A Thursday Afternoon on My Way Home

photo: Sven Torfinn Africa, South Sudan, Bentiu,ÊDecember 2008 Traffic police in Bentiu, Only government officials drive expensive four wheel driveÊvehicles, the citizens of Bentiu use donkey carts . With their share of the oil revenues the State governme


It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m on my way home
Look over to my left, he’s walkin’ over slow
My pulse is quickening and I’m trying to keep myself calm
Cuz these dogs smell fear and I see him
Lickin’ his lips and bearing his teeth
In me he sees a feast
But I’m not tryin’ to go out like no prey so
I straighten my back and sit back in my seat.


“Alsalamu 3alaikum”
“3alaikum alsalam”
“License and registration … why aren’t you wearing your seat belt?”

Daaamn~ I’m about to get a ticket. Try to think of some good answer to give, but I’m tired, it’s Thursday afternoon and I’m on my way home.

Besides, what the hell kind of question is “why aren’t you wearing your seat belt”? What possible answer could I give that would be an acceptable reason for not wearing my seat belt?

Good thing he didn’t wait to hear me say the only thing I could come up with:

‘Cause I didn’t feel like it

The dog must have been starved that day, he walked over to the car behind me, same drill. It’s bad, but I found comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one getting ticketed. He comes back.

“That’ll be sixty pounds”
“Sitteen?! Leiii?!”    (sixty, why)

This time, he’s at a loss for words. I fire again.

“Ma gultu talateen?!”  (I thought you said it was 30)

Pause. He looks up and to the left.

“Maaaa~ baggoha sitteen”   (uuuh, they made it 60)
“Min bitein?!”   (since when)


“Gabli shahar kida”  (about a month ago)

This time, it’s my turn to pause. He’s gonna have to take me to jail ’cause I’m not paying no fake sixty so he can take the extra 30 to buy some fool* and 3amaari (chewing tobacco).

Good thing he didn’t wait for me to say that; instead, he leaned in and in a low voice:

Lakeen 3ashanik ba3mala 30   (but for you I’ll make it 30)

Total. Loss. For words.

I lean over to my bag, sighing heavily, grab the wallet and take out 30 of my hard earned cash.

He takes my money, walks out to the car behind me, gives him back his license… no money exchanging hands…

Oh, no he didn’t!

I follow him to where his car is parked, and as he hands me my license and receipt, he looks down at the license and this comes out of his mouth:

Bilai inti khireeja? Tab malik saghayra kida?”
(Oh, you’re a [college] graduate, but why do you look so young)

At first, rage took over. But… I know I said I’d rather go to jail than pay, but on the real, I ain’t tryin’ to go to jail. My parents are out of town, I’m wearing skinny jeans… it’s not a good look.

So I chose the next best thing: masakhat alshaygiya**:

khilgat rabbana”   (God made me this way)

I fight back the gag reflex as his “sexy voice” asks: “3ayni lay, inti itkharrajti min wain?”   (So, where did you graduate from)

Rage no longer contained. The beast is out. “Alwaray da dafa3 wala ma dafa3?”   (did the guy behind me pay [the fine])

“Ma dafa3”   (No)
“Uw leiiiii ya rabbi?”    (And why is that)
“Kida bas”     (Just ’cause)
“Ya salllam?! ‘Kida bas’ di ya3ni shinu?! Ma rabit 7izam zayyi zayyu!”     (what the hell is ‘just ’cause’ supposed to mean? He didnt’ have his belt on either)

Pause. Now exhibiting all signs of lying: eyeballs up and to the left, mouth curled in an awkward smile; all that was missing was the sweat.

“Aah? algal laik minu ma rabit?”    (who said he didn’t have his seat belt on?)
“Shofat 3eini di! Ma gultu qanoon?! Wala alqanoon bas lel banat wal rujal isootu zay ma dayreen!”   (I saw him, I thought this was the law, or does the law only apply to women?)

Awkward smiles or teeth bared to scare me, I couldn’t tell which. “Inti bas ma shufti kwayyis”    (you just didn’t see [it])

His voice has lost all previous traces of macking. I’m about to get arrested.


This land isn’t where the strong prey on the weakThis is where the weak, lookin’ for a bite to eat
Are sheep in wolves’ clothing
Hiding behind the uniform and the badge
Nothing but your everday pickpockets
Hustlin’ for a way to make ends meet.


Frustrated at myself for not knowing how to curse someone out in Arabic, I drove off, and as I did I took back a small piece of my dignity the safest way I knew how:

Stuck my head out the window, yelled: BASTAAAAAAAAAAAAAARDS!


* fool – fava beans, which are the national dish of Sudan.
**masakhat alshaygiyamaasakha‘s literal meaning is “blandness”, but here used to mean “dead-pan humor/sarcasm”. The Shaygiya are a tribe in Sudan, known for their masaakha.

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