"To Reclaim Our Names" A Love Letter to Sudan (PART 1) by Shah Noor
We write from every different place,
To reclaim our names, and inherited legacies we want to pass along.
We write to stay in places as we choose-
We who crossed the Atlantic all those yesterdays ago,
We who have come again today-
We who have stayed in place through generations,
We who will stay in place tomorrow-
Or move on: between generations, between cultures, between locations,
As we ourselves want, now, as in the future.
Abena P. Busia (A Song in Seven Stanzas for Our Granddaughters - 2010)
THE BEGINNING - the diaspora is a circle
I must begin with the diaspora, for I am the diaspora. Not born of a diaspora or from a diaspora, not part of or in a diaspora. Rather, I am a diaspora. A constant, lived and growing experience, complexifying daily and dyadic. Fluctuating, unfixed and precarious. I am the diaspora, transcribing, translating, transformed.
for every elder who had helped you on your journey
This is for the one that started it all - haboba Zainab, my paternal grandma & grandpa’s sister in law. She lived next door to my grandma her whole adult life. When I went to visit in 2017, I took a photo of her and her husband in their living room. Gidu was near the end of his life at that point and passed a few months later (allah yarhamu). Their photo served as the first official portrait I took in Sudan. This year I had the privilege of giving her this photo of her and her late husband, a gift framed in white & gold. She appreciated it so dearly, I was in tears. She came outside with me to find my dad for this portrait.
In this moment we capturing the meta - the big picture - keeping everyone connected. It felt so very full circle, so complete, I felt my grandma there. She was with us, hugging us, enjoying the moment. I miss them all so much. Love you haboba Zainab, thank you for nurturing me.
i am not home, i haven’t been at home since we left
My mother and father grew up on the banks of the Nile River in Sudan, until my father had to migrate during a military coup in the late 80’s. I was the first person in my family to be born in the Americas; my mother traveled here carrying me in her womb to meet my father in the early 90’s. In this sense, I was born in the coming together, the mashing and melding of two countries; I was born when Sudan met America for the first time in my lineage.
the mind and body, time and space - the diaspora is not a metaphor
This movement between two worlds has come to symbolize much of my life's journey and the path my work has taken. As a product of this liminal space, my diasporic identity has often meant living both in-between and completely exterior to certain ways of thinking and knowing about the world. W.E.B. Du Bois called this feeling “twoness” and “double consciousness,” the notion that black folks of the diaspora experienced a complicated and often two-sided existence that represented the transient lives of their ancestors.
this is baba when we were in sudan in the winter of 2018, leaving the bread shop. we were actually waiting in this bread line for a while. the women you see crowding around the entrance behind my baba were hustling to get a few pieces for their families. it was close to mahgrib and soon after dinner. we gave up on this line, my dad was walking back confused, we found some older bread next door. after this he told me and my uncle the story of when exactly he decided to leave sudan in the 80’s, when the coop had become to serious for him, when he decided he could never come back (this was not until the 90’s). the sudan he knew as a kid in the 60s was gone forever and he knew it would be a struggle to bring it back. the struggle continues today.
the performance - sudan extended, on and on, inside me
I describe my layered identities in this way to emphasize the non-static ways in which identities are constructed through what Fanon would describe as a “real dialectic between my body and the world”. This happens in such a way that the self is produced through a “slow composition” of interactions occurring in contextual, temporal and spatial dimensions that layer, reify and solidify ones identities.