Brick of Life
The Story of Darfuri Women Brick Makers
Award-Winning Documentary by Filmmaker, Razan Mohamed
Above, promotional poster for Touba Lahounna (literally their – the women’s – brick), Brick of Life.
Razan Mohamed chose the film’s Sudanese Arabic title for its multiple, complex resonances. Touba / Toub (Touba leban) are the clay bricks used throughout northern Sudan, but as Razan stresses, the word is also associated with sayings for those who own nothing as well as being the Nubian name for the fifth month of the Coptic calendar, the month of fruition and harvesting. It is a title replete with resonances of poverty and the overcoming of poverty, but also of blessedness, as in the Christian beatitudes, “blessed are…..”
My thanks to Muna Zaki for her expert advice on “Touba” in Arabic.
Above, a still from the film Brick of Life, reproduced by Al-Arabiya
صباح العربية | “طوبة لهن”.. فيلم سوداني عن معاناة النساء في دارفور (video embed below)
Brick of Life
Setting the Scene
Directed by groundbreaking, young journalist and documentary filmmaker, Razan Mohamed, pictured below, Brick of Life was independently produced along with Mohamed Rashid School of Communication (MBRSC) and with the collaboration of her siblings. It is distributed by Sudan Film Factory. This spare, powerfully eloquent 12-minute film documents the clear, unfaltering voices of the women working in the brick kilns of El-Fashir’s Abu Shouk displaced persons camp. The film won best documentary in the GSA Award for 2021 in the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards. The film is subtitled in English.
Razan is based in Dubai and finds inspiration in culture, politics and feminism.
Her film, Blood, Damm, confronts the taboos surrounding menstruation in Sudan. Razan reveals the powerful personal commitment behind her documentary in Al-Hurr’s طوبة لهن .. فيلم سوداني يروي معاناة النساء في إقليم دارفور (English summary of this report will be available soon).
This week’s post offers brief background to the documentary in the hope that non-Arabic speaking followers of Sudanese culture will seek out the film and its director. Although not yet publicly available, several subtitled moments from the film are included the Al-Arabiya video report embedded below. Brick making is back-breaking, low paid work. When in the hands of women themselves, however, it can also be an empowering source of income. Below, women making unfired bricks or Toub akhDar in the searing afternoon heat of a public square in Khartoum’s Dar as-Salaam district. Some of the bricks will be used to build a community centre. My thanks to a Sudanese friend for these photos.
More on brick making and women’s brick-making initiatives in coming posts.
Brick of Life
The Film’s Testimonies
Holding out their red-raw palms to the camera, the tone, matter-of-fact, young and older voices describe hands roughened after days hauling gravity defying columns of bricks to the kilns; bruised, bleeding and peeling, they are often so painful that they can’t bear to touch warm food. This is just one of the many moving and shocking testimonies captured by Razan Mohamed in her film. For the women of Abu Shouk this level of physical suffering is unremarkable. Many fled the war that came to the region in 2003 barefoot and entered the camp as youngsters some starting to work in the kilns at the age of six.
Halima Ismael has worked in the kilns since 2004, and although she studied Human Development at El Fashir University, has no choice but to work in the kilns, and like her companions, suffers constant back and neck pain from climbing up and down rickety ladders with her loads.
As some of the women gather to share tea in communal earth, rush-matted courtyards, they recall those they have lost; the children drowned falling into unfenced waterholes or crushed by reversing trucks, and those companions killed or gravely injured by falling mounds of bricks.
This is world where women are both fathers and mothers to their children, where women, rather than men, undertake the back-breaking work of brick making, either because they are widows or because their partners will not share in the work, preferring to collect and control their earnings instead. This is a world where kiln owners explain that they employ women rather than men because they won’t take time off, even while breastfeeding and are happily exempt, by social convention, from attending funerals and other lengthy social obligations.
But this is also a world where power imbalances are being openly challenged and redressed. There is a defiance and confidence in the voices of the women here. Women who have supported their families, often alone, throughout years of war and whose responsibilities far outweigh – as they openly acknowledge – the rights they enjoy as citizens. “We must claim our rights as women”, they say and it is clear that they will – despite knowing that “previously, if you tried to object, you get hanged, imprisoned, or at least harmed”. It is clear too that they are starting to galvanize their communities with the aim of improving both their working conditions and their bodily and psychological wellbeing.
Razan Mohamed tells us that the realities of life in Darfur are unknown, even to most Sudanese and making these realities known is one of the driving forces for her documentary. She also wished to show how the hardest and harshest of work is undertaken by strong, intelligent, determined women who support and enrich their communities. In Brick of Life she masterfully achieves her aims.
Above, faces of hope and determination. Stills from Brick of Life.
صباح العربية | “طوبة لهن”.. فيلم سوداني عن معاناة النساء في دارفور
This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership.
Learn more about our women’s literacy, orphans schooling and university scholarship projects programmes below:
Opening Doors – Our Women’s Literacy Programme
Our University Scholarships – giving bright young women the chance to go to university
Scenes from Our Orphans’ Schooling Programme and From Hardship to Hope Our Orphans Schooling Programme
More cultural posts that might be of interest:
A Taste of a Sudanese Summer 2022 Cultural Posts Spring 2022 Selected Cultural Posts