The last time I attended an iftar meal was during Ramzan of 2011. I was an invitee of Dr Yusuf Ziya Kavakci, who was the scholar-in-residence of the Islamic Association of North Texas. This was strictly an interfaith endeavour. Seated at each table were individuals from the Christian and Muslim communities. My companion for the event was a fellow volunteer from the Irving Arts Centre. We were both working as team leaders for the Genghis Khan exhibit, which was travelling the globe as part of a partnership with the Smithsonian. Patrick, with his beautiful white hair and wonderful nature also doubled as ‘Santa Claus’ at Nordstrom’s department store each year. Santa Claus sat to my left and a regional Muslim media star was seated at my right. Across from me, a man with a long career in the oil business. Between us and with the additional four at the table, we had a wonderful time. The meal was delicious and the company stimulating. It was an evening well spent. In a sense, it was a midsummer night’s dream. It was a classic memory for me. The setting was unique, never to be replicated, always remembered.
Fast forward to October 2013. This is the month when I met Mohamed Elhassan. My subsequent securement of an interview gave readers of Daily Times ‘Sudan through the eyes of a presidential candidate’ (November 1, 2013). Since last year, I have established a good working relationship with Mohamed Elhassan. He continues along with a quiet but determined path to seek the presidency. I am aware of his timeline to touch down in his country of birth and bring presidential aspirations into focus. I am aware of the general aspects of his campaign strategy. I am a journalist who wants to follow his political aspirations to the end. Win or lose, this is the journalism I enjoy the most. Being on the ground and networking with contacts is far superior to being seated at a desk with coffee cup in hand. Journalism without human interface is sterile, cold and boring. As I have become acquainted with the nuclear family of Mr Elhassan and his circle of friends, my life is enriched. Humanity is diverse. We are meant to learn from each other, retaining the good and blowing away the chaff with a gentle breath.
Last week, I received an invitation from Ezzeldin Mohamed, the brother of the aforementioned and the current president of The Sudanese American Community of North Texas. Would I be interested in joining the group for an iftar meal in the park on Saturday night? Naturally, as a woman who will eat with the devil if the food is free, I jumped at the chance. All joking aside, in reality, I was participating in another midsummer night’s meal during Ramzan. This time the meal would not be catered. The dining would not be in a mosque. This event would be in an area park and the food would be prepared by the Sudanese families. So I purchased a few fancy cookies from an area bakery and I made a trip to buy a gift for Fatima, the youngest daughter of Mohamed Elhassan. The first time I entered the home I gave her a necklace. The second time I entered the home, bold little Fatima toddled right up to my purse and looked inside to see if there was something else to be discovered. Recognising a combination of strong backbone and curiosity, I did not want her to be disappointed this time. So she ended up with a plush toy and a storybook.
When we arrived at the park a flurry of prayer rugs hit the grass. As the men prayed the women set up two tables of food. One table was for the men and the other for the women. As a woman from the US, such behaviour brings out my sense of humour. While not having any memories of the radical bra-burning feminist era, my father was the primary architect of my psyche. He made me his intellectual equal. While writing this current thought I took a moment to go to YouTube and click on American Woman by the band Guess Who. While this is actually an anti-war song, it really is about an American Woman and her name is Lady Liberty. I am free like the lady in the harbour. Free to be me, free to eat at either table. But then I reflect that the highest freedom is imbued with a heart that is gracious and kind towards others of different opinion. This highest freedom is freedom of expression. So I found myself serving from the women’s table and eating with the women. It was another midsummer night’s meal. Time to learn more about the Sudanese community.
Perhaps 75 to 80 were present for the iftar dinner. The men were in western clothing, thaub and the traditional Sudanese jalabiya. Women wore the beautiful abaya, hijab, or jeans and tops with scarves. The food overflowed across the tables with hearty courses of lamb or chicken with rice, kebabs, falafel, roasted meats, salads and a flat bread that I did not recognise. The beverages were fruit-based drinks and Sudanese coffee. I have grown to love Sudanese coffee. It is sweet, strong and yet, at the same time, I find it difficult to identify the olfactory dimension on a coffee aroma wheel. The coffee was next to the tray of dates. It made a nice pairing for the end of the meal.
The Sudanese American Community of North Texas provides a connection venue for the native-born Sudanese who live in the US. It was an honour to attend this event, enjoy the food and visit the women at the table. I think that in the US we have it figured out. This grand experiment of living within a sustainable republic is based on a strong principle of intermingling communities that harbour no malice. Saturday night was all about friendship. Perhaps, one day, Pakistan can follow our lead.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org