Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Khartoum: Searching for a Needle in a Haystack

For the past month I 've enquired without success, around the shops and supermarkets, where I could buy a a "housewife". For those who don't know what this is, I think the name was invented in the army. It is a little box which contains two different-size needles, half a dozen straight pins, three small gold safety pins, a few buttons and a cardboard holder with various coloured cotton wrapped around it. Above is a photo of the housewife which the previous inhabitant of this flat left behind. Nowhere in Khartoum could a housewife or even seperate items of this sort be found.

Entering our neighbourhood,Omdurman, last Saturday, my husband said he'd just thought of a place which might sell needles and cotton. As we drove past one of the spaza shops in our street, he pointed to it and said: "That is where you will find your sewing requirements" I need to clarify here: just as I'm not a handywoman (one who changes car tyres, replaces electric plugs, hangs pictures on walls) neither am I a needlewoman. At school I took science as a subject instead of Housecraft, because of the sewing involved. Planning my wedding way back in 1972, I suddenly had the urge to make my own wedding dress. Everybody, including the bridegroom-to-be collectively held their breath. They all predicted (incorrectly, as it turned out) that I'd be sewing the gown's hem minutes before walking down the aisle. I must admit, I was still embroidering little pearls onto a six-foot train the night before my wedding, but I finished it in time for the wedding. That was the first and last time I sewed any garment. However, I have fixed hems and secured loose shirt buttons. This is why I need a housewife here in the flat.

Before I continue with my mission to find a housewife in Khartoum, I need to tell you about my latest acquisition: an abaya. (Pictured above)Because I subscribe to really casual wear at home (knee-length khaki shorts, tee shirt and flip-flops) it's impossible for me, in this country, to just pop downstairs into our courtyard or across the street to the shop. Until now, when I went out, I'd change into a long skirt and wrap a hijab (headscarf) around my head. I don my sunglasses and I'm ready for the outdoors. But it's been a schlepp. Now I can slip my abaya over my house-wear, wrap a black hijab (a gift from dear friend Fazila, back home in South Africa) over my head and neck and viola!

On Saturday afternoon, I donned my [new] traditional street wear, picked up my purse and set off up the road to the spaza shop. When I arrived at the very well-stocked and set-up spaza shop, I greeted the owner and showed him the little sewing kit and it's contents. He nodded and pulled out a whole box of needles in little grey packets. When I gestured that I'd also like some cotton, he reached into the glass-topped counter and pulled out a box filled with cotton of every hue. I chose a black one and a khaki one. When he'd placed all three the items on the counter, I asked him "Kham hada" and he held up two fingers. SDG2/US$.80c. Amazing! He had no buttons but my husband assures me that I'll find them at the Souq market. He's taking me there this Friday as a birthday treat. Whoohoo!

I stride purposefully back to the flat building with my sewing items in my hand (it's quite difficult to distinguish between me and my shadow. LOL!)

Mission accomplished...

...sufficient sewing accoutrements for my type of needlework


  1. That was an interesting story, especially the part about the street wear. What a change in lifestyle for you!

  2. Hi Jo, I've never heard it called a 'housewife'---but I do know about a small sewing kit... We can't live without one of those little kits. Glad you got some of what you needed.

    Love your black hijab... looks comfy!!!

    Have a great day... OH--and Happy Birthday.. When is it???

  3. Does that housewife cook and clean too? ;-) I don't like to sew either. Isn't that what safety pins are for?
    Hmmm, the new outfit is different. I guess for short jaunts it would be the easiest. Do you have to be covered when you go with husband? And are you allowed to drive?

  4. Your new streetwear is beautiful...but I was happy to read that you were shorts etc. at home. Thanks for showing us part of your interesting.

  5. You really look the part now. But it makes good sense to throw an abaya over your house clothes.

  6. Hi Loran, yes, it is different, but I love being able to experience different cultures and this is one way of doing it.

    Hi Betsy;) we cannot be without the sewing kit, for sure. Yes, the traditional garb is comfy. My birthday is on Saturday - no doubt I'll post about my treat - the visit to the souq market. (((hugs))) Jo

    Gaelyn;) I wish it could... No I only wear this outfit when I go out alone. I have noticed a marked difference in attitude of the people (mainly men) when I'm dressed like this. As if there is respect/acceptance. There are many Sudanese women with their own cars and yes they drive all over the city. As soon as I can , I would like to get my license here and be able to drive. That will be a challenge in our traffic, but quite doable.

    Hi Lori:) I think I'll be buried in my shorts!(LOL!) My permanent wear back home (in summer - winter it's jeans and jersey) and also here.

    Hi diane;) that's what I figured. I saw my houselady do this and convinced my husband to buy me an abaya and now I can pop out quickly.

  7. Do you get the "Abaya" in different colors, or is it predominantly black?

    Ja, 'n mens kry naald en garing op die onmoontlikste tye nodig! As jy hier is, sal ek vir jou Bostik gee waarmee 'n mens some kan insit - het dit al by skoolbroeke gebruik en dit werk uitstekend!!

  8. Hi Jo, a terrific post about daily life in Khartoum, also the previous post about the vendors and traffic problems!We can pick up these sewing kits in the discount stores here and would mainly buy them for traveling away from home.
    Do you as a woman have to wear the hijab or is it your own choice as you will be living there for a while

  9. Hello Ida;) I've seen brown's, demim (Which I feel could be hot) and then there are many floral abayas. As long as you can't see through it I suppose! Ek gaan juis die abaya moet soom - jy kan die stof onderaan sien; bietjie lank. Liefjo!

    Hi Peggy;) good to see you. I have a few similar posts coming up. Today I've posted about my South Arican garden though (nostalgia?) I don't have to wear these garments - especially when with my hubby. But I've found it generates a lot more respect when I am dressed demurely when out on my own. It is also a great conversation piece. The people here love it that I dress like a "Sudani" (((Hugs))) Jo


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo