Before my last trip to Khartoum was so rudely interrupted, I was invited to join a Sudanese celebration. My trusty fixer Al Siir drove me to meet his family for something of a feast. His “sister” – meaning, I think in these circumstances a female relative – had recently returned from Jordan where she had been having medical treatment and the family were gathering to welcome her home.
Colourful sheets had been strung across a dusty backyard creating a makeshift shelter from the sun. As is customary I sat with the menfolk while the women toiled somewhere unseen. While they cooked, we discussed important issues of the day such as the following night’s big match between Hilal and Merreikh(my adopted team). Imagine Arsenal v Chelsea but with more dust. There was the usual embarrassment and blank looks as I tried to explain that my English team was Nottingham Forest.
It wasn’t long before steaming platters of traditional Sudanese food were brought out. A hunk of roasted goat – its outside blistered until crisp and sticky – sat atop leaves of rocket. The best lumps were torn off and handed to me. There were bowls of rigla, made from beans, mint and onion, and a big bowl of soup flavoured with okra and eaten by soaking shards of thin kisra bread (similar to Ethiopian injera) in the watery broth. Aubergines and peppers were stuffed with rice and mince, or roasted and mixed with yoghurt and tahini. There was kammonia, made from sheep’s intestines cooked up with cinammon, onions and tomato. And the whole glorious, oily feast was mopped up with hunks of bread smeared with a fiery, green chilli sauce.
The food was fantastic. I could have sat there all day while Al Siir’s family made me feel like a king.
And the guest of honour? It’s hard to say whether she had a good day or not. I never met her.