Speechless February 20, 2017

Children selling dates on the road to Shimaliyya State in Sudan. Credit: Hind Makki
Children selling dates on the road to Shimaliyya State in Sudan. Credit: Hind Makki

Exploring faith, race, and Sudanese identities in Black History Month

By Guest Author Mona Hagmagid

The Iftars hosted by the sudanese community
Are my annual attempts at preserving my
african roots

The smells of Sudan
race through the American built
public elementary school
we rent out
on those Ramadan Saturdays.

We sit around,
good food that reminds so many of home.
We sit around
counting the hours we have left
to make this hall sacred.

Long lines and mobs of youth
crowd the back wall
as the call to prayer is heard,
the same throaty crackling sound of the motherland.
We gather to pray
Standing in the gymnasium
That now surges with the spiritual electricity
Of Ramadan nights

Children dash in between the tables
in worn down jeans and graphic t-shirts that scream phrases from pop culture
their parents don’t understand
why they walk and talk the way they do.
Nike sneakers scrape the floor
as the kids line up for pizza
and the adults grab Sudanese traditional.

I watch my mother’s face
as she struggles to communicate
but in spaces like these
love is enough
to make the barriers invisible.

They all know
I can barely speak arabic
When my uncle calls from Sudan
I freeze
My mouth dries and my tongue stiffens
He asks me how I am
He asks me how is the family
He asks me how is school
I say, It’s very good, Alhamdulillah,
Everything is Tamam.

My father cringes at the sound of my voice
Family should be closer than this
I should not have to slow down my words for my own uncle
I should not have to choke out a hollow answer
In the tongue of his own oppressor to say
Humiliating that I have often tried
And often failed
At parties and weddings and funerals
They always ask
“What is your excuse, for not knowing your own language?”

But here
It doesn’t feel crowded my stiffness and insecurity here
We are one of them
Even if our ears cannot hear the music in their voices
The quick tongues of older women and older men
Silenced against my ignorant

In this Sudanese America, that has become a kind of American Sudanese
we laugh and smile and sometimes we are yelled at
in no particular language
told not to be so noisy
and to clean up the mac and cheese that has fallen on the floor
beside the vending machine.’

Tall boys that have long been men
shuffle outside the dinner hall
not sure where to go,

Every year they buy a lotto ticket
Hoping for belonging
Leaving with nothing
Addicted to rediscovering who they are supposed to be

Their clothes are not the long white robes of their fathers
nor do their snapbacks have the glory of the high turbans
so they hang back
waiting for an invitation to adulthood.

25 different kinds of juice
Spilling over the white table clothes and onto the floor
25 shades of black and brown
Melting together
Fruits of God
The perfumes of different neighborhoods and tribes
Decorate the air

I don’t need to know the language
Though I will never quite stop feeling guilty
They forgive me every year
And for them I am grateful

MonaMona Hagmagid is a freshwoman at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a proud member of Penn Sapelo, a premier Black Muslim Student organization on campus as well as her school MSA. She enjoys writing, reading, and listening to poetry, exploring her Sudanese and Black American heritage, and is committed to learning and teaching about diversity, equity and inclusion within the communities she cares about. 

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