Cuban portraits – Numeiri

7th of January 2014
Cienfuegos, Cuba

My favorite experiences while traveling in Cuba are about people. It was amazing and surprising how everyone you approach seems to have an interesting story to tell. After my first few days in Havana (which I didn’t enjoy very much), I learned a valuable lesson, I put my camera away (benefiting from the fact that no one recognizes am a tourist without a camera or a white person by my side) and then I started approaching people instead of being approached. This was the turning point of my trip.

One of the random people I met is this gentleman who was part of a band playing in Punta Gorda in Cienfuegos. When they finished playing, I started talking to them. Normally when I say I am from Sudan, people either mix it up with South Africa or tell me that there is a war over there (which was all over the news when I arrived to Cuba).

Instead, this guy looked at me and asked me “Who do I look like?”. I couldn’t tell. I asked who, he looked at me and said:

“Gaafar Numeiri, do you know him?”

I was in shock. He did look like a Cuban brother of Gaafar Numeiri indeed. Numeiri – in case you don’t know – is an ex-dictator of Sudan who ruled the country for 15 years before I was even born. Still in shock, I asked him how he knows about Gaafar Numeiri, he told me that his best friend in the 80s was a Sudanese medicine student who studied in Cienfuegos, and this friend used to call him “Mr. Gaafar Numeiri”, and he never forgot that name ever since.

We talked more about Sudan, Ethiopia and Africa. And his knowledge was impressive, he told me a lot about Africans living there in Cienfuegos and in Cuba in general, and corrected me when I said that Mengistu was a communist, saying that he was just a “leftist”. Like most Cubans, their knowledge and education is impressive and obvious (especially pre “special period” generation as I came to understand afterwards from other Cuban friends), it is not just study-books knowledge but openness and curiosity to the world that you barely see in other parts of the world.

I listened to one last song from Gaafar Numeiri’s band and said goodbye. I couldn’t help but to imagine how different my country would have been if the original Numeiri also chose music instead of politics.

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