Sudan's expats still club together

On Location: The club in Oud Metha provides a place for Sudanese expatriates to relax and enjoy the company of their countrymen.

Dubai, 16th March 2011. Falafels at the Sudanese Social Club. (Jeffrey E Biteng / The National)
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DUBAI // Sandwiched between the bustling Karama district and the faux-Egyptian architecture of Wafi City, the Sudanese Social Club on Oud Metha comes to life after ishaa prayers - just as it has every day for the past 38 years.

The UAE's first social club has been the centre of the Sudanese expatriates' communal activities since 1973, hosting weddings, funerals and everything in between.

During the day it appears deserted, but in the evenings, Sudanese people from all walks of life gather to socialise, play the card game whist or discuss the latest developments back home.

"The main objective of this community club is to create and share a bond between the community from social, cultural and sports activities," said Eisa Adam, president of the Sudanese community and chairman of the social club board.

"We also resolve disputes between community members and help them out in their financial and legal troubles."

More than 75,000 Sudanese people live in the UAE and there are six social clubs across the country, according to Mr Adam.

"Our club is the first and is registered as an NGO. It was granted to us by the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum in 1973, and through our licence we have opened clubs in Umm al Qaiwain, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Hatta," he said.

The club has a large auditorium, which overlooks a central courtyard and a library that is used for events, wakes and concerts.

Along the corridors of the club lie rooms containing ping-pong and card tables, and a big-screen television. Outside, a green football pitch runs alongside a tennis court.

The restaurant in the club serves traditional Sudanese dishes and drinks such as Hilu Mur and Aradebe, along with braided Sudanese cheese.

"The Sudanese community has been in the UAE since the late '60s and early '70s," said Salah el Din al Tayeb, the club secretary general. "The Sudanese were brought to the Trucial States by the British to manage the civil development of the different emirates. By the '70s and the formation of the UAE, the community grew and more doctors, officers and engineers were called to help build the UAE.

"That was the first exodus of Sudanese to the Gulf, and that small community congregated and socialised regularly until the club was set up."

Although the community has expanded considerably, in the past 38 years the club has hardly been refurbished. The need for urgent renovations stands out amid the newer apartment blocks and the nearby ultra-modern Dubai Healthcare City.

"One of our goals this year is to tear down the club and rebuild it," Mr Adam said. The club's elected board, he said, is collecting money to start the project.

"The majority of the funding is coming from within the community, as well as businesses and government grants," he said. "This club welcomes everyone and is open to the public; to be a member, however, you have to be Sudanese and be recommended by two existing members."