Thursday, January 14, 2016


Poor Mr. Austin had caught a bad cold the moment we arrived in Sudan. and by this point I think it was probably a full-blown sinus infection. Fortunately, three of the Five Musketeers (Areej's three brothers, and two cousins, Omar and Ahmed) are physicians, and they kept him well-medicated. What he really needed though, was some rest. Hubby too! So, the morning after the Big Henna Hooplah, I let them sleep half the day away, while I caught up on my journaling. I finally roused them around 2:00, and we headed downstairs for another of our hotel's sumptuous buffets. Afterwards, the driver picked us up and took us back to Habooba's house for the real henna party. I found an interesting article about Sudanese wedding traditions, including a bit about the henna customs, here.

Actually, they had already been working on the bride's henna, as well as other female family members, for quite some time when we arrived. It can be a very lengthy and exhausting process. In fact, the poor henna artist was actually taking a little nap when we arrived! Most Sudanese women now use a black dye instead of natural henna, since it shows up better and dries quicker. However Areej, being a chemist herself, is very, very cautious about what she puts on her skin and hair, and did not want to use the chemical dye. Can't say that I blame her. The henna artist had already applied one layer of henna on her arms, hands, legs and feet before we arrived, and was now going over it all with a second layer, to darken it from rusty red to a blackish red, hopefully. Most of her female relatives were shaking their heads in disapproval.

The poor bride has to be a contortionist for this! Doing the hands and arms is no problem. Just don't sneeze or scratch your nose. The front of the legs is fairly easy too, because you can sit up comfortably for all those parts. However, when it's time to do the bottom of the feet and the backs of the legs, you have to find a position that not only gives the artist easy access, but also prevents you from smearing any of the other parts, which are still drying. Believe me, it ain't easy!

Meanwhile, in the room next door, we had not one, but two, grooms getting their henna tattoos -- Austin, and cousin Omar, whose wedding would be the week after theirs. While the women's tattoos are painted on with something akin to a pastry bag, in very artistic patterns, the groom's henna is very different. It is mixed to an almost clay-like consistency, which is then molded and shaped across their palms and around their fingers. For both the bride and the groom, there are some strong smelling oils involved, which seemed to irritate the men much more than the women, causing some tears and sinus issues.
Habooba assists with Omar's oil application.
Speaking of sinus issues, the grooms' clay-like henna takes a couple of hours to dry and harden, and they aren't supposed to move their fingers at all during that time or everything will crack. As soon as they told us that, I said "Oh my gosh, Austin! What are you going to do if you need to sneeze or blow your nose?" He looked a wee bit horrified at the thought. Sure enough, a short time after I went back to the other room to have my own henna applied, I heard a humongous sneeze. Thankfully, it was Omar, not Austin! I later heard that he just stood up, aimed it for the empty floor space in the middle of the room, then one of the women cleaned it up without blinking an eye. Oh yeah, did I mention that the aunts and female friends were all there to sing and drum and ululate in support, throughout the process? All in all, it was quite the adventure, and my beautifully delicate wrist cuff design lasted through our week in Barcelona as well!

Curing Our Henna


P.S. Next day I noticed that Areej's henna designs were now tar black, even though when I left the night before they were still quite red. When I asked her about them, she said Habooba came in to give final approval, pronounced the henna color "Ugly", and that was that. The black dye went on!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


We had been warned ahead of time that there would be no henna at this henna party. That would come later. Originally, these parties were gatherings for everyone to see the bride and groom getting their wedding henna applied, but eventually the brides must have grown tired of having to sit perfectly still for hours on end, while the henna was applied and then waiting for it to dry, when everyone else was having so much fun at these intimate (compared to the actual weddings) gatherings of their nearest and dearest. Now they do it separately, and closer to the wedding, so it doesn't have time to fade.

We arrived back at Habooba's house promptly at 8:00PM, the official start time, and I almost didn't recognize the place!

The entire three-story house had been draped with strands of twinkle lights, and the street beside it had been closed off and filled with a massive purple party tent. Areej loves purple!

When we stepped inside and discovered that we were the only ones there, other than the workmen who were still setting up speakers and video screens, I finally understood what Elsa attempted to explain the day before -- about doing things the Sudanese way, where being the "punctual" type, who loves making plans and schedules, is not necessarily an asset. Which is why they end every statement regarding future plans with inshallah or mashallah -- reminders that things are in God's hands, not ours.

My Boys
Almost immediately, however, the uncles appeared to make us feel welcome, entertaining us until more people arrived and the music began. It wasn't long before the party was in full swing, with wall-to-wall people and tables filled with platters of roasted lamb, fried chicken, something that resembled a flying-saucer-shaped-hushpuppy (falafel?) and all sorts of yumminess. And, of course, there was singing and dancing!

Areej's father made sure Hubby was one of the first ones out on the dance floor, and taught him the difference between greeting and acknowledging or honoring a person on the dance floor (one arm raised towards that person, while snapping one's fingers to the beat) as they are doing here with the wonderful singer, and just plain dancing (clapping along with the music).

Hubby's not used to being the center of attention!
The Uncles Take To The Floor
The Uncles honor Habooba when she joins them on the dance floor.
I wish you could have seen Habooba in action. The woman is about 90, but she has more energy than all the women in my family combined. She had an eye on everything that went on that evening, and there was no doubt in anyone's mind, who was in charge!

After Areej made her grand entrance, and she and Austin took to the dance floor, it became a total mob scene, with five or six photographers following them at all times, and with some of the photos being displayed on screens mounted around the tent. Unfortunately, that meant I never got close enough to catch a good picture of them myself! Hopefully I will get some of the professional shots later, which I can share with you. Oh, and remember what I said earlier about everyone in Sudan having an i-phone? Well, there were a ton of photos being snapped on those as well. Even selfies!

The Fashion Girls!
Areej has three adorable cousins on her mother's side. That's the two youngest ones in the picture above. Their father is the one who made our entry and exit through the airport such a breeze, and arranged the lovely hotel for us.  Anyhoo, seeing these girls, and what they were wearing, was the highlight of each event. They always had custom made dresses made out of coordinating fabrics, which were similar to one another, but not quite the same. And you never saw them in the same thing twice. I asked Areej if they would be able to reuse these amazing ensembles for some of cousin Omar's wedding events, which would begin immediately after Areej's and Austin's ended. She said "Oh no! They will have all new outfits for each of those parties, and there will be twice as many!"

I also loved hanging out with these guys, three of the Five Musketeers, who were always entertaining. I do believe they're taking a selfie!

Areej's oldest brother Amin, youngest brother Amjad, and cousin Ahmed.
Just as I was about to run out of steam, the party abruptly ended, with everyone leaving all at once. How on earth did they manage that? Well, it seems there is a curfew of sorts in Khartoum, and no one is supposed to be out on the streets past midnight.

The Two Daddies
I dropped into bed as soon as we got back to the hotel, and was out like a light!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


On December 25th we went downstairs to breakfast, and discovered this:

Apparently, our hotel was planning a huge Christmas feast for later that day, and they said they hoped that we would join them. In fact, they had a different theme in the restaurant each day that we were there, and changed the decor to match. All were impressive, but these tables were my favorite.

Over breakfast we discussed our plans for the day. We knew that there was to be a "Henna Party" later that evening, and that it was to be held at Grandmother's house. Areej described it as much more casual and intimate than the actual wedding, but warned us that people would still be fairly dressed up. We assumed that with everyone busy getting ready for that, it would be up to us to entertain ourselves that morning, so we decided to walk over to the shopping mall that was next to our hotel.

One thing we were not expecting to find there?

An ice rink!

Needless to say, we were a bit taken aback when we returned to the hotel, and found the family's driver, Sabit,  there waiting for us. Apparently, Habooba had taken a liking to us, and insisted that we should be there for an event that is usually limited to the bride's closest family, and certainly no grooms! We rushed upstairs to get cleaned up as fast as we could, then headed back out with Sabit.

The first to greet us upon our arrival were these guys.

Goats, right? Wrong! They're a special breed of short-haired sheep. I was on my way over to make friends with them when Hubby said "You might not want to do that. I'm pretty sure they will be our dinner at some point." Sure enough, there used to be four of them.

I started thinking that this henna party might not be quite as intimate as we thought, when I realized that Grandma's entire courtyard and the outdoor sleeping areas had been converted into one ginormous kitchen extension, and that everyone was swarming about like busy little bees!

Inside, the women were casually dressed and going about their business for the most part, even though more and more guests kept arriving. As I understood it, this morning's event was simply a time for the bride's family to gather around her in support. The unique thing was that a special singer/drummer was invited. He sat there in the formal living area, visiting with the family. Then, when the spirit moved him, he stood and began drumming.

Areej and Habooba
A few people wandered in from other parts of the house and clapped along. Then he started singing a call and response type of song. More people joined in.

Before you knew it, the room was packed full of people, singing and dancing. The songs were familiar to everyone, and their response lines were always the same, but it appeared that the singer had creative license to adjust his lyrics at will, cracking jokes about people in the audience, which  had them all roaring. When the song was finally over, most of the women returned to their tasks,  some of the men to their phones, and the rest of us to our coffee or sugar-laden tea.

A short time later, it would all begin again.

Next thing we knew, it was time for us to head back to our hotel to change for the evening's festivities!

Monday, January 11, 2016


Our second day in Sudan was December 24,  and all the decorations and carol-playing at our hotel kept us from missing the festivities back home quite so much. Again, we slept late, enjoyed a leisurely buffet brunch, then hung out at the hotel, waiting to hear what the plans were. We were discovering that, at least during this pre-wedding hubbub time, Areej's family tended to stay up half the night visiting with all the relatives they hadn't seen in a long time, and doing wedding prep stuff, such has filling 400 gift boxes with handmade perfumes and other goodies, then shrink-wrapping it all to keep out the dust and sand. No surprise that they are slow to get moving in the morning!

Around noon we got word that they were sending a driver to fetch us. Today we were going to divide and conquer. Areej's brothers and cousin had plans to whisk Austin off to their favorite barber, to make sure he was properly groomed for the wedding, and then buy him the special pair of sandals that he needed to wear with one of his wedding outfits. Her dad was planning to take John to wander around at the souq (outdoor market), since that is one of my hubby's very favorite things to do (shopping!), and I was to go with Areej and her mom to get our nails done. But first, we were all to meet up at Grandmother's house. Habooba wanted to meet us! Turns out, she wasn't the only one. There were uncles and cousins...

and brothers...

and aunts...

Areej, her aunt Sihame, and her mother Amal
and quite a few people whom I had no clue about. First there was tea and coffee. Then we were served a delicious meal. Finally, around 4:00, we went our separate ways. One very interesting person we met was Amal's good friend Elsa. I can't believe I didn't get a decent picture of her! She's a world traveler who had just come from Australia, and who has been working for some time on a project in Ethiopia, but whose home is actually in West Virginia, U.S.A! She went along to the salon with us, and kept us entertained. Apparently the girls who worked there were all Ethiopian, and were gossiping up a storm, with no clue that Elsa could speak the language.

She couldn't resist saying something to them as we were leaving, and they all gasped in horror when they realized she had understood every word they said!

By the time we got back to the house, I was floored to discover it was 10:00 PM. There was talk of taking us out to a very special seafood restaurant, but I think they could tell by looking at us that we were all dead on our feet, so they had the driver take us back to our hotel instead. I'm kind of sorry we didn't tough it out and get our second wind, for we never did make it back to that restaurant!

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Remember this guy?

It's the travel journal I purchased about a year ago, when the notion of a wedding in Sudan first came up. I did quite a bit of reading on the subject, which inspired a couple of journal entries...

but then set it aside for a while, when the wedding date got pushed back several months.

My original plan was to work on it every day that we were abroad, but, as I discovered on our trip to San Miguel this summer, that doesn't really work for me. So, instead, I just made it a point to pick up little bits of this and that along the way, such as stamps, postcards, maps, business cards from favorite shops and restaurants, ticket stubs, boarding passes, etc. Now I am having a marvelous time pulling it all together into interesting journal pages which, much like my blog posts and photographs, help me to relive, absorb, analyze and experience it all in yet another way. More bang for your buck, right?

I call this spread Arrival: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same