The Sudanese Souq

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A typical Sudanese grocer’s shop (copyright: Muna Zaki).

The Sudanese Souq

Sudanese markets are lively places that add much needed colour and vitality to those provincial towns that languish under a general feeling of atrophy and the loss of more optimistic, youthful times. Wandering along lines of stalls and through bustling, tarpaulin-covered alleyways, any sense of loneliness on the part of a homesick visitor will soon vanish. Greetings are exchanged and questions patiently answered. Much good-humoured bargaining then takes place without any undue pressure being placed upon the potential buyer.

Apart from a small tourist section of Souq Omdurman, markets in the Sudan tend to be based upon the needs of the inhabitants. Alongside the greengrocers and butchers, there are other stores selling the basic ingredients used in Sudanese recipes: cones of dried dates; piles of red karkadee (hibiscus) leaves; white mounds of gongolees, the fruit of the baobab tree. Also tubs of sundried tomatoes, cumin, peanuts, fuul beans and powdered okra; heaps of watermelon seeds; the hard fruit of the doum palm; sweet nabag, the fruit of the jujube tree and even chunks of natron dug from the desert.

Walk on further and there will be a row of hardware shops selling all manner of aluminium pots and pans as well as the now ubiquitous plastic goods from China. In another corner will be stalls selling fabric alongside tailors’ sewing machines for making garments.

More interesting perhaps are the traditional handicrafts:  wooden mafraka for stirring stews such as mulaaH; canoon charcoal burners made from old tins, together with palm-leaved habbaaba for fanning the embers; metal shragrag used for boiling water; teeth cleaning masaawiik made from the branches of the arak tree, and all manner of leather goods such as the traditional shoes known as markuub.

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Sudanese shoemakers making the traditional markuub shoe (copyright: Muna Zaki)