As a small boy of about eight or nine years old, I remember in great detail climbing a rickety ladder up to my grandmother’s pigeon loft on the roof of her house in Omdurman. 

As a small boy of about eight or nine years old, I remember in great detail climbing a rickety ladder up to my grandmother’s pigeon loft on the roof of her house in Omdurman. We collected the pigeons periodically for one of our favourite dishes hamam mahshi, stuffed pigeon. 

The loft was a long climb up to get to the roof, but our houseboy accompanied me closely on the shaky ladder. He was a man I called Sonko Lonko, I knew this wasn’t his real name but this is what he asked me to call him. We opened the creaky door and stepped into a compact space. It smelled of the pigeons, had wooden shelves on either side which were half full of pigeons, a roof made of weaved palm leaves and small circular openings on the opposite wall, which were visible from the street.

Our entrance must have startled the pigeons, as there was an immediate frenzy of activity. I watched bravely as pigeons of different colours and sizes flew all around us in the small space, kicking up dust so it was visible in the shafts of the late afternoon light. Sonko Lonko calmly selected three pigeons, giving me a patchy grey and white one to hold. After making sure the rest were fed and watered, we carefully made our way back down the ladder. Sonko went first this time and came back up empty-handed to help me down. 

I watched Sonko give thanks and slaughter the birds in the back housh, a small patio area next to the kitchen. We plucked the feathers together while sitting on an old bamber, wooden stools with a patterned palm fibre seat. He then gutted and washed the pigeons several times then gave them to the lady who cooks with my grandmother. His calm, methodical approach kept me at ease during the gruesome sight. My grandmother oversaw the rest and I went to get ready for dinner. 

Later that evening, as I sat at the dinner table with my grandfather and youngest uncle, I scooped out the spiced rice stuffing with chopped pigeon liver and sultanas from the pigeon then chewed the succulent yet crispy legs. I relayed to my grandfather of how I had helped earlier, but he was more focused on the fact that they had let me climb the high ladder. They were always cautious if I ever came close to harm’s way but were ultimately happy I had contributed.

Last year at my dad’s funeral an old man came up to me crying. Although I felt that I knew him, I was uncertain how. He asked if I remembered how we used to collect the pigeons when I was small. I was instantly overcome with happiness, surprise, and grief all at once. Stuffed pigeons have forever been emblazoned on to my mind, attached to the happiest of memories of a time long past. I always preferred mine well done.


This story has been contributed from The Sudanese Kitchen project, established by Omer Al-Tijani Mohamed. The Sudanese Kitchen provides information on Sudanese food and drink to the English speaking world. This project specifically targets Sudanese youth, based in and outside of Sudan, who wish to incorporate traditional Sudanese cooking into their everyday lives, as well as non-Sudanese English speaking foodies eager to learn about Sudan’s relatively undiscovered (on an international scale) cuisine. For more information on The Sudanese Kitchen visit

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