Three Short Anecdotes

This post consists of three anecdotes, all completely unrelated to one another, and all told with such gusto by Renee that I can only hope to have captured her vitality in text!

On purchasing food…

Every day a man comes in the morning with his donkey. He knocks on the door, and on the donkey there are two big baskets.  In the baskets there were fish from the river Nile.  We used to call it Bulti*.  It has scales and everything but it’s really a big big fish.  So, he used to knock on the door for my mother,
‘Madam, Madam. You want fish?’.
‘Ahh, show me what you have’
She opens the basket, and the fish is still moving - its still alive! I mean, it just came from the river! And she used to buy from him the fish.  Then, another man would come; tak tak tak knocking on the door. 
‘Madam, Madam’. 
‘Yes, what do you have?’. 
‘I have some milk’.  
Fresh! Fresh milk from the cow.  We always had to boil the milk a lot, and then get the cream off, make that into butter and then we can drink the milk, full cream milk.  You can’t buy butter, we don’t have it, so my mother used to make it from the cream.  Oo it was delicious.  Every night my mother used to give me a glass of milk and even now I love milk.  After the milk, there was the woman who we left the house for when we left, we gave her the key to the house to keep.  She used to bring pigeons, pigeons are one of the best foods you can eat.  She used to bring pigeons, and also eggs fresh from her hens.  Everything was fresh! But, we didn’t know what is chocolate and we also didn’t eat the sweets from the market because my mother would say, ‘there are flies!’.  I used to hate going to the market.  It was, ugh.  The meat market was the worst, flies everywhere. Everywhere. Anything we bought we had to clean it really very well.  

*Bulti is also known as Nile Tilapia.  It is a large, flat, wide white fish with fins and scales.

On being taught by Nuns…

We started our schooling in Omdurman, it was a Sister’s School, nuns.  This was ’till the age of ten and then we moved to Unity High School in Khartoum.  The buses used to come and collect us in Omdurman and take us to Khartoum.  It was a very good education there.  It had the examinations from Cambridge and from Oxford.  They collect them, the papers and send them to the UK.  But it is the small things, things you can never forget that makes a childhood.  I remember, in Omdurman, we all wanted to know what was under a nun’s skirt.  All of us.  It was a…a...a mystery! Now, me - I am very daring.  They used to even send me to the Principal to ask for whatever the children wanted in the class - and I used to go! It’s unbelievable!  So, I went to one of the nuns and I said her, 
‘What is under your clothes, under all these things? You have black, and I see some white and…are you bald?’ 
She answered me.  She said to me,
‘Not all of us, but it’s easier if you don’t have any hair’.
I just said ‘ah..’.
And then she showed me underneath.  It was only layer and layers of clothes. Nothing!  I thought ‘Ok….’. 
Nothing. Really. 

Renee as a child on holiday in Alexandria, 1954

Renee as a child on holiday in Alexandria, 1954

On the landscape of Sudan…

Sudan was a beautiful country.  We used to go on the boats in front of the Grand Hotel with the Mahdi’s granddaughter, ’till now the hotel is there.  I used to be in the same class as her in Unity, she used to take us on the boats, go for picnics. It was beautiful.  Another thing, only in Sudan.  You see camels, a whole herd of camels, running in front of your house with all of their things on their backs.  They are going to the market so they cross through Omdurman and they come by the house.  And then of course we had the river in Sudan, the River Nile - when the two meet together…it's…it’s a beauty.  Where else can you see something like that?  Ooo it’s simply a beauty.  Ok - I saw the Rio Negro and the Amazon meeting, but the Nile? No. It’s something you can never imagine.  That the colours will never mix. Beauty. 

We used to sleep outside.  In the garden, we call it the hosh.  The hosh is covered with sand, or with tiles.  Now, when the hibouba (which is the sandstorm) comes…you don’t know! There is nobody to tell you what is the weather forecast!  When the hibouba comes, and you are sleeping, everyone has to go inside quickly quickly, and you become all brown, all brown with the sand.  And you sit and you wait until its finished outside because, you know, its so hot inside, only with fans, too hot.  It takes about half an hour, sometimes less or sometimes more, it depends.  But when it is finished, everything comes out again.  You know in the day in Sudan you can’t stay outside for long, it is 42°C in the shade!  If you stay in the sun too long you will get meningitis!