they have to ask is much better. That way there is a sense of it being a gift.


If a person claims to be hungry, it is more advisable to give them something to eat. Give a couple pieces of fruit, maybe some bread. Be careful, though, or you will end up running a feeding program outside your front door. There are several feeding programs for street children and they all know where they are. There is also the sad reality that these children often work for a “pimp,” someone who takes the money that they gain from begging.


If you want to give, find a reputable local organization to which you can make donations. There are many relief organizations in town, all of whom would be most happy to take your money. Alternately, you can give your money to a church and designate it as you like.


One Sudanese man gave the following advice. “Be the ministry of Employment, not the Bank.” Be wary of employing beggars off the street, but if you have a job that could be done by a local, this is a great way of helping them out financially. Hire someone trustworthy to clean your home, to take care of the garden, to be a nanny for your children, to be a language tutor, to be an errand runner. These are all culturally acceptable and even respectable jobs.


Renting a home/Apartment


One of the first things on many people’s minds when they arrive in Sudan is “where are we going to live?” The good news is that there are plenty of options. The bad news is that there are plenty of options. In general though, here is how things work.


Khartoum 2 and 3 and Amaraat are the most expensive places to rent because they are the most convenient places for foreigners. Typically, the further from the center you get, the less you will pay for rent. The neighborhood will also determine prices. A nicer home in a poor neighborhood may be less, but then you will have a large gap between your neighbors and yourself, making it difficult to get to know them.


There are many people around town who are “agents.” Their job is to find you a home but for a fee of course. Usually, you pay the agent the equivalent of one month’s rent if he is successful in helping you locate a home. (If you agree to 1 years rent in advance. For a 6 month contract, he gets a half a month.) He will take you around and show you all sorts of places. It’s important to know before you start looking what you want and how much you are willing to pay for it.


Once you have located a suitable place, then you can begin negotiations. Assume that the landlord will increase the rent because you are foreigners. Sometimes they are willing to negotiate this price, but at other times, they are willing to leave the house empty rather than to rent it for less than they feel they can get out of it.


It is common at least initially to pay rent for 6 months at a time. It isn’t legal to raise the rent more than 17% or so a year.  Also, if you have lived in an unfurnished home for over a year, the landlord can not easily make you leave. The law protects the renter from being outed of their home without due warning. If the home is furnished, the landlord can just give you a months notice before you have to leave.


However, this is only the first step of the negotiations. There are other things that you should include in a contract. Here are a few examples but don’t be limited to these.


1.   Repairs: most places will need some upgrading if they have been empty for a while. Check the light fixtures, light bulbs and the electrical outlets. Check the fans, and the water pump. Make sure that the house has an adequate water tank on the top of the house. Also, if the place is furnished, stipulate in the contract who will be responsible for repairing items that break down. It is a good idea to withhold 15-25% of the first rent until the repairs are completed. Once you have moved in, it is very difficult to get repairs and upgrades completed.

2.   Generator: If a generator is available, check on the rules of usage. Who decides when it will run? Who will upkeep and maintain it, and pay for fuel? If its not available and you plan on purchasing one, check to make sure the home is wired correctly to accommodate this. Will you be expected to share the generator with your landlord if they live above or below you?

3.   Parking: Is there a safe place to leave a vehicle?

4.   Guard: If you are in an apartment building, is the guard provided? What are his duties and responsibilities?

5.   Cupboards, etc: Typically, this is a problem in the kitchen, since western style cupboards are not as common in older homes. If you want them, it’s best to include them in the contract agreement.

6.   Finally, how will termination of the contract work? How much notice do you need to give, or do they need to give before you have to leave?


It’s a good idea to put everything in writing. It’s cultural to promise anything that is asked and deliver something that is considerably less. Put time constraints on repairs and upgrades, or they will never get done.


Some landlords will ask for a safety deposit. If at all possible, don’t pay this. It is extremely difficult or next to impossible to get his back once you have moved out.

Internet Access


If you are from abroad, you most likely will want to use the internet for communicating with family, friends and work. Fortunately, Sudan has a very good telephone system. There are currently over 20 Internet Service Providers in town. The three most common ones are billed directly through your phone line, so you don’t even require a username.

Sudanet Phone #: 122

Username: Sudanet

Password: Sudanet

Freenet Phone #: 127

Username: Freenet

Password: freenet


Phone #: 124

Username: zinanet

Password: Zinanet







Check with someone locally to verify the current phone numbers. Most of these providers also have a high speed ISDN service available for a cost, depending on where you are living.


There are several new services providing DSL and wireless internet.  Prices have become very competitive recently (mid 2006): eg Sudatel and Canar


Learning Arabic


If you are going to live in the Sudan, it is recommended that you acquire at least some basic survival Arabic. If you really want to interact with the culture, it is a must to get into the language. Sudanese will open up like a flower if you speak to them in their own language.


There are currently 2-3 main options for learning Sudanese Arabic.


KIFL (Korean Institute for Foreign Language) is an institute that started a few years ago to serve the needs of expatriates here in Sudan. Their book of choice for is “Sudanese Colloquial Arabic for Beginners.” This school is run by Young-Soo. Classes are flexible, and are taught at several levels and speeds.


CLIK (Catholic Language Institute of Khartoum) is an institute that teaches both Sudanese Colloquial and Modern Standard Arabic. Their book of choice is “Spoken Arabic of Khartoum.”  This is located in Khartoum 2 (street 39?)


KALC - Khartoum Arabic Learning Centre offers Arabic lessons for part-time learners. They follow a learner oriented approach on the basis of the latest linguistic insights. A wholistic learning experience is  emphasized. The focus is on the learner actually speaking. Lessons can be flexibly planned according to the needs of the learner. 


Education for Children


For families, education for their children is a major issue when living outside their homeland. Generally, expatriates living in Sudan choose to have their children educated in English although there are some exceptions.


Currently, there are several English schools in town.

  • Khartoum International Community School (KICS), Soba, ph 0183 474804; 0183215000  www.kicssudan.sd 
  • Nile Valley Academy (NVA), Khartoum 2, ph 0183 485628; 0912381451, email: nvainternationalschool@yahoo.com
  • Unity High School, on Palace Street (Shaaria al Qasr), near the Meridien Hotel,  ph 0183 780408
  • American School, ph 0183 512042


Tuition fees for these schools vary, and each has particular strengths (eg differing facilities, some being further from the center of town and different teaching models).  It is good to ask parents of students of their personal opinions. There is also a French School and a few other schools in town, though the ones mentioned above are said to have the highest standards.


Many parents are sending their children to Rift Valley Academy in Kenya for their final two or three years of schooling, for those wishing to go the boarding-school route.

The Sudanese way of living and thinking


The following are some general observation on Sudanese perspective on life.


* Relationships with your family and friends are central to all of life.

* Always be friendly.

* Have time for people.

* Time is relevant in terms of events, not in terms of specific moments.

* Insha’allah, bukra, ma’alesh. (IBM)

* Be flexible and spontaneous.

* Take it easy.

* Never lose your face in front of others.

* Try to know important people.

* Try to improve your status.

* Lie if it helps the situation.

* Live today, tomorrow is tomorrow.

* Repair things only after they have broken down.

* Be hospitable at all costs, and maintain appearances at all costs.


10 Cultural Do’s

1. Set people over time.

2. Greet first extensively if you want to talk to somebody. Show them that you perceive them as a valuable person.

3. Build relationships. Visits and relationships are the key to people’s hearts.

4. Dress properly.

5. Everywhere you go take water with you. Drink a lot!

6. Bargain first before you buy.

7. Always give your guest a drink, even if he pretends not to want it. Insist!

8. Plan for everything to take twice as long as you would normally plan on.

9. Set goals, but do not out them over people, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t reach them.

10. Pace yourself and go slowly.

10 Cultural Don’ts

1. Do not disregard people for work or schedule.

2. Do not refuse a serious invitation for a meal.

3. Do not visit strangers after 9 p.m.

4. Never get impatient or be unfriendly in a public office.

5. Do not get too close or be too friendly to the opposite gender.

6. Do not form all your friendships within the Expatriate community.

7. Do not say anything publicly that is negative about the government or Islam.

8. Do not drink water from the tap, especially not outside of Khartoum.

9. Do not take photos of government buildings, bridges, Military, poor people, etc. without proper permission.

10. Do not give out the original copies of your documents. Instead make many photocopies of everything.  In the passport office, however, they usually need to retain the passport itself until regsitration or visa applicatioins are completed

What to do in case of an Auto Accident


One of the most noticeable things when one arrives in Sudan is the driving. It can be quite frightening. Fortunately, once you get the hang of it, you may find yourself driving just like the Sudanese. However, what do you do if you have an accident?


The law says that you should not move the car, not even an inch, until the police arrive. During the week, it isn’t as hard to find a policeman as on the weekends. Traffic police are dressed in white uniforms and usually wear a white beret. If there is more than one person in your vehicle and no one is injured, send someone to try and look for a policeman.


It is possible that if the accident is your fault, you may have some people start yelling and acting belligerent. Keep your cool and keep your voice down. Simply ask for the police. Refuse any requests for money. Don’t admit guilt until the police arrive. Just remain quiet and calm. You can begin by exchanging phone numbers and license plate numbers. It is important to get a valid phone number, if at all possible, get a mobile number from them and call it immediately to insure that it is indeed a valid number. If you were the injured party, the same applies as above. Don’t accept money as a payoff as this could cause you legal problems later.

Where to go in a medical emergency


If you have a medical emergency, there are several good medical facilities around town, and the number is ever increasing. If you have the time, there is a good clinic called “The Doctor’s Clinic” that sits at the end of the airport on Africa Road (Airport Road) on the right where you have your first option to turn left. The Police Hospital on the road to Burri (North East of the Airport) is also good for Accidents and Emergency.  In Omdurman, the Asia Hospital or Blue Nile Hospital, both in Shohada, are suitable.  Wherever you are, it is a good idea to find a hospital near to you.


Additionally, there are several western medical doctors who are generally very gracious in answering questions and giving suggestions as to how to deal with your medical problem. Someone in your network of friends will be able to connect you.


How to get a Driver’s License

Traffic stops are frequent here in Khartoum. Having a Sudanese driver’s license will make your life much easier. Additionally, you are only supposed to drive on your foreign license for at most three months. The process of acquiring a Sudanese license is actually fairly simple. It is advisable to take someone along who can read, write and speak Arabic. However, don’t go where they would want you to start as the process for foreigners and Sudanese is different. You will also need something like 200,000 SP (not dinars) and  your actual physical address not your PO BOX.


Proceed down University Ave (Shaaria Jaama) until you reach a roundabout. Beyond this point the road becomes two-way. Park and enter the compound on the North West corner of the roundabout. Ask where you can get your “Ruksa As Sawaag.” You will enter one of the small offices and fill out a form. Make sure you take along your blood type or you will be required to take a blood type test.


Most people, regardless of where they are from, are required to sit a fairly simple oral and practical test.  You will be shown where these take place once you have completed your forms.  You may have to travel to the testing Center in Omdurman to do the ‘practical’.  Try to get access to the written road rules book (given out when you pay for your yearly vehicle registration) so you can prepare for the test.  It is written in Arabic, so you may need someone to help you with this.


Once you have completed the test, you will get your Photo Drivers licence from the original office.

Where are the most important locations?

Downtown Map:

1.   Hilton Hotel- You can see the Hilton if you drive west along the road that runs along the Nile.

2.   Grand Villa Hotel - Also along Nile road.

3.   Meridian- on the east side and southern end of Palace Road (Shaaria al Qasr, the main one-way road going north through downtown.

  1. Bus Stations: 

·        Khartoum:  The main central one is Suuq Arabi, on the east side of Palace Road.

·        Omdurman:  Three important ones:  Shohada (closest to the Omdurman Suuq), Suuq Shaabii9 and Suuq Libya

·        Bahri:  Bahri (in the Suuq itself), Koba and Shaabiiya

5.   Travel Permits- Harder to find. Take someone along with you the first time you go. North and east of Unity High School

6.   Visa Office\Registration- Between University Avenue and Nile Street, two blocks north of the Post Office.

7.   Police- Various stations around town. Ask for the nearest one.

8.   Ministry of social planning/ Education/Immigration

9.   Post Office- On University Ave, slightly after you pass the Presidential Palace

10    KCC-½ Block east of Meridian.

11    KIC:  Third road east of the Modern Medical Center on the Airport (Africa) Road

12. Banks: French-Several banks are near the intersection of Palace Rd and Jamhuria street

13. Embassies: Check with your local community of expatriates.

14. Kenya Airways- South of the American Embassy

15. Olympia Travel- On your left hand side, last block of buildings heading north on Palace Road

16. Kodak- One block west of Palace Road on Jamhuria Street.



1.   Omdurman Market

2.   Shambaat Bridge

3.   Mahdi Square

4.   Suug Lybia and Suug An Naqaa

5.   Parliament Buildings, Jami’a an Nileen


Where to buy what


If you live in Khartoum,Suug al Markazy, at the end of Africa Road (Airport Road)


Suug Lybia on the west side of Omdurmann, or one of the Duty Free shops.


Duty Free, Street 15, and several places along the main road in Bahri.