A Catholic wedding in Sudan
I had expected to be writing to you with your Allah hat on, seeing that Sudan is a Muslim country, but as luck would have it I got invited to a Catholic wedding so thought I had better have a few words with you about it.
Whatever religious hat you had on when you created the people of Sudan you must have been in a good mood, as they are a likeable lot and you seem to have endowed them with the hospitality gene. Take Kommi for instance, the man who invited me to the wedding, we had a two-minute chat when we met during the lunch break on my bus journey and upon learning that we were both going to Al Obeid, it was enough for him to insist that I come to the wedding he was going to. Obviously no need to consult the bride or groom on the issue. As you know, being omnipotent obviously, I had blagged into a lavish wedding party the week before in Khartoum, purely on the strength of being a white bloke hanging round outside, so hospitality obviously trumps any trivial matters like actually knowing anyone when it comes to wedding invites. This may explain why weddings seem to be rather large affairs in Sudan.
Sure enough Kommi came to pick me up the following night to take me to a pre wedding bash involving some serious boogying, enough colourful dresses to match a Bollywood film and an unhealthy quantity of some ferocious date based spirit – good job you weren’t in Allah mode or you might have been upset. The bride to be was ushered in at a regal snail’s pace, resplendent in traditional henna tattoos and scarlet dress, which I assume wasn’t indicative of pre marriage virginity or lack thereof. The ladies, soon had her out on the sandy dance floor, albeit with an overawed facial expression, as if she wasnt quite sure what was going on, which she maintained throughout the following days marriage proceedings. Maybe it was something to do with the level of make up that did seem to be designed to disguise the blackness of the bride’s skin, despite her hardly being dark to start with.
Being Sudan, all this could take place out-of-doors without any of the need for the English, “what shall we do if it rains”, kind of planning. Whilst I am rather keen on this aspect of your work in designing the weather for Sudan I am somewhat less enthusiastic about the need for 40C temperatures everyday at this time of year, in a country where the wearing of shorts is frowned upon. Modesty is all well and good but I am sure the locals would prefer me not to be sweating like a pig and smelling even worse.
Sudan’s fun police have decreed that enjoying yourself after 11pm is entirely inappropriate, so as with all such events the band stopped playing dead on the alloted time and everyone shuffled off home, no doubt delighted to celebrate their enforced virtuous behaviour. Do have a word with your people in Sudan about it, West African Muslim countries don’t put up with any of that nonsense just because some religious pillock in Saudi Arabia isn’t keen on it.
If anyone’s impression of Sudan was gained solely by watching the news they might regard the Sudanese as an intolerant lot but no one seems to have told the Sudanese people about it, as witnessed by the large number of Muslims who turned up at the Catholic cathedral for the wedding the next day. In fact almost every one of your Christian flock I encountered in Sudan, whether Catholic or Coptic made a point of telling me how well they all got on. Obviously, “Most people get on perfectly well”, doesn’t make an interesting a headline as, “Religious nutjob demands killing of someone with different idea of God”. Do we really have to wait for judgement day for you to send all the wankers in the media to Hell, couldn’t we just take it as given and send Murdoch and Co off there right away?
As proceedings started it was readily apparent that the clergy hadn’t read the European Catholic Church service manual. For a start the music wasn’t the stately church organ: a proper band belted out distinctly African tunes, skipping drum beats and funky conga rhythms were overlaid with rippling guitar lines, more like Congolese Soukous than any stiff, but occasionally stirring white folk’s church music. The choir may have had a hint of gospel but any connection to the black American variety was more from shared roots than stylistic borrowings, the voices could only have been African. I had to keep reminding my self to not dance, this was still, after all a Catholic service and not the kind of evangelical freak out that goes down a storm in places like Nigeria.
Leading the clergy down the aisle was a troupe of young girls dancing in the kind of wanton display of butt swinging that would have given a paedo priest back home an ecstatic heart attack. It was good to see that the traditional swinging of a burning incense censor was still retained in the entourage, albeit with a bit more rhythm than you’d find in Rome. Originally this was used to obscure the smell of the, quite literally, unwashed masses but in this case it served admirably at masking the smell of me in the sweltering heat.
I really don’t know why you don’t introduce some of this stuff back in Britain, it might mean you could keep the average congregation’s age to below 65 for once but given the record of some of your priests I’d hold off on the pre-pubescent dancing-girls if I were you, we don’t need any more of those dodgy news reports, do we?
Although much of the service would have been recognisable to a British Catholic, whenever the service reached some kind of high point the mass of ladies in their multicoloured attire erupted into a chorus of high-pitched ullulations, that distinctive sound of women showing their appreciation across the arabic world. Back home such moments would have induced some demure oohs and aahs with some polite nodding maybe.
It’s at this point I have to get to the real reason for writing to you as I believe I need to say, “forgive me Lord for I have sinned”. You see there were times during the sermon that due to my limited capabilities in arabic I did let my mind wander a bit, or more specifically my eyeballs really. In your bounteous wisdom you saw fit to create curves on the African female form that other continents were not worthy of and I did find myself contemplating the wonderous beauty of your creations for a bit longer than I probably should have. Nothing pervy mind you and definitely not the dancing-girls, I limited myself to examples well within any legal age range for such activities. I am awfully sorry, I do hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and I promise to keep my hands to myself, unless that’s a sin as well, then I’ll have to stick to the cold showers.
One feature the church had that you don’t find everywhere was its own harmless lunatic, a chubby middle-aged man in a crumpled smock bearing a proud collection of stains. Clearly the happiest man in the congregation, he conducted the choir while facing in the opposite direction and chuckled gleefully as he waddled around the aisles urging people to greater efforts of participation. One thing his enthusiasm and a lot of incense couldnt disguise however, was his lack of familiarity with the concept of washing. When he joined us on the dance floor at the after party in the adjacent hall I had to keep moving away for fear of suffocation.
I was assigned a front row seat at the party before the dancing started, which meant that according to tradition, the bride, after the cutting of the cake, fed the family elders and me a piece each. She performed the task with aplomb, somehow avoiding giving me the “who the fuck are you”? look that my presence must have merited.
Thankfully the band hit the dance grooves and I was able to avoid any awkward questions with my amateur impression of Sudanese dancing, which was sufficiently passable to avoid any hoots of derision from the locals, or maybe they were just too kind to not humiliate a guest. A number of headscarfed young women did have some more lascivious moves, which not quite the bump and grind, were probably not subject to approval from some members of your clergy but I felt it reasonable to forgive them for straying slightly from the path of righteousness. I hope you can to.
Naturally the crowd dutifully obeyed the fun police deadline of 11pm and I could return to my hotel for a much-needed shower and the chance to ponder upon the wonderous beauty of your creations in Sudan. Keep up the good work.
Yours sincerely Graham