Patience and determination are the two virtues the Sudanese people are proud of. And combined with kareem, an Arabic word for generosity, it has become a force to reckon with during the ongoing protests in Khartoum.
A build-up over four months starting December 2018 led to the protest gaining formal shape and recognition on April 6. It was on that morning that 27 year-old Beeko decided to quit his job in Khartoum and join the sit-in outside the Defence Ministry, along with thousands of other Sudanese - old and young.
“When I arrived here the first day, we weren’t expecting many people to show up - but I was shocked and equally buoyed when I saw the numbers that had turned up.” He has been at the protest every single day since.
Five days later on April 11, Omar al Bashir, with his iron-fisted autocracy of nearly 30 years was ousted from office. With his stepping down one would have thought the people’s demand for change was satiated, but for thousands like Beeko this was just the beginning of that change.
“We have had no respite from difficulty over the past 30 years under Bashir, no progress - corruption money was the only thing that has increased - our agricultural industry has suffered, almost all industry has suffered, and the abundant resources that we were so proud of, have not been allowed to benefit the common man,” says 66-year-old Joda, who has been attending the protest since it began.
On April 20, nearly $7 million in cash were recovered from the residence of the former president.
Speaking of generosity, Joda says: “There used to be a time when Sudanese people gave freely of their food and care. I feel in recent times the oppression and hardship brought on by the regime chipped away at that generosity. The revolution has allowed that to be born again amongst us… we can now see more of it all around through the unity of the protestors.”
At the protest, there is no elbow room. The heat and dust are relentless but the streets around the Defence Ministry are lined with people from all walks of life offering not only their time, but also water and food.
Queues outside the makeshift medical tent trickle in. Young qualified volunteer nurses and doctors administer free basic medical assistance to protestors who’ve either been injured or are suffering from heat and exhaustion. It’s 41C in the day but by nightfall it changes drastically to 27C. The crowd however, remains unchanged.
With every group of people leaving, the crowd is equally replenished by more groups entering, loud cheers all around as they walk into the cordoned area with an almost roster-like precision that allows this relay to continue.
Volunteers from various student and professional groups are on a security roster - frisking every person entering and searching bags, confiscating pockets mirrors, glass bottles and other items that could be used dangerously.
“By the grace of God, this protest we believe has had a long and thus-far successful and peaceful run mainly because we are looking out for each other,” Beeko says.
Beeko has been volunteering with the Sea Scouts since April 6. He’s on a roster to monitor the banks of the Nile, where each day thousands of protesters who’ve been sleeping at the site, go to bathe.
“Last week we sadly lost some children to the river, but we’re doing our best to take turns to make sure no one drowns while bathing for respite from the intensity of the heat and crowds on site.”
Mohammed, 32, has been running a tent that distributes free basic food from large cauldrons to hungry protesters. Inside, a group of ladies are making tea and distribute it on trays. When asked if they weren’t worried for their future as young graduates, they reply: “This here is the beginning of our future.”
“In Sudan, we never rush anything - we take our time, whether it’s greeting each other, eating, sipping coffee or just conversing,” says Ahmed, a 33-year-old student who recently returned from studying in India. He came back with hopes of doing business or working in his country, but the protest greeted him on his return.
“This is the new Sudan we are building and if we can look after each other and patiently stand our ground, we have every hope that the new Sudan is going to be much, much better than the old,” he says.
Patience and generosity are apparent in everything - the traffic around the periphery of the protest moves along unhurriedly and barely a toot can be heard, expect in support of the slogans.
A group of men sit chatting over coffee outside a makeshift tent they’ve been camping in from day one. Armed soldiers get roped into selfies with families and passersby, while juice and bottled water are distributed all around to keep the protesters going.
“This is the new Sudan. We are worried… but also so joyous for the freedom being experienced. It is incumbent on the new civil government to do a good job. We have waited 30 years for this change to take place,” says Joda.
How much longer the wait will carry on for is a question that hangs in uncertainty at the moment, nearly a month on from the protest. “When you love something deeply you are prepared to wait for it. We love our country, so our endurance to this see through remains,” says Beeko as he weaves his way through the sea of people, off to his evening roster by the river.
On the streets chants of “Sa bin na” resonate - “we will remain here”.
The people’s demand for military rule to transition to civil rule continues unfazed, while the Sudanese quality of patience and generosity continue to fuel the sit-in day in and day out.