First published February 9, 2010We live in a neighborhood in Khartoum that is...well, to tell you the truth I have no idea where it is in relationship to the rest of the city. All I know is that a few of the people we work with live within the same vicinity which gives us opportunities to walk the neighborhood.
Sunday was just such a day. We were going to get together with some friends and thought we'd walk to their home about 500 meters away. (Like how I'm talking in "metric" now?) On the way there, we came upon 4 men in the road. 3 were dressed in what we would call normal street clothes and 1 was dressed in a white jalibaya and matching turban.
We immediately recognized the turbaned man as the sheik of the neighborhood. We stopped and greeted him and continued on our way. As we arrived at our friends' house, we paused to talk with two more people. This gave the sheik opportunity to join our group.
John spoke to the sheik again except this time he introduced himself. "My name is John," he said in Arabic making the "J" sound like a French "zh" one.
The sheik responded in English emphasizing the "J" and said, "Your name is 'John.'"
"The name 'John' in Arabic means 'suh-tahn,'" the sheik replied.
John thinking he said "sultan" said, "Oh, that's good."
John's friend also standing in the circle leaned and whispered to him, "He said 'satan' not 'sultan.'"
John looked back at the sheik and changed topics.
We had a good laugh with that one. John's still trying to think of what would have been an appropriate answer to that statement. I told him, "Surely a sultan could think of something clever to say."