Thursday, December 31, 2009

Markets from around the world.

Khartoum, Sudan

Nanjing, China

Tokyo, Japan
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

continually surprised

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Good news today....the walk down to the main street is getting shorter, aka I am getting more used to it....I found the "ful" place that had been closed without a trace the other day when I went looking with someone from the college. Ful if you remember is the bean dish that is eaten here in Sudan for breakfast and many other meals as well. It is quite good. I am now warming it up on the stove with tomatoes, oil, salt and Sudanese cheese. I used the green peppers I got at the suk the other day the first time I made it and unfortunately they were not sweet they were the spicy kind. So now I have a bag of peppers to find a new home for.

Having found the "ful" I ventured along the row of shops nearby. I found again my date bars. Having got them home now I see why I like them so much -- there are oil stains on the box they were put in. Sigh. Oh well. Nobody had large tubs of strawberry yogurt -- must have been a run on it earlier today. I was fortunate enough to find fresh milk however. Now I can have my somewhat foul coffee -- I still have to get the person who has volunteered to show me where the good coffee is to show me.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find a good quality lotion made in the states in one of the stores and the same store had Pert Shampoo! This is very good. Sometimes the water pressure here is just not good enough to do a shampoo and conditioner, I've been looking for a 2 in 1 and Pert is one of my favorites.

Quite a few of the shopkeepers speak decent English here. It is quite helpful. My numbers are getting better as well and I was able to tell someone today, "Arabic schway, schway," my Arabic is very little. The word for water, schway, in Chinese is the same sounding word in Arabic for very small, very little. Go figure! I can now ask how much something is, beekum. I need to start working on the names of groceries like milk and yogurt. A ful sandwich is exactly that, sandwich is the same as in English!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas and on and on and on and on....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I had a very lovely Christmas Day. I worshipped at the Pentecostal service first and then spent the day and evening with a fellow teacher from the college, his family and another family from the compound where they live. It was a wonderful time of fellowship. I so enjoyed talking with four other adults about all sorts of topics, staying at the table after an awesome banquet and relaxing.

People do seem to have trouble imagining what to cook for me as I am a vegetarian. Magda made me macaroni and cheese. Little did she know that this is one of my most favorite dishes in the whole world! She was worried about how it would turn out but it was absolutely wonderful! And the vegetable dish was raw tomatoes, cucumbers, onions mixed with oil, lemon juice and salt. It is very interesting not to have cooked vegetables as a dish -- and I just realized that is a lovely contrast to the vegetables in China which were always cooked. Even salads.

The family had gone all out for special treats for Christmas. We were treated to beautifully colored and frosted cookies and sweets that I cannot describe adequately because they are not like we have in the United States. They had a tree up and the house was very cozy in spite of the weather outside not being cold.

The conversation was quite interesting to me. I have now found out that when I ask an African or an Arab where they are from they will tell me about their ancestral home. Unlike in the United States when I am asked where I am from I will say Seattle and not England, Scotland and Ireland. Or sometimes people will say they were born in Portland, Oregon but grew up in Seattle. It seems to be that in the US we think of where I am from as the same thing as where I live. This is not so in African cultures. So I learned that there is a distinct difference between "where I live" and "where I am from".

Other things which came up and which I am still sorting through trying to reach a semblance of understanding is that of refugee status. It seems to me that in the states people do not remain refugees. They seem to become citizens. Here in Sudan there are people who were born here but are still considered citizens of another country because that is where their parents came from. I believe that this is also the case in Palestinian refugee camps in places like Jordan. In that case I believe that the refugees will not give up their refugee status because they do not want to abdicate their right of return to Palestine. In Sudan it is somewhat a different situation. There seem to be some countries where people do not become citizens. It appears that a Sudanese is someone whose family has always been here. People that come here from the outside are not Sudanese. I may have an incorrect understanding of this, if I found out that I do, I will be sure to update you, my readers!

There are people here with refugee status who have never left Sudan in their lives because to do that they could not return unless they become citizens of another country (like the US) and came back under the protection of that country. Then they are no longer refugees but that might affect their own right of return to their original ancestral lands. I need to check further into this...

Yesterday I rested. I was so worn out from Christmas that it took a day to recover! The woman who cleans the flat every couple of weeks showed up at last and cleaned it. Very nice to have the floors swept. I had to explain to her that if she is unable to come on a day that I am expecting her I need her to call and let me know. Otherwise I am stuck at home all day waiting for her. And if that happens more than twice I will need to find someone else to clean the house!

I have discovered an interesting and very nice thing here. When someone comes to the house/apartment and I ask for a ride to town (really about two long blocks away to shopping), people always want to take me around for the shopping and then bring me back to the apartment. It is so interesting! In the states I would ask for a ride somewhere and then be dropped off and that of course was what I expected here. But not so!

So this morning someone came by and I asked for a ride to the shopping. He ended up taking me to all the places and bringing me back, very nice. I am growing accustomed now to buying ful, the bean dish. It is very cheap and very good and I think very healthy. I bought ful and falafel so I will have plenty to eat for today and maybe tomorrow too. I also finally went into a sweet shop near a grocer where I can get yogurt. I found a lovely pastry with a date filling and bought half a kilo of those (I have absolutely no idea what a half a kilo actually is) and they are utterly delicious! After all the treats on Christmas I couldn't just go cold turkey!

I am currently reading a book called African Women: Three Generations about a granny, a mom and a daughter in South Africa during apartheid. It is grim. These are true stories about the family of the author. It helps me in understanding about African culture more and that is important for me right now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sometimes things are hard to find out about.

Dear Friends,
Greetings. Today I was in a car with colleagues going along a street in Khartoum. I was able to ask questions about some of the people I saw.

There are always a lot of people, mostly men, hanging out near the women who make tea for a penny or two. They are unemployed and hang there hoping for something to change. Apparently however the job listings, say for the government, are not printed but are word of mouth. So probably nothing will ever change for these people and they will remain unemployed.

We saw several people who I guess I would call crippled. I've never seen quite anything like the arms and legs at the angles that they have them at so I'm actually not sure if it is crippled or maybe arthritis as well. I know that in Nairobi there were a lot of people suffering with polio. Some of these people have parents who bring them from home by bus every day to sit and beg and then pick them up at night. Some of them live on the streets begging for enough money to buy some food and then sleeping on the street until they eventually die.

There are always hordes of people, particularly men but some women and often young children, who are selling things as cars drive by. This is a form of self-employment and is somehow based out of micro-loans. There are a lot of children begging and a lot of women with children begging. This morning I saw a woman with what appeared to be a baby covered by a shawl and it occurred to me that she could be pretending to have a baby. I have been severely reminded of Jesus saying to the disciples, "the poor will always be with us." Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have been called to Sudan for a particular task and I cannot change the entire Sudanese economy and way of life.

The dust will be with us always as well. Every time I walk to the bus station I remember this. I usually wear my Birkenstocks and I remember that Jesus washed only the feet of the disciples because that was all that was dirty. And yes, they were definitely dirty!

I continue to marvel that the women with burqas and covered faces can navigate through the dust and the dirt roads. There are of course many paved roads but the back roads not so much. Maybe it is because I have not been walking them my whole life that I have a harder time negotiating rocks and ruts. I do admire their ability.

Language acquisition is slow but I think that it is better for me when I take the long road look. Over a period of time much will be gained, in the short term it feels like very little. I got a passing grade for my "final exam" today after five tutoring lessons. I think the teacher was very generous:)

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. This past three months or so in Sudan has gone very quickly. I have accomplished much of my task of preparation for classes that I will be teaching in about two weeks and am looking forward to my working with my students! I'm also looking forward to finding ways to get more clothing in the African style, each country has a unique fashion and they are all quite beautiful!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Day of Learning

Dear Friends,
Greetings! A full day today! It began with my ordering "ful" at the local restaurant on the way to my language tutoring. The man in the restaurant recognized me and knew what I wanted! Then on to tutoring. I am working on vocabulary, numbers and grammar.

I am doing so-so with numbers one through ten. They float in my head just like the Chinese numbers did. My assignment is to have them down pat with no errors by Wednesday. Sigh.

After class a friend from the language school and I went to one of the suks (marketplace) together. It was a big help having someone point out to me where to get scarves and then she took me to the woman's section where the traditional Sudanese household articles are. My vocabulary grew. I am not doing complete sentences at this point but I do know that beekum is "how much?" and "maja" is that. In China I was able to get along pretty well by saying "tigger" which met "that" and pointing. So I should be able to do some of that with "maja".

We looked for incense at the suk. I cannot for the life of me figure out why every country has a different form of incense and a different way of burning it. I have to start over every time! In China there were sticks, cones and spirals. Here there are piles and what look like crystals. At least this is what we found so far. There were also thick sticks. Apparently I have to find coal which is lit first and then the incense is put upon the coal. This concerns me. I thought that coal kills people -- or maybe I am thinking of charcoal briquets. If anyone knows about this please let me know. As I was wilting in the heat I wished out loud that everything could be in the same darn place instead of going from one place to the other in the suk. My friend said that this is why the pace of life is so slow in Sudan, because everything takes so long....

We went to the little grocer near my house (forget the Arabic for grocer!) and what I bought was 7.5. It reminded me of how it was in China when I finally understood 1-10 and then got totally confused when 1/2 got thrown into the mix! It will take time.

I have discovered that while ancient Greek is a language based in verbs modern Arabic is a language where the Arabic can be spoken without verbs and they are simply assumed. This does explain why many people for whom Arabic their mother tongue speak what sounds like broken English. I think that, for instance, "beekum maja" could be a complete sentence Arabically speaking. However in English it would be "what price that?" So I would need to supply the "what price is that?" and often people for whom English is a second or third tongue do not do that, therefore sounding odd in the translation.

Greek is a nifty language whereby a single word, a noun, can contain an entire sentence consisting of subject and verb. So I must accept that grammatically Arabic is different. I have learned today also about the definite article "al" which turns restaurant into the restaurant. Also I have learned more about both interrogatives which create questions and so many of the little words such as "in" and "from" that must simply be memorized.

I found out some very interesting things today. I now understand why in this particular Arabic culture the left hand is considered the "potty" hand and only the right hand should be used to shake someone else's hand, or hand money or food. Except in a foreigner's home there usually is not toilet paper in the bathroom. The toilets are either of the squat variety or holes in the ground. And often there is a pitcher that looks like it is for watering plants. I thought all along that the pitcher was for cleaning the toilet after use. Noooo. I found out today that the water in the pitcher is to use for clean-up with one's left hand after using the toilet and this is why the left hand is considered the potty hand. Sometimes there are hoses attached to buckets of water. My goodness I felt ignorant when I found this out.

I also found out that in traditional Sudanese homes there is a plot of land and the rooms are separate structures on the land. There is usually a central outdoor room which is where people basically live. Then there is the kitchen and the bedrooms and an outdoor bathroom. The bathrooms have half walls constructed around them. I would assume that a shower would be in a separate structure. So I have been in some traditional homes. I do not live in one of them and many of the foreigners who I have visited do not live in a traditional type of home.

I also had an answer to a question about the beds I have seen in houses. The Sudanese do not use couches in their living rooms. They have beds unless it is a more affluent home and then maybe there is one coach and the rest are beds. Guests lounge on the beds and may be told it is fine to take a nap. They make the house pretty by having nicely made beds with pretty materials.

I got more help with the hand signal for the bus system today. Hopefully Wednesday after my tutoring session I will be able to get a bus for myself this time. Inshallah! (God willing.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A More Traditional Culture

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Yesterday I worshipped at the Pentecostal church and then spent the day and evening with friends. A. is a teacher at Nile Theological College and M. is his wife. There two daughters were off visiting friends. They took me to their house for lunch and other friends of theirs joined me. It was a good day and evening.

I am feeling like I am learning more about Sudan at a wee bit deeper level now. The title of this blog, "A More Traditional Culture" can be taken in many ways. Tradition has many dimensions in this land of sand and blue, blue sky. Today I walked to the little grocer just down the road for yogurt, bread and eggs and I was struck by the fact that the sky is today as blue as the ocean.

Tradition means, in one sense of the word, a culture and society that is not materialistic in the same was as the West. I do not get the feeling here that keeping up with the Joneses or having the latest technological advances in one's home or pocket are important -- at least not yet. I don't know what will happen in Sudan or other parts of Arabian culture in the future. And I have not yet been to the African part of Sudan in the South. Because I know that it is less developed than Northern Sudan I imagine that it too is less materialistic than the West.

There seems to be a more expansive openness to God here than I ever experienced in China, for instance. Maybe with less materialism there are not as many distractions to pull people away from the roots of life. While many of the young Muslim women do make fashion plate statements with the head scarves and modest dress, the reality that I am aware of every place that I go are the tobes, the full cover cloth that women put over their dresses, the long white tobes that the men wear, often with beards -- and the ever present donkeys with their carts.

Yesterday my friend M. said that things are improving here for women. Some women are now wearing jeans and women do not have to wear burkas if they do not want to. She also said that Khartoum is a good place to raise children. This is the second time that I have heard that sentiment. I thought about it and I realized -- no drugs, no alcohol, maybe less peer pressure. The thing of it is that for instance even the young men in their 20's seem to still live at home until they are married. Who is perpetuating this conservative society? The people who grow up and become adults in it. I think that there may be a higher value put on things like respect and honor than what I have seen in the West. Something that I realized in this conservation was that there is a difference between respecting culture and being held captive by it.

Now, traditional of course can mean other things as well. Even among Christians the cultural traditions often hold more weight than Biblical principles. Marriages are still often arranged. Women are essentially "sold" to the highest bidder. Marriages within families are not unusal. There was an interesting article on the internet a couple of days ago -- actually more like heartbreaking. The article focused on two 16 year old male Palestinian cousins. Until they hit puberty they had been believed to be girls. They attended girl's school and were socialized as females in their society. With the onset of puberty came facial hair and male characteristics, both physically and hormonally. They have had to cut their hair, begin to attend a boy's school and begin the difficult adjustment of being male in a society where previously they had been female. A medical authority has stated that this problem, which is not uncommon in Arabic cultures, is caused by inbreeding. Cousins marry cousins, families do not want to go out of the family for marriages. I have also heard this about some of the African tribes.

Here in Sudan, and probably other countries as well, there is a high bride price. The perspective son-in-law will collect money from his uncles to help pay the price so that after the marriage the bride is expected to wait on the husband and the extended family as well because they all own a piece of her so to speak.

It was an overwhelming day yesterday learning so many things that seem like they would be in the distant past but are instead life today. What an amazing thing though to live in a place in the world that is so incredibly different than where I grew up. Because I am still who I am here it can be hard to remember that outside of some of the ex-pats, the people who I come into contact with every day see the world very differently than I do. They experience life from a different car. At the table yesterday we discussed how when people from different cultures marry one another it is so important that they would have learned how to talk to one another. Some of the women here may marry a Westerner to show off that a light skinned person desired them. Many women bleach their skin because they believe the lighter they are the more refined they are. I was told that there are some light skinned Arabs who will not intermarry with others because they do not want to lose their original light skin. The light skin issue also appears to have to do with the racism that is directed towards the Africans by the Arabs. The lighter a person is the further from being African they appear.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Third Arabic Language Lesson

Dear Friends,

Greetings! Today was my third tutoring session. I am not tutoring, I am being tutored. I need to make that clear. The words are becoming a little bit less tortuous. I have two more lessons in December, both next week. We will see after that....

I managed to find the right bus going to Khartoum 2 today, and I got my breakfast sandwich ordered as well! Again it was delicious and at one pound (about 40 cents) it is definitely the right price. After the lesson I wasn't able to flag down a Bahri bus and after waiting in the sun for over half an hour I finally gave in and hired a mini van. The driver was a young African (not Arab) man and he must have been impressed by my being an American as he wanted to take my phone number when he dropped me off. Fortunately I don't remember my phones numbers and he assumed that this meant I don't have a phone. I didn't lie, I just didn't volunteer the truth. I had him drop me off at a tiny grocer down the road from me where I frequently go for yogurt, bread, eggs and my poison, Diet Pepsi (although I prefer Diet Coke this store doesn't have it). I had to get yogurt and Diet Pepsi and I figured that way he doesn't actually know where I live. He was nice and had really good English -- I suspect he may have come from Southern Sudan where the language that is spoken is English.

Yesterday I had written quite a bit in the blog and then I must have made an error in saving it because most of what I wrote was no longer there when I posted it. So today I will re-tell some of the content. The residential areas in Khartoum, Bahri, Khartoum 2 and Odurman are streets that have long metal fences with gates in them where the houses are. The gates of course then are opened and lead to the houses, often with some kind of a courtyard surrounding the actual house. I don't think that I have seen any front or back yards per se like those that we have in the states. I have seen one garage. Sometimes the bathrooms are a separate room in the courtyard, sometimes they are a room in the house. In my own apartment I have a bathroom off of the living room in the main body of the house. I have been in several homes where the bathroom is a separate room in the courtyard with a shower and squat toilet, occasionally also a Western type seated toilet.

The stores have the kinds of "doors" that I saw in Jerusalem, Palestine and I believe Kosovo. They are like very heavy metal blinds that move up and down to open and close. They are kind of like old fashioned rolling desktops if any of you, my readers, remember those, except in metal and not wood.

While I waited on the street hoping to catch a bus with the Bahri hand signal there was a man who tried to sell to me and anyone else in sight two adorable twin baby goats. Oh my gosh they were cute! I was praying that they were not headed into someone's soup pot for tonight because I know that goat meat is quite popular here. I don't know if people eat baby or grown up goat meat.

I can tell it is winter here in Khartoum not so much by the temperature, because really this is right now like a really nice Seattle summer, but by the shadows. The shadows are more like fall at home than winter at home, but it is definitely the light that is giving me the clues. So far the whole two months I have been here it gets light around 7:00 a.m. and gets dark around 7:00 p.m. It will be interesting to see what happens in the months to come. Today on the bus at one corner we had quite a bit of a wait and I enjoyed the show of the shadows of leaves on one of the walls which surrounds a house on a street corner. It made me think of Hebrews in the Bible talking of how we are the shadow of the reality.

Again there were many women in burkas and men in the long white garments. One of the men was walking in such a way today with the sun just so that I realized he really needed a slip underneath his! The donkey carts are everywhere, with the little donkeys in the front. At one point today I saw a donkey cart being loaded up with bricks. A few days ago at another location in town I saw bricks being made.

Masalama (Peace be upon you),

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This That and The Other....Thing.

Dear Friends,

Greetings! Sometimes there is so much going on, or so little outwardly but a great deal inwardly, that it is hard to put things into a coherent pattern of thought. I realized yesterday, for instance, that it makes total sense for the Sudanese to eat dinner at 11 or 12 or 1 at night and breakfast at 10 in the morning. Okay, I might be starting to think like a Sudanese, should that have me worried? Well, the reason it makes sense is that the weather cools down somewhat in the late afternoon and evening. I had written on Facebook recently that if I could switch nights and days temperature wise I would be better off. Essentially by not doing meals according to US standards the Sudanese are switching parts of the day to their weather advantage. Now this does not explain why the Europeans do the same thing....

I had my second language class yesterday. I found someone who helped me get "ful", the incredibly wonderful vegetarian bean dish that the Sudanese have for breakfast, and apparently for dinner as well if they can find it. It is cheap, healthy and I don't have to make it although I could. Tomorrow morning I will be purchasing it again on the way to my third Arabic lesson. I need to find the shops closer to my apartment where I can buy it freshly made. Apparently many people buy it, take it home and fix it as we in the states might fix tacos. It can have salad or cheese, etc., put into it. Basically it is ful beans and tomatoes cut up and cooked together.

So the same new friend helped me find the bus back to Bahry where I live. Before I had been taking the more expensive mini buses, the bus is under one Sudanese pound, or less than 50 US cents. Once I have mastered the bus system it will be ever so much cheaper for me to get around. In China the buses were often so overcrowded that people were hanging out the windows and doors -- I kid you not. Here it is not possible because each bus is fitted with seats on each side of the aisle and there is not enough space in the aisle for people to stand. There are also no bars to hold on to for standing. I much prefer this way of doing buses! It is similar to Palestine because one does not put money into a machine on getting in the bus -- instead it is handed person by person up to a man (I've only seen men doing this) who takes payment, makes change, helps people get off at the right stop and announces what the bus is at each stop to help people find the correct bus.

Every time I go out I re-enter a form of culture shock. I have decided though that even though the culture is very conservative by American standards I like the fact that there are moral values that seem to be deeply rooted and not driven by the latest fads. I have more to explore in regard to this because I of course am only seeing things as an outsider. If by any chance I ever feel that maybe it isn't sooo different all it takes is to see one more woman in a burqua (which I do frequently), one more man in a full-length white outer garment (which I do everywhere) or a donkey cart with a donkey attached and I realize I am truly in a different world. However, smiles and kindness are universal languages. I have had plenty of people do their best to help me as I navigate in this new universe.

My International Lifestyle:)

Hand Made Mattress (Khartoum Sudan)

Hand Made Candle (USA)

Glowy blue computer cooler (China)

Cool purple shoes (Egypt)
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What a Day!

Dear Friends,

Greetings! I've just arrived home from another day of firsts around the neighborhood and city. I went by bus to Khartoum 2 today, recognizing landmarks and managing to get off at the absolutely correct place to find the Language School where I had gone yesterday to inquire about their programs. This morning I went back and had my very first private tutor lesson in Arabic! I am excited that I got a better handle on the gender endings of words and also learned a basic formula for questions and answers where I can figure out how to answer the question from the question itself. Then I found my own way home by mini-van. I was able to use Arabic numbers to negotiate the price and to direct him to my home once we got over the Khartoum 2 to Bahri bridge. Eureka! Success!

An old woman approached me as I was getting into the mini van to come home, she put her hand to her mouth to indicate food. I simply do not comprehend how someone with no teeth manages to eat. I have been told not to give money because the next time the same person will seek me out and a cycle will begin that is never ending. It is difficult because there is so much need here.

I am utterly amazed every time I venture out at how many many wear the full burka treatment including the veil over their faces. I've noticed now that the veils hook on to another head covering on the back of the head and then fall over the face. I also see many many women with gloves on as well. Even some of the women who wear head coverings without covering their faces wear the gloves. The gloves are black and some of them are intricately decorated, others are just plain. It truly reminds me that this is a radically different culture when I see so many covered women at one time. In the states it is an occasional thing to see a woman in a burka. Here it is almost the norm.

If there were no burkas to remind me of the difference in culture the donkey carts would. I had today a sense of beginning to enjoy the Arabic culture more. Yes it is conservative past my comfort level. But it is also earthy and in touch with reality in a way that more modern and consumer oriented societies are not. This culture has its moral values and they define it. The heat, the dust, the clothing that is suited for the desert and the modesty of Islam all contribute to having a different pace and rhythm. I am trying to reason out what is the difference between a different pace and irresponsibility. In Palestine because of the many checkpoints that people must pass through to go from Point A to Point B and because of the arbitrary decisions that are made of who is allowed to go and who not to go people cease to make firm plans. But if I remember correctly people would call to convey what was going on and how long it might take them to come. Here in Khartoum mostly people just don't show up. To me that is irresponsible. On the other hand I can understand where time moves differently.

Courtesy. That is the word that comes to me. Is it a Western thing to believe that it is courteous to let someone know when plans have changed?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Neighborhoods US & Sudan

I have been trying to figure out some of the differences between the US and Sudan and I realized that it might be easier to show pictures. The first picture here is of a neighborhood in Chicago. Independent structures with architectural variety. The second picture shows some of the agrarian nature of Sudan, with housing structures in the background. I am not sure that I have seen independently standing houses here. Instead there are usually long walls and gates in the walls leading into a kind of courtyard where each house is. It is a very different concept in neighborhood design than what we find in the US.

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Beginning Language Lessons

Dear Friends,

Greetings! For a while things had ground to a halt around here but they are now picking up. Today I took a public bus for the first time. The design of the bus means that they are much less crowded than the buses in China -- to be honest, that I was very thankful for. Waiting for the buses reminded me a lot of being in Jerusalem, lining up and hoping for an empty one. The buses here do not have numbers so I had to learn at one station that there are three lines and each line has a different destination. On the very first bus going into town God sent an Arabic angel and her little boy and she helped me and paid for my fare. Very kind.

So the purpose of my going into town today was to venture to the Arabic Language School. This particular school is run by a married couple from Korea, they were very nice folks. We decided after much discussion and my sitting in on the tail end of a group class that I am better off with a personal tutor because I will have the time to myself and be to ask as many questions as I need to. I start tomorrow...gulp. So tomorrow I have to find my way back to the school bus again. The Korean lady took me out to help me find a way home today - I may have to do that alone tomorrow, but on the other hand that may be what I request my first lesson to be on! I asked for a patient teacher and the co-owner said the man who will be my teacher is very good at working with children. Perfect!

For the ten minutes that I sat with three other students and their teacher today I realized for the first time how learning one language may make it easier to learn others. I know understand the functions of nouns, verbs and adjectives. I understand gender usage which of course we don't have in English but Greek certainly does and so does Arabic. So we will see how this goes.

Every time I am out and about in Khartoum I am struck by just how different it is here. The best adjective right now is simply dusty. There is dust everywhere. In fact for tomorrow when I have to deal with running after buses on the way home I am going to wear my tennis shoes for the first time since I have been here so I will have better traction than in my Birkenstocks. It is almost like being on a sandy beach - all the time. But then there are the people and the African and Arabic clothes which I love and also which is such an obvious signal -- this isn't the states.

On the way back today I ended up taking a kind of mini-van. Smaller and more expensive than a bus. Not as big as a big van nor as little as the motorized rickshaws. It was kind of nice to get a taste of freedom as the driver got me through the traffic and back across the bridge towards Bahri, my general neck of the woods. When we got to the crossroads that I now recognize he asked me which way to go. I had him turn away from home and then I knew when to say "Hallas", finish, when we were near the store I needed to shop at. I did my shopping at the store, loaded up my backpack and proceeded down the street. At the next corner I knew where to go to get my falafel and then I went into the store where I bought my wonderful soft pillows hoping to find pillowcases, alas there were none. Lastly I finished at the store two blocks up from my apartment where they sell the best quality large bottles of water that I use in the machine here at the house. I phones the college for help and they found a rickshaw and driver to bring me to the apartment, he came in with me and changed the water. He then took the empty water container back to the store for me. So I am learning now how to navigate.

At the same time last night I was reading in the living room on my very comfortable coach realizing how nice it is to have a room that I feel at home in. It was not that way in China where the most comfortable furniture was the bed.

By the way, the new bed that I now have is wonderful! I have taken a picture and will get it on here soon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Learning, Learning, Learning....

Dear Friends,
Greetings once again! This week has been a quiet one. I have been reading and making notes and learning a great deal about both the History of Missions and the New Testament Background. I am discovering that in order to prepare to teach I almost need to write a paper -- which is fine by me because I love information gathering and organizing. This is one of the most effective ways for me to learn and to integrate in order to pass the information on to my students.

On Facebook this week at one point I had the following status update:
"...The kitchen had been quiet for a couple of days, no sightings of wandering reptiles....then as I sat to relax on the covered porch just now I saw them! TWO lizards at once running across the floor towards me until I SCREAMED! ....and then they ran away!

I've since spotted one of them in the living room. It took shelter behind a book case when I went after it. Not that I would have done anything to it because I certainly don't want to touch one of them!

I have asked several of the ex-pat women here where they get their hair cut. Every one of them has said that another woman from the ex-pat community has done that for them -- my New Zealand friend who is gone now said that she cut her husband's hair and he cut hers. Some of them have said that they have it cut once a year when they return home. I have become very grateful for not having a high-maintenance hairdo of any kind. I have seen the male counterparts to a woman's hair salon here in town. It was quite fascinating and certainly would cut down on overhead. In an alley there were men seated in chairs with a mirror in front of them hanging on a fence and the barber behind them -- cutting!

I apparently live in a part of town that has relatively stable power. Even so I have noticed that several times a week the electricity cuts out for a few hours during the day. Praise God so far it has not happened at night. Which reminds me...being from the Pacific Northwest in the states it is a real shock to be paying less for electricity right now in the winter here in Sudan. I am not having to pay to heat the house -- nor to cool it, I am simply running fans. It is good that I am saving money now because I am sure I will need that money come the summer months to help pay for the cost in double electric bills to cool the apartment!

One of the subjects which has come up fairly frequently in conversations here in Khartoum is that of polygamy. I had read in The Will to Arise, and in some other books as well, that in many ways Africa as a continent is living in Old Testament times; that the culture is like that of the OT.
It has been interesting and fascinating for me to hear about the ways that this seems to be true. Polygamy appears to be a cultural issue. It is practiced by both Muslims and Christians. Christians will argue that polygamy was practiced in the Old Testament and therefore is appropriate for Christians to practice. When a man's first wife is unable to become pregnant then a man who can afford to do so will marry a second wife in order to have children. I came here to Africa knowing that one of the issues I was/am wrestling with is that of what is Scriptural and what is my Western culture? The practice of polygamy is one of the areas where I must continue this wrestling. Of course polygamy then draws one into many other issues, including the authority that men gives themselves over the lives of women. These are issues I will be asking my students and colleagues about. I will be listening to their answers and reflections. I will continue to learn to sit with another culture's way of being.

Another issue which I have both read about and also am seeing in practice first hand is the educational situation here in Africa. Most institutions of higher learning require teachers to have at least a Master's degree. Most of the colleges educate at the Bachelor's level. Until the educational system has matured and is able to offer Master's degrees either 1. students need financial assistance to study for a Master's outside of Africa or 2. the faculties will consist of primarily foreign teachers. I suppose that since the goal seems to be for teachers to have a higher degree than their students that teaching with a BA won't be encouraged. I believe that there is one faculty member here at Nile Theological College who graduated with a BA from this college and then studied elsewhere for his Master's degree, returning to teach at the college.

I am hopeful that today I may be able to finish the preliminary work on the New Testament Background class for January and move on to designing the actual course. I also have to go grocery shopping which is a bit of a challenge. I don't of course as of yet have a car and I don't know how to explain in Arabic to a taxi how to get to my house -- and if I have a heavy backpack full of groceries my back hurts for two days. I may resort to a rolling suitcase as I did in Nanjing, even though the roads here are not as smooth as they were there. I also may have to begin teaching myself Arabic as it does not look too likely at this point that I will have a way to get to formal lessons in the Khartoum across the Nile. Please keep me in prayers for solutions to my transportation issues. I am sure that over time things will be work out. They did in Nanjing so I have no reason to believe that they won't do so here as well. It takes time to assimilate and integrate.

Time seems to slow down here in the heat of the desert and in the Arabic culture. Maybe it is just hard to be too rushed in a tobe and in the dust.