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Yousif Izzat Almahri


Yousif Izzat AlMahri

Almahri was born in 1974 in the Nomads' plains of Darfur and went to school there in Kutum. He graduated at Al-Nilein University in Khartoum in 1998. He eventually migrated to Canada. Almahri is now studying International development at Winnipeg University.

Stirring Ashes was written in Arabic and translated into English by Mustafa Adam


 Stirring Ashes
Mustafa Adam
Mustafa Adam
is a Sudanese university lecturer of English. Currently working in UAE, he read an MA, English Literature  at Khartoum University and an MA Linguistics at Manchester Uni. His interests include Harold Pinter, and Wole Soyinka. He is a literary translator and has published English translations of Sudanese poetry and short stories as well as translations of some English poetry into Arabic. He contributes to the editing of Ihtram ( an electronic journal on issues of human rights and cultural diversity in Sudan )
http://www.sudan- forall.org/iht.htm


The men are famished…

She uttered the words with intense sadness and a broken heart. With her infant strapped to her back she grubbed in the ashes for a dried up branch. She found herself at the top of the Umm Dhiraisayia Mountain, which was, a few days ago, a wild grazing land for the village goats and Kashoum’s camels. Bandits had freed the camels from Kashoum’s hold and led them away to the rich grazing pastures of Baja sand hill and the pebbly waters of the lime well. The girls of the Tunjur tribe, ready for their next Hajouri folk dance session with their alluring big bottoms, grabbed the long-awaited opportunity to compose satirical verses. They had finally gotten the chance to taint Kashoum‘s impeccable reputation, until then as white as his new Jallabyia garment. Kashoum had worn the Jallabyia in the early morning of the last Eid, before he was stripped of his fortune of camels, leaving his name a handy rhythm to dance to in the local Mundous,

Kashoum, Oh my brethren,
His lost camels weigh on my nerves.
Lend me a two-barreled shotgun
And show me the way to the bandits
Oh Kashoum, Oh it is shameful
Giving up your camels to save your own soul

The Tunjur girls, velvety-skinned and bathed in fresh spring waters, chanted and danced in Kashoum’s dishonour. Embittered by their unreachable beauty in that bygone evening when they crossed the road in front of him, carrying jars of drinking water, settled precariously on their heads, he was the one who said: “Praise be to Allah … praise be to Allah, oh Tunjur girls … You waited until I’m too old, to grow these awesome bottoms “.

He was mounted on his ashen yellow camel, holding his long leather whip buttressed with deer-hide (the one he killed with his shotgun) and rolling up the hippo-hide bridles he brought back from the southern rivers. On that day, he lacked only a lighted cigarette in his mouth to complete the paraphernalia of grandeur, though life does not tolerate smoke, then or ever after.

The men are famished, She mumbled to herself on her way to where they were sitting under the shadow of the scorching sun, their smooth hands empty of their usual sticks. Her hands were also empty, and her sadness was only deepened by the whimpers of the restless baby strapped to her sweaty back and the heat from the hot ashes seeping through the hole in her cloth shoe.

She bent over to take off her left shoe but couldn’t find a relatively cool spot to rest her bare foot, so she staggered around, nearly falling to the ground. Managing to steady herself, she gave up the idea of emptying the shoe. She put it on again with the hot ashes still there, and continued to walk towards the men.

The small forest at the slope of the hill was thick; its branches intertwined like the plaited and oiled hair of the Tunjur girls. The forest was a mixture of all sorts of local acacia trees and shrubberies: Gurgudan Allah, Ghudhaim Ahmar, Mukhait, well-watered Sayial ,Hashab ( Gum Arabic) and Garadh. It was a living forest and the occasional dead trees were used to feed Kashoum’s growing business since he had finally managed to establish his own locally-made charcoal furnace.

She was hunting for a makeshift wooden spoon to stir the millet porridge she was preparing for their dinner. From the harvest of dead trees and chaff from that living forest, Kashoum had bought his first camel to carry his load of charcoal to the nearest town market, and then the second, third and fourth, as his business grew. In this manner, he fell into the habit of buying camels like all those before him. That living forest, with its trees and charcoal furnace, had now turned into the burning ashes tormenting her in her unsteady tread as she hunted for a dry branch that had survived the inferno.

Her little daughter, Kaltouma had already finished grinding the four-pound measure of millet, expected to feed Kashoum and the seventy men. They turned toward her with their empty bellies as she passed them empty-handed after trudging around the ashen hill. It was an inferno feeding on humans and wood, and leaving behind only scorching ashes and iron oozing from the face of the rocks.

The axe handle had turned to ash and the blade was reshaped by the fire into something barely resembling an axe blade. Her nails couldn’t even scratch the lonely stump of the trunk of the Haraz tree, east of the village, all that was left of the living forest. She had cut her nails just a day before the inferno, as she intended to apply henna in her preparations for an anticipated trip to her folk in Gouz Barrani. She wanted to greet the family and get her baby to drink from the sacred Mihayia, the concoction prepared by Suma’ein the righteous, the villager’s famous sheikh. All that was no longer important; the nail-cutter itself was a molten lump beside one of the andirons in her home, as if sacrificed to trim and beautify the face of this repugnant hunger. As she searched for burning embers, Marieouma had stumbled on the molten nail-cutter, thus identifying the location of her own lost kitchen.

Her burnt kitchen was just a shed of plaited straw. To the north of her kitchen was the guest hut and to the south was the big hut, in the very center of which, the big clay pot for storing millet and other food stuff was built and to the right of which lay the bed of palm branches. This was where she had first met her husband; Abdarrasoul.

She fervently recalled his countenance the joyous day he took her from her people’s district, Gouz Barrani. The Tunjur girls were dancing and jumping all along the way in the peaceful bliss of the place. On that day, Marieouma was wedded to the young lad Abdarrasoul and was on her way to dwell in a house made of straw, palm branches and love.

She pushed the sweet memory away and, forgetting all about the waiting men, tried to ascertain the boundaries of her lost house, starting from the andiron and her molten nail-cutter. To the south of that hut with her bed and her love nights and all their associations, was the donkey’s stall. The donkey was a thoroughbred, whose braying had disturbed the serene nights of the peaceful village. In the mornings, the donkey would select its partners of the day from the flock of she-donkeys brought especially so that imposing donkey could implant his noble seeds in their wombs.

Abdarrasoul had brought that donkey from the land of sunrise on his journey to the north just before they got married. At the time, Kashoum was busy looking after his grazing camels while merrily flirting with the Tunjur girls crossing before him, in the breezy afternoons. That journey saw the departure of so many men to the North, in what is locally known as the Jungo Jourah journey of men hitting the road for seasonal menial jobs in cotton plantations or whatever.

Abdarrasoul was the only one to return home. He arrived on the back of that thoroughbred donkey whose breed eventually spread all along the neighboring villages. That donkey, its saddle and its feedbag were part of the pile of ashes left in the aftermath of the inferno. She could not find the enclosure terraced by the thorny branches of the lote trees, which ran parallel to the road to the village well. It seemed as though things become equally indefinable in ashes and did not retain the color in which they burned. Only iron retained its identity, though reshaped by the fire, be it an axe; a nail-cutter or a rifle.

Someone called loudly before she could finish defining the boundaries of her neighbor's house:
"Marieouma; did you get a stick to stir this porridge of yours‌ You forgot all about us!”

She emerged from where her front door used to stand , as she did every time she left her lost home wearing her silky toube, greeting her neighbour,

"Hi Bakheita, did you all sleep well‌"
"Thanks be to Allah my mother's daughter, Marieouma," responds Bakheita, in the same breath relating the latest news of her vegetable business, "this season the world is fine, my mother's daughter. The orchards are blossoming and the tomatoes are as red as those children of the Arabs we know. Watercress pushed its little tiny heads up like the tiny ears of rabbits, and these onions, its upshots are just like the plaited hair of Tunjur girls: green like the tattooed lips of a bride. This year we’ll visit Al-Fashir Abu Zakaryia market to sell our vegetables and build a mud room in the district of Dhababein. Thatched huts are no longer inhabitable”.

From that phantom exit from her lost home, she could see Bakheita’s house turned into a pile of colorless ashes, like everything, reduced equally to perpetual nothingness.

Marieouma walked towards the men without a stick or any instrument to stir the promised millet porridge. A single teardrop appeared and was hurriedly wiped away, and she hid the perpetual loss of her husband Abdarrasoul, the donkey, her neighbor Bakheita and her intimate morning greetings.

In a flash, she realized that the terrible hunger of these wretched men would be prolonged indefinitely. The bowl of millet would not be enough to satisfy all these empty bellies and the gravy topping would lack all the necessary ingredients: onions, tomato paste, cooking oil and appetite. She would not find a stick in that wilderness which no longer concealed the presence or the absence of anything at all.

Kashoum openly admitted his old age and his physical weakness, as he volunteered to look for a dry tree branch to stir the porridge. In a last attempt to salvage his suspect manhood and virility, tainted by the chants of the Tunjur girls, he stubbornly refused to offer his notorious whip, with its hard grip, for the purpose, “the day I abandon my whip to be used in making porridge; this moustache of mine I’ll shave altogether and hang around with women”

A man sitting slightly out of the circle of men under the shadow of the sun said: “This moustache of yours was already shaved by the Tunjur girls a long time ago, give away this whip of yours to Marieouma to finish off this damned porridge and stop this hollow pretense to manliness!

“Behave yourself, you little man,” retorted Kashoum, drawing the whip tight to his bosom.

Marieouma, hiding something between her back and her baby, passed the famished men and started to stir the porridge. She was within earshot, but out of their line of sight. The whiff of gravy that lacked onion, tomato paste and oil wafted in the wilderness of their perpetual loss. Their bowels howled; some sucked in their stinking hungry saliva involuntarily and the waiting seemed endless.

Since the day he was ridiculed by the girls’ chanting, Kashoum had remained aloof of the company of men and lurked in a sort of shadowy existence, giving up his habitual vainglorious boasting, until the day he saw the ashes filling the mouths of both the village and its big-bottomed girls. He refused to offer his whip to stir the millet porridge in an attempt to regain his long-lost social standing, misled by the worthless idea of possessing the only possible implement available for driving hunger away.

When she served the hot millet porridge, the steam rising from the bowl was an additional stimulus for a type of hunger never experienced before by those wretched men and women.

Kashoum managed to pluck an orphaned mouthful from the bowl and the porridge and its gravy were gone. He turned to her, “Marieouma, your millet is very delicious but it reeks of gun-powder!”

She ignored his comments as the men mumbled a confirmation of Kashoum’s observation. She was engrossed in wiping the clods of the porridge from the muzzle of a rifle barrel to feed her baby.

And the hunger of the men was definitively complete.

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