Mohamed Beshir Hamid






I had been living in a state of chilling trepidation since reading the interview with the Prime Minister published in the weekly magazine AI-Ashiqa in early June 1987. In the interview the Prime Minister ingeniously described his former Minister of Commerce and Supply, Dr. Abu Harira, as a man “with little experience who sniffed some ‘Shata’ (powdered chilies) in the air and never stopped sneezing”.


On the face of it the Prime Minister’s description of the infirmities of his sacked Minister was almost poetic. It seemed worthy of inclusion in any dictionary of political terminology to take its place with such phrases as “diplomatic cold”, “there is lust in my heart”, “the evil empire”, “walking on water”, “the tail wagging the dog”, and the like; The list, of course, is almost endless: my own favourite one given the present circumstances of our talkative Prime Minister is: “Shut up!”


However, upon deeper examination, the ‘Shata’ expression began to reveal some ominous ramifications. Many mysterious questions kept bugging me. (Bugging, incidentally, is yet another political term of Watergate repute but it is its medical connotations that concern us in this context). Why ‘shata’ was in particular given that unique medical distinction by the Prime Minister? And for what reasons had he used it specifically as a sign of political contamination in relation to a Minister whom he had, until recently, given a clean bill of health?


I came to the conclusion that there must be a more sinister implication (of the ‘virus’ type) to the Prime Minister’s remarks. It certainly implied that an essential qualification for appointment to the Cabinet is the ability to sniff shata without sneezing. In other unhealthy words, it meant that those who make it to the Cabinet must not be infected with the ‘Shata Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (SHAIDS)’.


It was quite natural that I became gravely concerned. All my life I had been very allergic to shata. Just mentioning the word was enough to send me into a fit of uncontrollable compulsive sneezing. Obviously, all my ambitious political hopes were now irredeemably shattered. But this was the least of my worries. It was the medical implications which were beginning to drive me crazy. There was no doubt about it: I had to come to terms with the terrible reality of being a SHAIDS victim.


I immediately went to see my doctor. He examined me thoroughly and the look on his face confirmed my worst fears.


“Give it to me straight, Doc,” I said anxiously, “have I contracted the disease?”


“Well,” he began evasively at first, “nothing is conclusive but am afraid all the tests are positive.”


My knees turned into jelly as I sank to the ground pulling at my hair and crying like a baby left out on a cold winter night.


“It can’t be!” I screamed pounding the floor, “it can’t be!”


“Take iteasy, old chap,” the doctor was saying, “there may still be some hope in the far horizon. Intensive medicals research is being done to find a cure. The French in particular are believed to within a hundred years of a breakthrough.”


“How long do I have?” I asked sobbing.


“The usual terminal period is one year,” he answered, “perhaps two if you are unlucky”.


The world reeled before my eyes. “But how could it happen?” I asked desperately, “I thought Sudan has a low incidence of SHAIDS that was supposed to have been weeded out in March-April 1985”


“Not anymore,” the doctor said, “the disease in the Sudan has a latency period of sixteen years before symptoms become evident. According to the World Health Organization, the population base of the disease here consists primarily of the urban slums, the rural areas and the University of Khartoum.”


“Why the University?” I asked startled.


“The disease is disseminated by word of mouth,” the doctor explained; “particularly words directed against shata pushers, smugglers and the black market tycoons trying to clear Port Sudan of illegally imported goods.” The doctor paused and added almost sadly, “You people in the University, like the rest of the population, have been very talkative spreading the disease like a sand-storm.”


“Wait a minute,” I said hastily, “the Prime Minister himself is not exactly of the mute type. Yet he had not contracted SHAIDS, at least, not as far as I know.”


“The Prime Minister is talkative,” the doctor conceded, “but he talks about constructive things which are never constructed. Besides, he feels very comfortable with shata.” The doctor shook his head, “but you people are different. Instead of sniffing shata and relaxing, you start sneezing. The former Minister of Commerce and Supply is a case in point.”


“I never spoke a word against shata,” I protested vehemently.


“You must have,” he asserted, “or at least you are allergic to it.”


“Then the whole country must be infected with the disease.” I said.


“Indeed it is,” the doctor agreed, ”what is worse we discovered a local SHAIDS-related virus called NIV-2″


“What does that mean?” I asked.


“Nil Value,” he said cautioning me not to say one word against it.


“So nobody is safe,” I said.


“Nobody,” the doctor confirmed, “except the two Mafia families, the ‘fat cats’, smugglers, the black market manipulators and currency speculators. These people flourish in sniffing shata. They are addicted to it. They share hypodermic syringes and are very promiscuous in their trade interactions.”


“Can I join them?” I asked eagerly.


“I don’t think you have the right credentials,” he said again shaking his head, “not until you kick your habit of being allergic to shata. And according to my diagnosis it is already too late for that.”


Too late, 1 thought with a sinking heart. Too late to buy for my children all those fine clothes imported from Korea. Too late not to have to queue for bread, soap, meat, oil and all those other luxuries. Too late to take my family to London for the mandatory summer vacation and the shopping spree in Oxford Street. Too late to ride around Khartoum in a gleaming Mercedes with newly reappointed security people clearing the traffic for me. Too late to attend all those wild parties with the smuggled but refreshing ‘fire-water’ that went with them. Too late to appoint my relatives to strategic posts in key Ministries. Too late to include my kids in special lists to study abroad. In short, too late to sit by the telephone waiting for the call even though the telephone never worked.


Curiously enough, as I saw all my future plans evaporating into thin air, a feeling of serene peacefulness began to engulf me. If that was the way I had to go, so be it (or “beat it” as Michael Jackson would have put it.)


Then something alarming and frightening flashed in my mind. “What am I going to tell my dear wife, Doc?” I said with a look of absolute panic, “She will kill me if she knows I have SHAIDS!”


“You don’t have to worry about her facing a murder charge,” the good doctor said patting my shoulder with his usual kindness, “in most civilized societies, euthanasia is a legally sanctioned practice in terminal cases.”


SUDAN TIMES 23 June 1987 


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