Sunday, February 21, 2010

Other Examples of African Hair

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African Culture/This goes wtih the previous pictures

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I just posted four different pictures and in this blog I want to give an explanation for the pictures.

The first three pictures are of typical "neighborhoods" here in the greater Khartoum area. What I have learned about these neighborhoods is that they probably began as refugee camps during the civil wars that have raged in Sudan. An American friend who was here ten years ago told me that he could tell that things have become much more stable because instead of just tents or very temporary structures things are more settled and permanent now. Some of the neighborhoods have electric lines indicating services are being provided. Having heard this observation from someone who has seen the changes first hand I have begun looking more closely, for instance, at television footage from Haiti. There are definitely the tent cities and temporary structures made of what appears to be corrugated tin, etc. Now I know that it will be a process over time for these temporary housing situations to become more permanent as Haiti, and other places in the world, stabilize and as the people gain more strength to move beyond the crisis stage.

This was a very important piece of information for me to hear. Healing from natural disasters or human conflict happens over a number of years and the outward signs of that healing may be manifest in society taking on a more permanent way of living.

Now, I also posted a picture of a beautiful woman whose hair has a red streak in it. I was amazed to learn that Africans have very short hair, it simply does not grow very much. The woman typically go into the souk (marketplace) and buy strands that are woven into their own hair and they are able to create many stylish hairdos with these strands. I will try to post some other hair designs soon. I think that some of them wear wigs in addition to the strands. It has been fascinating to see a woman two days in a row and have her hair be totally different at each meeting! Africans are very creative people and I see it in their clothing as well. I am having some outfits made for me here in Khartoum and have enjoyed looking at the colorful fabric that the tailor hangs in his shop. When the clothes are ready I will post pictures of those outfits as well!

African Culture

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Heat Is On

Dear Friends,
Greetings! The temperatures are beginning to rise here in Khartoum. While this change is still somewhat subtle, I am acutely aware of it because it is already warmer than my own Pacific Northwest comfort zone. I was in Phoenix, Arizona this last summer visiting a friend for a few days and it was close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That was suffocating for me and is the kind of temperature I can expect in the next few months here.

So as the temperatures begin to soar I will be looking for ways to survive. Finding a small cooler to keep water and pop during the day at the college will be one of those ways. When I am so hot only something cold helps. I will also be turning my swamp cooler on Saturday. I've put it off as I have tried to acclimate and also because I know it will be on for many months and I've tried to save some money, but I am reaching the end of my ability to endure warm air being circulated by the ceiling fans.

I have had both meaningful conversations with my English class this week and also the honor of listening to each person's story of their life during some of the darkest moments of their countries' recent history. As I listened to each student it occurred to me that the Christian faith may be most vibrant in times of need. Each of my student's has a deeply rooted faith. They have prayed to God in Jesus Christ in times of troubles that most of us from North America have no experience with. They trusted fully that God was with them and would provide for them. It occurred to me during class today that when life is easier, when we know where will sleep at night, what we will eat day after day and when our housing is stable and our families safe that maybe we do not perceive such an urgent need to pray for Christ's presence in every moment of our lives. I have always heard that a persecuted church is a strong and growing church. Perhaps security leads to complacency.

My students range in age from what I believe is mid-20's to probably at least 40 in age. It is wonderful having such diversity in age and life experience in the classroom. While they have a core that is common because of the civil war in this country, how each of them survived and found their way to the college is God's gift to them and what makes each of them uniquely who they are. Their English language skills are good and I have found that all of them have a large vocabulary. The biggest challenge that we seem to have, at least in classes, is understanding each others English with our different accents.

On a personal note I am realizing that my morning walks to the college have been strengthening me. This week I am going to reach for the goal of leaving even earlier and adding an extra block to my walk. This may realistically be what I can expect in terms of exercise here. It is something, and for that I am grateful.

Friday, February 12, 2010

This past week.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! There are three things I am going to share with you today.

The first is the fascinating subject of household help. Well, at least I find it fascinating. In the US the goal of someone who cleans houses for a living is to have as many clients as possible, to move through each house/condo/apartment as quickly and efficiently as possible and move on to the next assignment. This is to maximize earning potential. I have now found out that in Sudan the idea is to spend as much time as possible with one client in order to maximize earning potential. This is what the super rich in the US call live in help, or at least I think so.

I am looking for someone to come in once a week and clean the apartment. Period. 3 to 4 hours max. Yesterday I interviewed a woman who another teacher from the college brought to my apartment in hopes that she would be the person I could employ for this. She was asking for twice the amount of money that I can pay. I told her that I cannot be her only source of income, that I would need her to be working for other people too. The hope apparently is that I would start her with one day a week and perhaps move to two, or even three. This way of thinking has helped me in re-evaluating American independence. Many Americans (most I dare say) value their independence and "space". This is an important part of American culture. For cultures which are more family/relationship/unit based, such as Latin America, Asian and African, this desire for independence probably does not make a lot of sense. I am so curious as to where these differences have come from. Suffice it to say that for now I do not have someone to help me with the housework, and this is NOT a good thing.

The second point of interest for this writing is America as the land of opportunity. A few years ago I would hear this phrase and took it for granted without understanding the depths of implication and promise that are made in uttering it. I have an Asian friend who is struggling with the desire to move beyond the limitations that her culture is placing on her. She does not fit the box of her culture and I do not know what decisions she will ultimately make for her life. I do know that once again I have realized how many cultures, countries, continents, have such a lack of vision, of imagination or insight for the possibilities for human life.

I read the book Angela's Ashes several years ago in my preparations for going to Ireland. The book was thoroughly depressing but it got me to think in some very important ways. The book was the first time that I had ever realized that there are some places in the world where a person is not allowed to go to school or to try something new and different. Angela's Ashes stated very plainly that in American anyone can go to school. I had taken that for granted because that is what I grew up with. In that non-fiction book I learned that the Irish Catholics in Ireland would not let Frank go to school because he was poor. And I learned that the Protestants would not let Frank go to school because he was Catholic.

America was the place he finally made his way to, and he was able to go to school. In America 36 year old women can go back to school and earn multiple degrees. This is not true in many places in the world. Poverty can be money. OR poverty can be a lack of opportunity, vision, imagination. Poverty can be the lack of options, possibilities or even the chance to try.

The third thing that I want to share is a discussion that happened in my classroom this week. I have been amazed by my students this week. When I give them a topic to discuss and come to a consensus on they quickly do so. When they are able to frame a topic based on their own experience they are very articulate and imaginative. Since I highly value imagination they earn great brownie points with the teacher, who is of course me.

We discussed what happens when culture disagrees with what is written in the Bible. The students said that there needs then to come a process of separating out culture from the Bible teaching.

When the Apostle Paul says that women should keep silence in the churches we must put this in the cultural context of the first century CE (Common Era). Women were illiterate in the Biblical times. Their brothers were taught at home by their fathers and they eventually went to synagogue to learn Hebrew through reading Scripture and then obtaining Bar Mitzvah. But the girls remained with their mothers learning how to keep house and care for children. In Sudan there are places where girls remain illiterate and are married off at the age of 15 because there is a fear that they will become pregnant. This may have to do with a lack of sex education. Here the students saw a direct correlation between their culture and Biblical culture.

When women become literate, when they gain knowledge then they can become participating members of the community. I shared with the students the story of Mary and Martha and how Jesus encouraged the literacy and learning of women by welcoming Mary into the discipline of learning at his feet. One of the groups in my class said that women with Ph.D.'s do not need to be silent in the churches. I don't think that women need a Ph.D. to no longer be silent -- but I was thrilled that the men in the class could see the principle so clearly. Silence is not a gender issue, it is based on illiteracy and ignorance. When people become literate and understand how to learn appropriately there is no longer a need for silence.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Visitors, Sickness & Other Adventures....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! It has been far too long since I have written to you, and I am so sorry for that. Just last week (it seems like last year already) I finished teaching the Concentrated Course in New Testament Background. The next day the group of Presbyterians who I had been joyfully anticipating arrived from the United States. I then spent four of the next five days in their company, taking part with them in their activities. Finally, the last day I was with them, this past Monday, I began to feel ill and by Monday night I was quite sick. It was not until yesterday that I began to feel somewhat better, thus my lack of writing about the goings on here in my life in Khartoum.

With the group I took a bus to Elobeid and spent the night in a gracious Muslim house of hospitality, aka a guesthouse. It was very basic but it was clean. Along with the others in the group I was granted a photo permit for the touring and was able to shoot many delightful pictures, some of which I will share with you. There appears to me to be a definite type of Arabic architecture. This is the compound structure, a wall, or a gate, that is set down first and within this wall the buildings of the home are arranged. I believe this is what I also saw in Palestine. One of the things that struck me in Palestine were the beautiful doors in the gates and the ironwork on the windows. It is true here as well. The wall may be of mud, and yet nearly always, in the midst of the monotone line of walls, there is a metal door painted a vivid purple or blue or whatever color strikes the fancy of the owner. The doors are never wooden, they are always metal. I suspect that this has to do with the harsh elements.

There were what to my eye appeared to be neighborhoods along the way. Some of them were vast. Like the largest of suburban subdivisions in the states. Or what in the United Kingdom is called "estates". As we went West some of the dwellings were round in shape. I hesitate to call them houses because they aren't exactly that by my American eye. Which begs the question: what defines a house? A group of people living in something? A style of architecture? Whatever I want it to be?

In the enormous unpainted panorama of the desert in Sudan there were always the flashes of color; both the doors of the dwellings and in the clothing of the women and children. The men almost always wore the long white garment and turban, but the women and children seem to find life in the colors that flow from the beautiful clothes and thobes (pronounced tobe) that they are attired in.

The further West we went the more the landscape looked African and not Arabic to me. Someone else commented to me that the Arabic influence in Khartoum itself is very strong. I know when I stepped off the airplane from Nairobi onto the ground at the airport in Khartoum in October my breath was pretty much literally taken away. The airport was definitely Arabic, more so than anything I had ever seen in Palestine or perhaps even in Jordan. For me as an American there is such an air of mystique about Arabia. The Thousand and One Nights kind of thing....the question that comes up for me again and again concerning this culture is: can there be love without equality? I do know that I realized at the point of the landing of the plane that Nairobi was AFRICAN and Khartoum was not.

This of course will lead me onto a rabbit trail....there are African Arabs and there are Asian Arabs, and I am so very interested in finding out more about both of these groups. Of course, there are European Turks and Asian Turks as well.

I have now been to the pyramids! Not the Egyptian ones, but indeed pyramids. The cemetery of a proud people. To contribute to the lore of such a place there were hordes of Sudanese camel riders in traditional garb, which of course if probably what they actually wear. I can definitely say about Sudan that the people for the most part are not becoming Westernized in their outerwear. I appreciate that because I feel that in China a valuable part of their culture is being left behind as they shun their traditional garments.

Two of the people I was with very comfortable sat on their camels and took off with their guides. I on the other hand felt rather ill on mine. Of course it could have been the beginning of what would hit me full force later in the evening with feeling sick, but nonetheless I didn't feel safe at all way up high on that animal! So I stayed up just long enough to have a picture or two taken. I will say that in 1996 when I was in Israel and Palestine that I had a picture taken of myself on a camel in Jerusalem....if I can find that picture I can have a Then/Now comparison. I don't think I fancied the ride much back then either.

Since all of these adventures I have explored the Sudanese medical system much more intimately than I ever desired, just as what happened to me in China. The doctors speak good English and are certainly educated in Western medications and their uses. I found out that blood can be taken without using a tourniquet, the first time time it was done that way and I didn't come as close to passing out as usual. The second time the tourniquet was used and I had to as usual force myself to remember to breathe. There were copious supplies of clean single use cellophane wrapped needles in sight at both of the places I had blood drawn. I am beginning to get used to not lying down for the draws -- at least here in Khartoum I could sit, in China that was not an option.

The doctor's office and the two hospitals which I have seen now were both clean. This was in sharp contrast to the Chinese facilities in Nanjing. The European SOS clinic in Nanjing was clean to Western standards. I was not able to find an actual SOS sign hanging anywhere in the sites where I'd been directed from the American SOS telephone line. There is not the convenience of being able to use a credit card as I had in Nanjing. I am going to have to pay cash and be reimbursed for treatment -- which is okay unless something major happens and I have to be, say, hospitalized, at the tune of much more cash than I happen to have on hand. But I think that this is what most people in the world face, especially in a cash and carry health care system world.

I was impressed by the female doctor who talked with me at one of the hospitals. She asked me more questions than the male doctor at a private practice a few days before. She also ordered a CBC, Complete Blood Count, which he had not done. So I feel that she is more thorough. It turns out that malaria can sometimes present the same symptoms as severe stomach ailments and so I had been tested to be sure I didn't have malaria. I was relieved when the test came out negative as I have been taking malaria medications faithfully for several months now.

The Americans have gone home now. I was left with a wonderful supply of DVDs, purple pillow cases and other things which are hard to find here in Khartoum. Having realized that the key for not only surviving but flourishing here lays at least in part (for me) in having an enjoyable home to live in, I so appreciated the gifts that make that more so. Now I need to get back on track with grading student final exams, getting final grades calculated, learning how to cook properly here so that I avoid illness as much as possible, and investigating how to get regular exercise in this place of heat, ants, mosquitos and flies.

I am coming to a philosophical attitude towards my ability to adapt to a culture that is so very different from my own. I will do the best that I can, and give myself grace to realize that this will never completely be my own culture. I don't have the ability to live in the ways that some people here must live, not perhaps by choice. I will always be an outsider, if for nothing else because of my white skin. But as an outsider who respects the culture and wants to build relationships, perhaps part of what I can contribute is to become a bridge between my own culture and the culture here in Sudan and Africa and the Middle East. Isn't it fascinating how many cultures can be/exist in one place at the same time? Sudanese, Nubian, African, Nuer, Middle Eastern, etc., etc. etc. (As my hero Rex Harrison would have said.)