Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Busy Week

Dear Friends,
Greetings! This has been a busy week and it is only Wednesday night!

I do not have a car in Sudan so I either hoof it (walk) or take rickshaws (small motorized quick rides) or buses. I have discovered that when there is a lot of traffic the best way for me to cross streets is to walk by the side of the buses that are turning the same direction as I am going. I am protected from the oncoming traffic and can move forward much more quickly than if I waited for traffic to stop for me.

Several things happened today that I am going to share with you, my reader, in various ways. The first was at a doctor's clinic. With the upcoming Referendum on January 9, 2011 which will determine whether Sudan remains Africa's largest country or divides into two countries, there have been rumors abounding. One of the rumors is that medical facilities in north will no longer (be allowed to) treat Sudanese from the south as soon as possibly December.

The doctor today was very clear that Christians and Muslims worship the same God through different religions and that we are to obey Allah (The Arabic word for God) and Allah tells us to love one another. He said that he is always available to all of his patients and it doesn't matter to him if a patient is from the north or the south. What a blessing this man was! I have no idea if doctors all over the world take the Hippocratic oath, I do know that God has touched his heart and spoken truth to him.

The second thing that happened took place on the bus coming back from the city to the suburb where the Nile Theological College (where I teach) is and where I live. There was a Sudanese Arab woman wearing a tobe. I have mentioned these tobes many months ago. It is essentially a large piece of cloth that married Sudanese women wrap around their clothing in a particular way. It is considered the National Dress of Sudan. The tobes can made of very beautiful cloth, I myself have had a two piece outfit made of a beautiful tobe.

This woman was sitting in the bus crying and was clearly pregnant. It was distressful to me to see her crying and I kept making eye contact with her to try to let her know that she isn't alone in the world. When it came to my stop I got almost off the bus and then was able to put my hand out and touch her hand. She touched my hand back and when I looked up at her she was smiling! I pray that she understand that she is not alone.

The third thing today was also an encounter with a Sudanese Arab. I don't know if people come to me for help because I am a foreigner and they assume I have the ability to help, or because of something more personal. Today was one of the few times I have wished that I could be transported back to a somewhat comfortable middle class existence in the United States for a day or two.

I had to explain to this person that I am a widow, that I have no brothers and sisters and that I am supporting myself. I do not have the ability to pay back rent for anyone nor to support a family. Unemployment is so rampant here that I can understand that desperation that underlies the desperate hope that a foreigner will hold the solution to the lack of money for food and shelter. There is not a social welfare system as far as I can tell, that appears to be The Family. If someone is a converted Muslim then The Family is no longer available. And if The Family is just as impoverished as the one seeking help then all of them are together in the need and not able to be a part of a solution for one another.

When I speak of converted Muslims losing family support I should add that I don't know what happens when Christians leave the faith and perhaps turn to Islam. I don't know if the remaining Christian family members will support that person or not.

I think the deeper point of this sharing with you is that instead of treating people as people, instead of realizing that whatever the religion we are all God's children and we all must eat and have shelter, sometimes this gets forgotten as people create criteria for something that is not meant to have criteria.

There are no social welfare offices, no social workers that I am aware of, no community agencies. The churches appear to be financially unable to step in and help their struggling brothers and sisters.

I watched a special on AlJazeera English TV this week. It was about the marshlands of Iraq. The particular tribe who has inhabited the marshlands for thousands of years angered Sudan Hussein when he was living. In retaliation he dried up the marshlands and an ancient civilization, culture and way of life was destroyed. The people in the marshes used to be able to meet their daily needs, their daily bread, in the marshes through fishing and hunting, etc. Now they go at 2:00 a.m. every day to try and find reeds to bundle up and sell. If they have no customers to purchase their bundles they have no money. They are unemployed and have no future. This is what it fees like here in Sudan much of the time.

I do not think that the God that we Christians know in the testimony of the Gospels in the person of Jesus Christ intends for people to live without hope. There comes a time when a forward movement must happen, something must change. The status quo becomes intolerable, unsustainable and has no life left in it. This is what has happened to many people here in Sudan, and perhaps in much of Africa.

When someone has no prospects of employment, no food to feed the children, no money to pay the back rent, what does a Christian say to that person? What is the plan for moving forward? What is the plan for changing what doesn't work any longer? Yes, Jesus provides. And some of that provision comes from the good sense that he has given to us. Some of it comes from a sense of desperation being turned to joy in the morning.

I pray constantly for the people of Sudan that their pain may turn to joy. Please join me in these prayers.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Dear Friends,
Greetings! This has been a lovely day. On my birthday in August I was treated to pizza at a local restaurant by American friends and their daughter. As I near departure for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I took them for pizza today at the same restaurant. Man that pizza is good!

I realized after sitting and talking with them for a while that my bottle of water was still cold. At home in Khartoum after about five minutes of sitting my water begins to get warm. The restaurant was nice and cool so I realized that a good gauge for how cool a building is has to do with how long cold drinks stay cold...

The other thing that was realized today is that in Khartoum was have to ask for our check, our bill, how much we owe for the food. As one of my friends pointed out, in America there is a mentality of getting people in and out, rapid turnover in order to earn the most money possible on food service. Here, as with many facets of life here, people linger and talk. There is not a hurry and we had to ask for the bill. I could see once I was aware of the low turnover in customers that the same people were still at the tables and while a few people came in, there was not a mad rush in or out.

On our way out we passed a table with many, many children at it. I think that it was a birthday party! I admit that I don't eat out very often here and at the same time I have never spotted a child's birthday party before! That was a nice thing to see.

We headed to a Western type mall after lunch to shop for things that we cannot find in the dukans (little shops) on our side of the Nile. It is nice occasionally to visit a large, well lit store with roomy aisles and merchandise that really looks like what would be in a typical American Target or Sears.

The temperature is beginning to very, very slowly come down. At one point in the shade outside today and with a breeze it was quite tolerable. Unfortunately shade does not walk with me when I move, so that didn't last long!

Friday, November 19, 2010


Dear Friends,
Greetings! This week one of the things that I learned about here in Sudan is leadership. I think that what I have learned could be applied to any number of countries and situations, I just happened to learn about it in the context of Sudan.

There are the leaders who are imposed on people from the top. The ones who are interested in their own well-being and not concerned with the needs of the people whom they are to govern.

Then there are the leaders who are elected from within the community. These are the leaders who are seen to have the best interests of the people at heart.

A student whose wife had a difficult labor and delivery and was not recovering well after child birth lives in a remote village in the south. She lives a five hour round trip by foot (hoofing)from the nearest medical facility. Her father-in-law lives near the medical facility and had asked a local government official if he could borrow his car to go and pick his daughter-in-law up and take her for medical care. Round trip by car the journey is about half an hour. The government official refused.

I was astounded and I will say deeply offended when I learned this. Government officials are to be servants of the people -- SERVING the people. Not so in this case of an official who was assigned to this village and not elected from within. It also showcases the lack of value put on women and maternal health. I found out later that Southern Sudan has the highest rate of maternal deaths related to child birth in the world.

There is a much bigger picture to life than one's own narrow focus. I think that in many places in the world people must just survive and that concern for that bigger picture is not on the personal radar. Those of us who have the ability to look at the bigger picture must do what we can to create opportunities and change, even transformation, for those whose worlds are by necessity so small.

My students who have lived in other countries definitely have different perspectives and are more open to new ideas than those who have lived in one small village all of their lives. May the God of Abraham and Sarah, Issac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, show us how to open doors, minds and hearts for those who cannot see. May the Holy Spirit blow through Sudan, and other countries, pouring out upon all who need new vision and hope.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Polygamy & Other Cultural Differences

Dear Friends,
This past week I learned that a woman is considered a polygamist even if it her husband who has chosen to take another wife, with or without her consent. This culture is a difficult one for me to comprehend as it is clearly advantageous to the men, with the women having little or no impact on the very things that completely affect their lives.

Women do not take two husbands. But it is believed that if a man consults the first wife about the taking of a second wife that this creates equality and gives the first wife a part in the decision making. I do not believe that this is the case.

I also observed this past week or so that I have never seen a fire hydrant here in Khartoum. I have never seen a fire station nor a fire truck. I do upon occasion see and hear ambulances. They are not accorded the courtesies of those in the west, traffic does not make way for them. I always pray as they go by that the patient will make it to the hospital in a timely manner.

The season is now winter here in Northern Sudan. This means that the temperature of 100F is delayed until late afternoon. The advantage to this is that the sun does not scorch us in the same relentless manner as during the rest of the year. As with this time last year I can tell that the season has changed by the changes in the shadows. In that sense only does the season here remind me of home in Seattle.

I was invited to the home of a colleague/friend for lunch, around 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon, this past Sunday. It was a lovely time of visiting and seeing her home and spending time with she and her husband. I am realizing that the architecture here in Sudan is quite varied. Her home is actually a free standing house with a staircase leading to the rooftop where the family has beds for use during the summer months. In the first floor of the house there are two bedrooms, an inside bathroom (shower and toilet), a living room (known as a parlor here), a kitchen, dining room and visiting area with armchairs and a tv. This contrasts with other homes I have been in that are designed quite differently and also with compounds that have several rooms that are built individually on the property, very unlike what we consider a home in the west. With the design of having several rooms on a property it is more practical to have extended family live together than it would be in different rooms in a single house. Different culture, different needs, different designs.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn in Khartoum.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! It has been five months since I have blogged and I think it is high time to pick this practice up again.

I had a lovely learning vacation in Ghana and Ethiopia this summer. I have since my return to Khartoum in July been working on class preparation, and now the last few months, teaching.

It can be hard to give an accurate picture of the heat here in Northern Sudan month after month. It is intense and scorching. We seem to be headed now towards "autumn" in Khartoum. At the moment this means that the shadows in the outdoor area of my little home are changing. It also means that I have been quite ill for the past few days as my body is adjusting to the change in seasons.

At some point in time the daytime temperature will begin to drop a little bit, not enough to allow a white Christmas, but enough to give some relief to the sizzle. It is getting darker earlier at night as well. Tonight it was pitch black out by 6:45, in the height of summer the light seems to linger until perhaps 7:25 or so.

I reached my own conclusion today that Northern Africa is in a permanent state of colonialization. Technically both Sudan and Egypt are on African soil. Now, not having been yet to Egypt I cannot comment in a meaningful way on the culture there. I do know that Northern Sudan, at least particularly Khartoum, is Arabic. This is not an African city culturally although it is geographically. Centuries of occupation by outside peoples and forces have changed the character of what once was indeed African. I can only wonder what it might be like here if the Muslims had not swept down into Northern Africa from the Arabian Peninsula in the single digit centuries of the last two thousand years. Whereas Islam is moderated in, for instance, West African countries through African culture and indigenous leadership; here in the North the leadership is Arab and therefore not indigenous. Here is the Sahara the harshness of the sun is somewhat matched by the harshness of Islam. It is a different kind of Islam that I have always known in the West.

Perhaps in Western Europe and North America Islam is moderated through indigenous leadership and culture as it is in Western Africa. Christianity here in Saharan Africa is certainly different than Christianity in the states. It is indigenous Christianity. Missionary Christianity named the Gospel for the Africans, named Jesus for the Africans, however Jesus was here on this continent long before the missionaries. The original missionaries didn't understand how to see Jesus' presence already in the African culture and so they thought that the culture had to be destroyed in order to make room for Christ. Nowadays the fastest growing Christian groups here in North Africa are the indigenous Christian churches.

Just as there are differences between Western and Eastern Islam, there are differences between Western and Southern Christianity. Because of our distinctive cultures we will never be exactly the same and we are not supposed to be. In Christianity the Body of Christ is full of diversity and ever present challenges to listen, learn, grow from our context and love our brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than we are.