A very important component of any Sudanese dish is the hands that make it. This article is a tribute to Hajoja.
Singa –my home town- surely misses Hajja Fatima or Hajoja as she is dearly called by everyone. An iconic figure synonymous with the town itself, Hajoja of Malian descent from the Fulani tribes is a large woman with an endearing voice and teary eyes, her tobe always sliding from her back and arms as she prepares to dig into hard chores.
I remember as a young girl spending the summer holidays at my grandma’s house, waking up to the early murmurs of Hajoja asking my grandmother for burning coal to light her stove. The stove was placed in a narrow corridor at our neighbour’s house where she would start working by sunrise making Kisra for the whole neighborhood.
Despite the town waking early, I don’t think anybody woke before my grandmother, by the time my mother and aunts finished praying the dawn prayers, she would be already lifting the tea kettle off the stove, hiding the burning coals in a soft layer of ash so they wouldn’t completely burn out , in order for them to be reused for cooking breakfast.
By breakfast my grandmother would send me to our neighbours house to pick up our daily quota of Kisra, there would be Hajoja at the corridor, sweat streaming from her face, her wrist swaying swiftly over the large flat “saj” skillet placed over wooden logs, a pile of fine white sheets of kisra arranged next to her.
She would wipe the skillet with an old rag and hand me the Kisra in a small tray covered with a colourfultabag (a rainbow colored food cover made from straw) her face breaking into a broad smile repeating her sing -song Salams. She would then hand me a small old tin (probably contained tomato sauce once) and ask for tayoog. I would run off home and fetch the tayoog which would probably be in the fridge, a small piece of animal fat swimming in its own oil.
The tayoog helps the gargareeba to slide on the skillet. The gargareeba is a small rectangle made of straw used to spread the runny sorghum mixture on the skillet; it is now replaced with plastic mobile recharge cards!! (there’s modernity for yuh!). After the mixture is spread Hajoja waits for a few seconds for the mixture to solidify into one big thin pancake, then she would scrape the sides with the small tin and lift it swiftly into a tray next to her.
By the time every house is laying their breakfast tray, Hajoja would be washing her face and hands, rearranging her tobe and sits down for breakfast at whichever house she chooses. Hajoja has been around for as long as anyone recollects, she is not considered a household worker but rather a family member of each and every one in Singa, she sits at the breakfast table with us, and shares our food and town gossip.
During the mid- Eighties , the electric saj (actually pizza maker) was introduced , and almost every household with a member living abroad got one. It was the rave , but it didn’t last long, as it soon showed its deficiencies : it heated quickly demanding extra speed when spreading the mixture, some would forget the gargareeba on the electric skillet leaving it to melt and stick thus damaging the new device, it also was useless during power cuts. The electric saj was abandoned and people returned to the traditional saj.
HajjaFatma passed away in 2014. People remember her body shaking with laughter, her warm hugs and her sing song Salams. May Allah bless her soul and may she rest in peace.