Jeh – beh – nuh.

7:30 am. My cell phone is ringing but in my dream it sounds like a bad song you’d hear on an elevator. I slowly wake up and clumsily slam my hand around on my nightstand until I find it. I flip it open and through blurry I eyes read Ahmed. I hit the little green button and hear his voice before I even bring the phone to my ear,

“Oh! Bessaly! Jebena fahraht!” My blurry head knows that he’s telling me the Jebena is ready.

All the essential tools for Jebena.
All the essential tools for Jebena.

In my sleepy haze I try to focus on what I am supposed to say,

“Ok…uh… Shukran…Ahna…Ahna… Jaia?”

I’m trying to say, “Thank you. I’m coming.”

He laughs and says  “Ok” as he is hanging up.

I crawl out of bed and put on a skirt and a long sleeve shirt which has become my uniform of sorts in the last few weeks. Even as I am getting dressed the Idea of sipping Jebena is waking me up.  I stumble down the stairs and out the side door, into the back where Ahmed, our amazing guard is waiting to serve us a coffee drink unlike any we have had before.

As I walk toward him I see that Brian, Joanna (our housemate) and Hubi (one of our colleagues) are already there sitting patiently on their mats waiting for the Jebena. I sit down, still a little blurry eyed, and wake up watching Ahmed perform his ritual – a skill that he has perfected.

He takes a fist full of unroasted coffee beans that he says are imported from Uganda (his favorite). He drops the beans into a miniature pan that looks like the big dipper with a longer handle. We listen to him shake the beans around in the pan until they are ready. He takes them out and puts them into a wood cylinder. He reaches in his plastic bag and pulls out a chunck of dried ginger and places it in the same cylinder. Then last, but definitely not least, he takes out a hand full of pepper. Yes, like pepper corns. He then takes a stick and proceeds to pound away at the beans, the dried ginger and the corns of pepper. The wood makes a popping sound as he hits the bottom with the stick, “Pop, pop, pop, pop.” We’ve been in Kassala less than two weeks and already I am being conditioned to the sound. Like a good Pavlovian dog, I start drooling. Once the beans, ginger and pepper are ground into powder he gently and skillfully pours the powder into the thin mouth of the pot that makes this whole process what it is: the Jebena jar.

He pours water down the throat of the pot and set is down on the charcoal fire. While we wait for it to percelate, we talk, he teaches us Arabic, but Ahmed’s FAVORITE thing to do is to mock us. He calls Brian “Abu Diggen” which means “Father of the Beard” (I was a bit mistaken in the last blog) and he scratches his face like Brian does and mocks the way Brian struggles to learn Arabic. He makes fun of the way I choke on the pepper in the coffee and have to run off and get water with tears rolling down my eyes. He has his “things” with each one of us and it’s hilarious.

Suddenly in the middle of his imitation the Jebena pot spits coffee from it’s mouth, signalling it’s ready. Ahmed stops mid-imitation and yells, “OH!” He pulls the Jebena pot off of the charcoal and sets it down, waiting for it to cool. While the coffee cools, he takes tiny cups, one for each of us and places them on a wooden block. He places a scoop of sugar in each one. From a plastic bag he pulls a wad of camel hair. Yes, camel hair. He places the hair in the mouth of the pot in order to keep the grounds of coffee, ginger and pepper inside the Jebena pot. Then he takes the Jebena pot, and from the belly, through the camel hair comes a dark liquidy goodness. He fills the tiny cups to the rim just before they overflow.

In the cool morning air, we pick up our cups, burning our fingers on the coffee spilling onto them. And now, here’s the tricky part. I cannot describe the taste. The coffee, peppery, ginger taste is really unlike anything I’ve tasted before. Even with the camel hair filter, the pepper grounds are so strong that it catches in my throat if I’m not careful – a mistake I have made and Ahmed has taken note of. We sip and sip and sip and Ahmed continues his process. The rule in this culture is that you MUST have three cups of Jebena in order not to offend the one giving it to you. But usually we drink between 5 and 10 cups before heading into the office. By the time our last cup rolls around I am awake, refreshed and my taste buds are squirming with flavor.

We walk away from Ahmed thanking him, knowing that he will be calling us again at 4 pm and again at 8 pm for more Jebena, more Arabic and more teasing.

Morning Jebena
Morning Jebena

In Kassala! The First 24 Hours

Well, it happened! After months of anticipation, we are finally in Kassala! The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind of new sights, smells and, especially, taste (more about that in a moment). But I’ll fill in from where we left off in the last blog. We went to bed planning, hoping and praying that all would go smoothly and we would make it to Kassala the next day.To Kassala!

My sun-screen

We woke up and got our things all together and before we knew it we were waving goodbye to the Khartoum staff from a truck which included me, Brian, our driver Mohamed, and all of our stuff. We drove out of Khartoum and into the Sudan country side. It took me a few moments before I realized that we were finally, after all that waiting, going to be in our destination. The drive was perfect. I cannot express in words what we saw. It is no exaggeration to say that about every 15 minutes the terrain around us would change so suddenly that we would have to alert each other if we were not paying attention. We saw flat desert that seemed to have no end, rolling dunes with ravines dug into them where water at one point cut through, shooting mountains made of marble, villages, towns, sheep, goats and of course camels. The eight hours on the road flew by with every changing scene we saw. It was better than any movie or book I could think of to pass the time.

As we drove Mohamed pointed out some distant mountains that faintly rose out of the ground far ahead of usThe Kassala Mountains.

“There’s Kassala,” he said.

We stared and took too many pictures of the incredible mountains that grew as we approached them. We turned a corner and slowly drove into our new home at the foot of the most unique mountains we had scene yet. Kassala is bigger than we expected. Lots of people, lots of horses and donkeys carrying men behind them on carts,(pictures to come), lots of things to see. It was kind of overwhelming, really. We drove through town and parked in front of a beautiful building and we were home. We were greeted with excitement and relief all around that we were finally there.

After unloading our stuff and a quick dinner  we were told that Ahmed, our night guard, would like to make us some coffee. We went outside under the moon and stars and sat on the ground with Ahmed. He made his people’s traditional coffee for us which will get an entire blog entry very soon {I know I am promising a lot for the future, but there is simply too much to write about now – we will not forget, we promise}. All I can say now is that coffee is a very big deal here. In fact, we are starting to see that it is a cultural staple unlike anything I have experienced before. We were brought through this introduction, this rite of passage, with our new friends under the stars last night. And, without teasing you too much, I will say that as long as we have that coffee we will be just fine here. 😉

We woke up at 7:30 this morning, Friday (which means the weekend here, remember). We got dressed and walked outside to Ahmed and a group of men in white dresses and white turbans on their heads. Ahmed had prepared more coffee which we drank with them in the cool morning air and listened to them try to say our names. Brian is Bryce or “Diggen” which in Arabic means, “Father of the beard”. I am Mrs. Brian or Bessaly, but I am holding out for “Mother of the beard”. They refer to us collectively as “The Brians”.Camels!

After our (amazing) coffee we got into the truck and drove to the base of the mountains for a picnic. We sat on the ground as we did for the coffee and ate eggs and bread from Khartoum with other people that work here in Kassala. We sat next to a little pond and as we munched and talked herds of sheep, goats, cows and camels came to water in the pond. We sat surrounded by animals and people who have not changed their lifestyle in hundreds of years. The only indication that we are in the 21st century was our truck (under whose shadow we sat) and the cell phones that occasionally rang from our group and the group of herdsmen with their herds.

PicnicWhen the shadow of the truck was too small for us to sit under, went to the compound of one of the people picnicking with us. We drank more coffee and talked about politics and our jobs which cannot escape them. After much discussion, we got back into the truck and came back to our new home. After a brief rest there was MORE coffee with MORE people which brought us back to sitting under the stars with Ahmed and our new friends meaning that there were only about 3 hours out of the whole day that did not include coffee. Again, I think we’ll be fine here. 🙂

That brings me here, to my bed, in our new room, surrounded by so many new things, to this computer. Good night.

To Kassala (Insha’Allah)!

Headquarters, Country and Kassala Staff
Headquarters, Country and Kassala Staff

We have been in Khartoum for almost two weeks waiting for our travel permits to go to Kassala state which is where we will be living/working while we’re here.  We’ve enjoyed staying in Khartoum. We’ve had a chance to acclimate to the time change and the heat (a little) and get to know the country staff. A typical day has been waking up at 5 am to the sound of the call to prayer, falling back asleep, and waking up around 7:30. We shower (in a real shower) and go into the living area with our laptops and settle in for the day. We have been going through some orientation about the country programs and specifically about Kassala, the villages within it and the programs we’ll be doing there. Then we go and research as much as possible and start to planning out our time lines and such.

This weekend the staff from Kassala came here to Khartoum to meet with us, the country staff and some people from headquarters in the U.S. It was great meeting the people we will be working with and the gal we’ll be living and working with. We had a meeting all day on Saturday and by the end of it everybody was on the same page and felt ready to move ahead. (We’ll give more details and the projects soon).

After the Kassala staff went back to the East, Brian and I got working on some things we talked about in the meeting. The first couple days this week were pretty busy with us trying preparing for some of the programs and stuff. But then we woke up today and didn’t have a lot to do. As you know we’ve grown accustomed to waiting but we were starting to feel pretty anxious today. So I wandered around and read and just when I was starting to get really bored Brian came in and said, “We got our travel permits! We’re leaving tomorrow!”

So the rest of today was spent grccery shopping for stuff we won’t have in Kassala and last minute packing. We are really excited to get there. As great as it has been to be in Khartoum, we are really ready to get started in Kassala. But there is a saying around here. We heard about it before we got up here and we were told that we will hear it a lot and we sure do! The phrase is “Insha’Allah” simply meaning, “God willing” or “if it is God’s will”. After we heard that we got our travel permits, we started talking to people about how we are going to get there, when we are going to leave, etc. And every person we spoke to about leaving smiled and said, “Insha’Allah”. We laughed because (as we have learned in the past) nothing is as simple as getting into a car and going somewhere and it seems especially true in North Sudan. So this phrase could also be interpreted as, “Yeah, if everything goes smoothly”.

Kassala is about a 6 t0 8 hour drive straight East from Khartoum, . Apparently we drive along the Nile for a while and then break off from it and straight to Kassala we go. We hear that the road is pretty good, so at least it won’t be like driving around Yei. 🙂

So it looks like we will finally be traveling to our final destination tomorrow!  Insha’Allah, that is.