The emigration from our ancestors land

By Mona Sherif-Nelson

Nubia to Nubians is not a homeland. It is a life entity with personality. 

When Nubian men talk about Nubia, she is like a nursing mother. She is there to make sure they are content and happy. When Nubian women talk about Nubia, they talk about an angel who is there to protect and spread blessings. 

As for us kids, we saw it as it is: a beautiful big playground. 

I was still young when moving out of our ancient land. Until the last moment before we had to leave, I was walking in the palm tree jungle enjoying the moist breath blowing from the Nile and the warmth coming from the very soft golden sand under my feet.

I was very happy to find myself comfortably alone with all those palm trees I knew all my life by name. With every one of them growing over my family and ancestors’ buried placenta, I was very proud to see my tree standing there trying to prove itself among elder strong ones. I was sure its dates will be even better than my grandmother’s (Fatima Yasinbabbker). Once my soulmate tree carries dates, I will give it a name that everyone in the village will call her by. I assured her that I will choose a very good name like my grandmother’s tree “Nourrin.” 

There were a few dates left on the ground around the trees named “Nourin” and “Todoh” from the last harvest. I took my time being picky in choosing the one I liked. I guess I was trying to avoid the unexplained excitement in our house and in all the houses back in the village!

When I went back up to the village with a mouth still chewing a very dry date, I entered the village to be shocked.  I was greeted with a loud buzzing coming from women of the village ALL talking at the same time. All the men of the village were acting like an army of ants. They created a very long line passing pieces of packages from one hand to another. The packages were put together by groups of women inside the houses and then others would drop them in a pile in front of the men. 

At this point I realized that I was in the wrong place. Moving in steps following the rhythm that the men creating while handing the packages, I ended up at the end of the village.

There I found sadness as clear as the full moon reflecting lights on the sand dunes across from the Nile.  From up there I saw all the elderly women and men huddling under the darkness of a big tree with the kids in the middle. They sat facing a number of violently shaking trucks and buses parked just outside the tree’s canopy. The cars were spitting dark fuel at our respectable beloved elders, but they still wouldn’t provoke them to move or complain.

I joined the rest of the kids who were siting next to my grandmother Fatima Yasinbabbker. All of us kids took the whole idea of leaving our land as if it was a fun adventure in a car ride. While the kid’s excitement made me feel happy, our elders’ mood warned me from joining them.

We could tell that we were moving away from our village, but we never thought we were moving away from our Nile, which was for some of us a big surprise. This was an idea I would never think possible. Nubians lived with the belief that our land is the beginning and the end of the earth. We believed that is why we can see the Nile and the moon always following us wherever we go. However, seeing that all of us were together was one way to know that everything would be fine.

From that point on, time moved slower than ever. As the “ant army” moved down to where we were, we start moving towards the trucks and the buses. The ant army reassembled and broke into groups. Each took care of one truck or bus. 

I have no recollection of what happened from that moment on and of the trip from the old village until we reached the new village. I always remember some Nubians entertaining each other with stories about this trip with mixed feelings and vague details. For Nubians are not Nubian if they object to what life throws at them. I remember looking at the new village with its clean, tidy streets with stone houses on each side. It was like an edge of a dead volcano; everything was dead, even the sky and the ground we stood on.

There was a feeling of loss. All voices, moves, smiles completely gone. 

Sadness of death can be cured and washed away when I throw myself in the Nile’s arms. Submerging in its water not only will cleanse me from all my sadness smearing me head to toe, but will take care of my thirst. This is the Nubian way of dealing with every occasion in our life. If the sadness involves the death of a spouse, there is no way out without the Nile cleansing, then sending a small handmade boat with your undergarment for the Nile to sail it to the other side where the sun sets. 

So you can just imagine my horror to find out that we are in the middle of the desert, miles away from the Nile. The villages are far away from the Nile and the vehicles left us with no way out. 

Hours passed and it was almost sunset. My mom, aunts, grandmother, and family kids were still frozen in the same spot by our belongings. We were standing in a very long street with rows of stone houses creating a solid wall on each side. Everything looked gray apart from spotted groups of women and kids frozen by houses along the way. Confusion and an unpredictable near future started to take over and we looked to the women of the family for a way out. 

We were not sure that those were our homes. So we stood looking at our belongings and waiting for the men to bring us the news.

Suddenly we saw men in their white turbans and long galabyyas waking in our direction, each pointing at one house waving a key in his hand. Women would not, could not, will not, move. My father came and asked what we were waiting for. This is our house. Even he stopped, hoping that someone else would initiate the move. In the end we were inside, but my grandmother, Fatima Yasinbabbkir, looked at the house made of stone and sat by the door. She explained that only animals and dead people live in homes made of stones. She then asked, “Which one of those I am?” No one would insult Fatima Yasinbabbkir, the head of the Fadiija Nubians. My grandmother stayed outside our house until she was about to die. When they carried her inside the stone house, she smiled knowing that the new village never was able to force anything on her.

Article included in the University of Michigan’s Nubian Odyssey – Narrating Nubia project 

Read more about the Narrating Nubia project