"Haroon Musa Levy. Acquitted!"
Over the course of the interviews I have done, certain characters stand out. One of the most colourful of these characters was Haroon (Aron) Levy. Whilst quite a few people mentioned him, his son Edward and nephew Joshua, shared the most fantastic stories about this man. I have put just some of these stories together in this post.
Let me tell you about my Uncle Haroon Levy, because in my opinion he was the most picturesque, the most interesting figure in Sudan. He was born in 1872, tall and thin with a square chin.
My father did a lot of things in Sudan, his name was Aron Musa Levy – but in Sudan they say Haroon. He was always working, always. Never idle. He sold oil, vinegar, he made wine at home for the people to buy at Pesach. He used to make soujouk,* stuffing the intestines with meat and selling them. He used to make basturma,** he had rope hanging the meat in his house. He tried to sell bottles one time, he fixed chairs. Anything.
He was also very clever, because throughout his many occupations he had quarrels with people and several times he found himself in court because of them, and he was so clever that he always refuted every accusation and it was always announced,
‘Haroon Musa Levy. Acquitted!’
I’ll tell you some of these stories of Uncle Haroon in court.
He had a horse that he used for his cart and he used to tie the horse outside his house and the horse used to neigh loudly and make noise and disturb the neighbours at night. They complained and they complained and he ignored them, so they filed a complaint against him and he was called to court. Now, Uncle Haroon had another job that was to clean the Jewish cemetery. He would go there, collect the leaves, keep the graves tidy, and in return for that he would get a certain fee from the Jewish Community. That means he had the keys to the cemetery, because usually it was locked. One day before the case was due to begin he took his horse and tied it inside the cemetery. And so when the case started the prosecution said that the people could not sleep because the horse disturbed the calm of the neighbourhood, and that they wanted compensation and so on. So Uncle Haroon went into the box and the Judge said to him,
‘What do you have to say for yourself Mr Levy?’
‘Your Honour, the horse is already in the cemetery’
‘Is that right? Do you swear?’
‘Yes. Your Honour, the horse is in the cemetery’.
So the Judge presumed the horse was dead. He said to himself, the horse is dead – the case is finished. So he acquitted him! Two days later my Uncle Haroon went back to the cemetery and brought the horse home again!
Another time he was selling oil for cooking. He used to sell the oil very cheap from a barrel and measure each portion with a cup so nobody can complain. He went to the oil factory and he told the owner,
‘Mohammad, I want you to sell 80% of your oil to me’
and he bought all of that oil. What did he do with it? He put it in a big barrel on a cart on the back of his horses and he used to go around to all of the villages that surround Khartoum to sell them oil – but he sold it very, very cheap. He bought the oil for one piaster and sells it for one piaster and two millieme, so what does he get? Only two millieme, but he didn’t mind.*** He said,
‘I don’t care for the money, I want the people to have oil’.
In the end the competition took him to court because he was selling so cheap. He asked the judge,
‘Your honour, what have I done?’
‘You know all these people are complaining about you. You are selling oil under the price, under the limit’.
He replied to him,
‘From now on I will sell the oil for one piaster and one millieme!’
They told me that the judge opened his hands to shrug, and he said,
‘What can I do? It is not illegal – it is too cheap, not too expensive. He can give it for free if he wants to!’
Another story: during the Second World War there was a shortage of bottles – at that time there was no plastic, only glass bottles and this actually affected the economy and also the comfort of the people. So Uncle Haroon decided he that will be the King of Bottles. He said,
‘I will buy all the bottles available and then everything will be in my hands, I can set the price to whatever I want’.
So he started buying bottles and I remember thinking, where is he going to put all these bottles? He rented a store! He rented an empty plot of land, just to put the bottles and he used to bring cart loads of bottles and put them there. He was buying bottles for half a piaster, a pittance, and keeping them there. This store was actually adjacent to our house and I used to climb up onto the wall and look at this sea of bottles. Meanwhile, the British realised that there was a shortage of bottles and started to import them from England. Loads of bottles from England and the market was flooded. Then the rains came and it rained all over the store. All the bottles became dirty, it was a big big mess and nobody wanted to touch the bottles that Uncle Haroon had been collecting. Anyway, he didn’t have money to pay the rent for the store because he was going to pay with the money from the bottles. They took him to court for that too and I don’t know how, but he got away with it as well.
How I remember that sea of bottles! That was Uncle Haroon, he wanted to be King of the Bottles. To own every bottle in all Khartoum!
He was the first person to make public transport in Sudan. They didn’t have busses so he used a carriage. He used a wagon like the cowboys, but there was space for seventy people to sit at the back and it was pulled by eight horses. He would go between Khartoum and Khartoum North. It was a very good service and the people liked it very much. That was before the tram, when the tram came they British said,
‘That’s it. No more carriages, no more horses’
so he had to stop and find new work.
In the end he also came to Israel. All his children already moved to Israel so he said,
‘What am I going to do here alone in Sudan?’
He was only here for two months and then he died. My wish is to go to Sudan and say,
‘I am the son of Haroon Levy’,
I don’t know if they will remember him or not.
** Dried, cured meat
***A piaster was worth 1/100th of a pound, a millieme worth 1/1000th