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Letter #13


DINAN ALASAD


Being in love with potential is brutal. Anyone with a turbulent motherland knows this. And when you love a thing for its potential, it learns how to keep you invested. It knows to allow you lavish celebrations following the small battles you win. It shows you - in flashes so vivid - all that it could be if the stars lined up. Whenever you start to feel ridiculous for not giving up, it reminds you of everything that is worth fighting for. It rises to prove to you that you aren’t a fool for being invested. And the minute you’re convinced, it falls lower than before. This is just enough to hold you through the battles that you don’t win. But it doesn’t pacify you when you lose the war. I learned this recently. I think many of us did.


In recent years, I’ve started to be more careful about what I classify as love. More specifically, I’ve learned to be more cautious about conflating love with admiration. An infatuation that fixates on the shiniest parts of you most apparent from a distance rarely grows into true intimacy. It does not make room for the complexity of what I know to be love (which begins with a small intrigue and grows around it). To love something is to hold it in its fullness and this could include the potential of what it could be. But is a love of potential ingenuine? Is it - like admiration - a unidimensional view of a layered thing?


I’ve always loved Khartoum like it was flesh and bones. The way one loves a parent. It was difficult not to. It birthed me and taught me everything that I know. I grew up inheriting so many of its traits without realising it. Whenever things got unfamiliar, I ran back to it, desperate for eyes that had known me all my life to remind me of who I was. Even when I was rationally aware of the culmination of political factors that caused the agony, it was difficult to feel an equally rational outrage. It was easier to feel forsaken and hurt; the way you feel when someone you love hurts you.


There are two parts of the grief. One is a sorrow and the other is a rage. The sorrow is not easy to grapple with, but easier to explain. I can paint it sentimentally. I can talk about the old-book-smell of my grandfather’s home in Bahri and the haunted thought of what it must smell like now. I can tell you about how often I think of the minarets, which must be witnessing the first silence they’ve known since they were erected. What was the last prayer prayed? What did they read? I can write poetry and prose about the loved ones we lost and describe to you how we didn’t even have the chance to mourn them where they lived or bury them in a place we can return to. I could do this. And I have. The reason it’s easy to explain is because it is attributed to the parts of Khartoum that were easy to love. It makes sense. But the rage doesn’t. Because it is directed at something that never existed, but always pretended it could.


In an interview I watched recently, an artist stated that true freedom is the ability to take risks. I knew this, I think every young Sudanese person does, and we know it by its absence. For so many of us, the turbulence of our surroundings met the threshold for maximum risk, making risk-taking an indulgence we could never afford. So we were sensible because we had to be. We tried to build the kinds of things that would stand a chance on shaky grounds. Those who had the privilege of leaving put one foot on more stable soil, straining between places, absent in both. But still hopeful enough to never really leave.


I think that we thought the years of turmoil would mean something one day; that dawn would break eventually. We saw enough beauty to hold onto that hope. Things got shakier and we were even more resolved. In 2019, we turned the city into a carnival of resistance and for a second, we got to see what stable ground would look like. We got to build it. In the absence of all influence, the best of us shone through and it was enough to keep the entire country hopeful.


Even when the sit-in was dispersed and our friends were killed, we remembered what it felt like. So we continued to come back to and build in the turbulence. I don’t think any of us imagined that the shaky ground would ever be fully pulled from underneath us. But it has been. And this freefall feels like nothing we’ve ever gone through. We’re scattered and confused. We see no way out of the darkness. We can’t find each other and figure it out. And it doesn’t bring outrage in the way that a proxy war with global influence would. It hurts like being abandoned by someone that you loved enough to build your entire life around. And now they’ve left but all the sacrifices you made remain.

Where do we go from here?


Write back to me. --Even-- Especially if you don’t have an answer.


Salam,


Dinan Alasad


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