“They won’t believe it’s what you want.”

“You look beautiful in blue,” the Ostrich says to Sumra in Leila Aboulela’s 1997 short story named after him (Aboulela 5). Sumra is remembering her schooldays with him while she lives isolated in London. She walks away from his compliment, not needing or seeking his admiration. She remembers that it must have been evening classes because in the morning was white and in the evening the tobes were colored. She walks remembers the relaxed routine of evening lectures and walking in groups of other girls tobes “snapping chewing gum and kohl in [their] eyes” (Aboulela 5). In London,

Related image

Sudanese girls in tobes in Dongola, Sudan

however, her husband doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe that was so part of her life before, and so she imagines it as she walks.

I keep coming back to this page five section of the story because it seems such a simple representation of Sumra’s life in Khartoum and how it directly affects her life in London. Her husband, Majdy doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe on the ground that people in London would think he was forcing her to wear it and they wouldn’t believe it’s what Sumra wanted, but we see in her memories the freedom she felt walking with her friends on leisurely days. They were not exceedingly modest girls with their heads down and kept cloistered away from men at all times. They wore jewelry and makeup, snapped gum. They styled their hair and their tobes sometimes slipped right off of it as the passed boys in the street. She looked and felt beautiful, which is something in the previous paragraph she struggles with in London. London, which is where everyone wants to go and is supposed to be so much freer and lovelier. In this scene we see the

Image result for london women 1990s street photography

London women dress and live very differently

ordinary paradise of Khartoum.

Aboulela uses hyperbole to describe how Sumra feel walking without her tobe on the London streets. She feels naked. “Unclothed” (Aboulela 5). In a run on sentence that seems to imitate Sumra’s nervousness, she imagines the feeling of the tobe on her hair and skin and she adjusts her posture and movements to accommodate. This reflects how exposed and unprotected Sumra feels in London. She knows there are enemies in the city, but she doesn’t know who they and feels she has nothing to hide behind or protect her. She has nothing familiar to grasp onto, so she imagines one. This is a foreshadowing of sorts to when her husband admits his jealousy of her ability to keep home withe her while he loses his ties to Sudan. Even when denied the tactile fact of her heritage, Sumra is able to keep a bit of home in her thoughts.



Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 29 March 2018.


Blog Post 5

Memory is Migratory

Migration is always a trip. Regardless of the affecting reasons, migration is traditionally understood as physical movement. People board a transportation vessel–plane, boat, train, or they walk– and they leave. Some to never return.

However, Leila Aboulela’s character Sumra, in “The Ostrich,” disrupts the orthodox corporeal comprehension of migration. Through Sumra migration is revealed to be a mental trip too. A journey that is made difficult by physically arbitrary boundaries. Those borders whose lines often maintain injustice and delays fairness. Sumra exposes how the mind—the imagination—troubles these borders. Her ability to readily transport back to Sudan, underscores the porousness of national borders.

After disembarking the plane and being met by her self-hating Sudanese husband, Majdy, Sumra and him take the bus back to their flat. And it was on this journey where migration’s resistance to geography first appeared. On this ride back to the flat Sumra reflects on the old friend she met on the plane, and from there readers are transported to Sudan and are face-to-face with The Ostrich.

Once Sumra arrives back to not only London, but also the present, she has reached the “small…flat” with “thin…walls” (4). She paints the image of her being disoriented by the weather and the strangers walking by. Nevertheless, it is those strangers, according to Majdy, whom she “must respect” (5): “[S]trangers who were better than me…Every one of them is better than us…[T]he man who is collecting the rubbish, he is not ravaged by malaria, anaemia, bilharzia, he can read the newspaper, write a letter, he has a television in his house and his children go to school where they get taught from glossy books” (5). This scene illuminates Majdy’s self-hatred; he is repulsed by the material conditions of his native people. But Majdy ignores how colonialism has influenced these material conditions. He blames the oppressed. On another note, this passage too signifies a mental migration in the form of an allusion.

Majdy’s racist statement is in reference to his native people. African people have problematically been, solely, imagined as being afflicted with “malaria, anaemia, [and] bilharzia.” These images reinforce the primitive African trope, thus furthering the legacy of colonialism. Though not explicitly said, Majdy’s reference of these illnesses in conjunction with his earlier display of repugnance for “dimwitted students who memorized their way into university, [and] who never held a calculator in their hands before (3),” implies the people of Sudan are the subjects . Mentioning of the people of Sudan by Majdy does not only reinforce stifling stereotypes, but it too migrates the Sudanese people. They are brought to London. Here national and social boundaries are collapsed. And those whom Majdy despised and sought to distant himself from, becomes materialized.

Majdy’s attempts at dissonance fails. Though negatively, he is too connected to the people of Sudan to every let them go. Because of the migratory nature of memory he will never achieve his desired assimilation.

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, 1997.



“Modernity” Is Not as Good as It Seems

Leila Aboulela wrote her short story, “The Ostrich” in 1997 which describes the difficult transition  of Sumra, a Muslim woman from Khartoum, who immigrates to London. LondonIn London, her husband wants Sumra to act more “modern” and assimilate, but she is nostalgic for her Sudanese heritage (Aboulela 5). She is unable to focus on acting “modern” because she continuously daydreams about the past. A critical scene is at the end of the short story, when Sumra describes her interaction with the Ostrich’s bride.

The Ostrich had been Sumra’s university crush. He represented simple joys and a familiar way of life. However, Sumra turned him in for cheating, thus ending any relationship between them. Sumra had initially felt limited by her simple way of life. Therefore, in order to escape it, Sumra focused on bettering her life and moving onto bigger things. This was specifically materialized when she turned in the Ostrich for cheating so that she would graduate without being accused of being complicit in his act.

However, after moving to the “modern” world of London, and being envied by people in her small hometown, Sumra misses home and feels disconnected from her husband, Majdy, who separates himself from many traditions and elements of culture in Khartoum.

Therefore, when Sumra meets the Ostrich’s bride, she becomes jealous of all the bride represents: the beauty of home, the “simple life,” and enjoying small things. At first, there seems to be tension between Sumra and the bride because Sumra is jealous.

Sumra uses a metaphor to illustrate her transition from wanting to be free from the life she knew, to wanting to return to it. Sumra states, “When I was a child there was an old swing in our backyard. I resented its cumbersome chains and its wooden seat which left splinters in my hand. Only when other children came to visit… did I fight for a chance to play on my swing” (Aboulela 9). SwingsetThis metaphor compares Sumra’s life in Khartoum to an “old swing.” She had wanted to graduate and move on to bigger things, which led her to London with Majdy. However, now that she sees the Ostrich’s bride enjoying her life, relishing in the traditions of Khartoum and having fun with the Ostrich, does Sumra becomes jealous and want to “fight for a chance to play on [her] swing” again.

In conclusion, it becomes difficult for Sumra to recognize that her life has moved on and she is no longer in the same situation where she can hold onto her “swing” and claim it as her own. Now, she is forced to adjust to a new life—though often envied—that makes her miss Khartoum. Her challenge to assimilate to life in London parallels the struggles of many immigrants who are pressured to leave their traditions and customs behind.

Missing Home Giphy


Works Cited
Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications. 1997, pp. 2-9.

UK Migration

Immigrating to a new country can be terrifying, but continuously migrating back to where you’ve originated from during this journey can be even more frightening as both adapting and assimilating can prove even more difficult. In “The Ostrich”, written by Sudanese-born writer, Leila Aboulela, she informs readers of the difficulty of migrating given the cultural difference. “The Ostrich” tells of Sumra, a young, female, Sudanese-born student that studies abroad in London. The young woman migrates back and forth between her family who continues to reside in Khartoum with her Sudanese husband, Majdy, who resides in London.

One scene within this short story that I found interesting is on page 4 when Sumra’s husband, Majdy, attempts to convince her that being abroad in the United Kingdom, is the best solution for them.

“ There’s no future back there and if people who were much better off than we were not coping, how can we ever cope if we go back? I am doing the right thing, sticking it out here in any way that I can” (Aboulela 4).

This scene stood out to me because it is evident that Majdy is bargaining with his wife. Granted, economic issues do exists in Sudan which has called most residents to flight elsewhere for greater wages. However, the uncertainty in Majdy’s stance that migrating to the UK was the best thing that the two of them could have possibly done is evident when given the continued dialogue between him and his wife. In the process of seeking admiration from the people of the UK, Majdy later admits that he envies his wife “because [she] is displaced, yet intact, unchanged while [he] questions everything and [is] not sure of anything anymore” (Aboulela 8). This scene also resonated with me because as much as Majdy tries to banish his birthplace and the people of Sudan, Sudanese life still captivates him even in the UK which makes adapting even more difficult, for he still whistles Sudanese songs and is nostalgic when eating Sudanese foods (Aboulela 4,5).


Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 27 March 2018.

Sumra’s super struggle with identity

Finding one’s identity is a hard enough task for someone alone, with the influence of others it becomes an even more convoluted task. Although it would be ideal to develop a sense of self individuality singularly, this is not possible, identity is partially based ones surroundings.

The relationship between self and others is explored in “The Ostrich” written by Cairo-born author Leila Aboulela in 1997. The story is narrated by a Sudanese women named Sumra El-Sheikh as travels to meet up with her working husband in England. Through a non-linear storyline the story follows Sumra as she struggles with her sense of identity after being thrown back into modern United Kingdom society which contrasts to her familiar native country, Sudane. Sumra’s identity or lack of identity is explored when her husband, Majday introduces her to some new friends from who are from England. This scene demonstrates Sumra’s struggle with identity when she says, “but I must be weary, there are things I mustn’t say when they are here” (4). Put in a setting with both a person of her native country, Majday, and people of the present and her future, the new friends, Sumra is forced to censor herself for both her husband and the friends. This scene stood out to me because of the heightened self awareness that Sumra has in this scene. Throughout the rest of the story she is self aware but seems to be more concerned with the differences between cultures, it is only when she is placed with foreigners and people she knows well she becomes increasingly self aware. This increase in self awareness amplifies her uncertainty in identity.

Later in this scene, Aboulela furthers the complexity of identity when Majdy says, “be like them from the inside if you can’t be from the outside” after violently hitting Sumra for mentioning polygamy,  which was apparently a touchy subject (5). The fact that even Majdyy who had been living in the UK for much more time than Sumra was still censoring himself and now was forcing Sumra to censor herself shows the long battle with identity. Essentially this interaction between Sumra and Majday shows Majdy displaced anger onto Madra because of his struggle with identity in this new country.

Identity is a struggle for Sumra, and interaction with foreigners or perhaps neighbors heightens this issue.


Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 27 March 2018.


Suffocated by Society: An Outsider’s Perspective

While “The Ostrich,” written by Leila Aboulela in 1997, is certainly not about a two-legged animal that sticks its head in the ground when scared, the narrator of the story may certainly feel like doing so when living in a world completely outside her own, a Sudanese woman surviving in England. The story follows Sumra El-Shaykh, who is travelling to be with her working husband, depicting how she is torn between life in her native country and the difficulty of navigating a progressive society.

An intriguing scene begins when Sumra questions her purpose in joining her husband, despite the glaring hostility seen in the rooms and buildings around her. The narrator describes conflict arising between herself and her inanimate surroundings, with obscene phrases scribbled across walls and a sense of being overcome by her own home (Aboulela 5). This particular scene caught my attention because Sumra opens with an unsettling personification, illustrating how, in her current situation, “the room rises up to strangle [her]” (Aboulela 5). I find myself captivated by these lines, caught up in an emotional rollercoaster and left feeling claustrophobic. I imagine this is because my favorite short story is “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which also takes readers through a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions within the protagonist and depicts a similar feeling of entrapment (Perkins Gilman). Ultimately, what is so intriguing about this literary device is that this “room” could represent the broader English society in which the narrator finds herself.


Within this scene, the narrator further describes herself as “a stranger suddenly appearing on the stage, a stranger with no part to play, no lines to read” (Aboulela 5). The author seems to be implying that her character feels lost, as if she has no meaning and no purpose to be in England. The theoretical play mentioned above is analogous to the surrounding society: everything is rehearsed and a certain mindset is present amongst its ‘normal’ people. The narrator, an outsider, does not fit that dialogue. This image, combined with the personification used to characterize her home – the sensation that “[her] room rises up to strangle [her]” – creates a sense of helplessness and suffering through this deathly connotation (Aboulela 5). The looming lifeless walls come alive, forcing her into a mold of modernity, if you will, that threatens to destroy her soul. This suggests the speaker feels like she is not in charge of her own destiny, like she does not belong. This new modern life suffocates the very essence of her being, only to be replaced by one that aligns with the setting.



Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,               1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 27 March 2018.

Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Library of America, Literary             Classics of the U.S., Inc., 31 May 2013, http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/2013/05/the-         yellow-wallpaper.html, pp. 131-147. Accessed 27 March 2018.

Gender Dynamics of Immigration

When people immigrate, their identities may be sensitive to change. It is quite common to see these individuals, by choice or just naturally, start to internalize the cultural practices around them. “The Ostrich” is a short story written in 1997 by Cairo-born author Leila Aboulela. The text surrounds the idea of adapting to life in an unfamiliar environment. In the story, there is a contrast in the attitudes of Sumra and her husband, Majdy, both from Sudan, yet demonstrating divergent attitudes towards Sudan after immigrating. A scene which envelopes and conveys these feelings is when Majdy tells his wife, “You brought back many memories to me. Of people I love and I have left behind, of what I once was years ago…I envy you because you are displaced yet intact, unchanged while I question everything and I am not sure of anything any more” (Aboulela 8). This scene was shocking as Majdy broke through gender expectations and admitted to his emotions regarding immigration. There is a pathos in his language, and through his diction, utilizing emotionally-connoted words such as “love,” “displaced,” and “memories,” he confesses to parts of his identity that have been reshaped in his migration (8).

"I just want to go home" -Homer Simpson to Marge

Moreover, the contrast between these two brings up gender expectations, and also contains a profound sense of nostalgia. Sumra holds tight to the idea of homeland, and this feeling protects the fabric of her identity against being consumed by another. She is portrayed as having a positive attitude toward her Arab culture, while her husband favors his newly-absorbed Scottish culture. It is expected that male characters easily be assimilated, while females long to their homeland, and wish to return. However, according to Majdy, this is not the case; the fabric of his identity has become torn apart while Sumra’s has remained intact. At this point in the story, Sumra has learned to escape this state of nostalgia, while Majdy remains in a permanent nostalgic state.           

"I miss my life, I miss my friends, I'd like to stab you with my pen"

In addition, this quote explains how different people experience immigration differently. Majdy explains that Sumra’s beliefs, feelings, and attitudes have all remain unaltered despite influences around her that exist in this new environment. He is frustrated because he knows that he is the biggest influence on her in this new place, but she even refuses his attempts to motivate her to assimilate and reshape her identity.  Their contrasting attitudes lead to Majdy mistreating Sumra for her refusal to assimilate. Ultimately, this quote shows to be ironic as the underlying reason for Majdy’s mistreatment toward his wife may be due to his frustration as to why he cannot retain a new culture, yet keep aspects of his homeland as well. 


Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, Intangible Publications, Inc., 1997,                                             www.intangible.org/Acrobat/LeilaPDF/Ostrich.pdf            

Blog Prompt #5: The Ostrich

Blog Post #5 Due: Thurs, 3/29 (by 9am) // Comment #5 Due: Fri, 3/30 (by 9am) 

  • Introduce the short story, “The Orchid,” and describe/contextualize one scene that you find especially compelling. You might want to consider shifts in character development, tensions between characters, narrative style/structure, specific literary devices, etc. Explain why you find this scene so interesting. What captures your attention? Why do you find yourself returning to or lingering on this scene?

Image ofr Leila Aboulela's The Ostrich

  • Then, provide a short but detailed close reading of one specific quote and at least one specific literary device within this scene. Your goal is to illustrate what you find especially noteworthy through rich and layered analysis.