We hope that your stay will be long and
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
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.
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.
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.
1kg= 1000 SP (seasonal)
1 kilo=2-3000 SP
1 bunch=500-1000 SP
12= 4-5000 (seasonal)
12= 12000 (seasonal)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
Parking: Is there a safe place to leave a vehicle?
Guard: If you are in an apartment building, is the guard provided? What
are his duties and responsibilities?
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.
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.
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
Freenet Phone #: 127
Phone #: 124
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Unity High School, on Palace Street (Shaaria al
Qasr), near the Meridien Hotel, ph
- 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
* 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
2. Do not refuse a serious invitation for a
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
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?
Hilton Hotel- You can see the Hilton if you drive west along the road
that runs along the Nile.
Grand Villa Hotel - Also along Nile road.
Meridian- on the east side and southern end of Palace Road (Shaaria al
Qasr, the main one-way road going north through downtown.
- Bus Stations:
The main central one is Suuq Arabi, on the east side of Palace Road.
Three important ones: Shohada
(closest to the Omdurman Suuq), Suuq Shaabii9 and Suuq Libya
Bahri (in the Suuq itself), Koba and Shaabiiya
Travel Permits- Harder to find. Take someone along with you the first
time you go. North and east of Unity High School
Visa Office\Registration- Between University Avenue and Nile Street, two
blocks north of the Post Office.
Police- Various stations around town. Ask for the nearest one.
Ministry of social planning/ Education/Immigration
Post Office- On University Ave, slightly after you pass the Presidential
east of Meridian.
Third road east of the Modern Medical Center on the Airport (Africa) Road
French-Several banks are near the intersection of Palace Rd and Jamhuria street
Check with your local community of expatriates.
Airways- South of the American Embassy
Travel- On your left hand side, last block of buildings heading north on Palace
One block west of Palace Road on Jamhuria Street.
Suug Lybia and Suug An Naqaa
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.