Friday, September 22, 2006

I've mentioned many times before that this is an a...

I've mentioned many times before that this is an aid city. Nearly every car on Rumbek roads belongs to an international aid agency. The UN and its many sub-organizations (e.g. WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR, FAO, UNDP etc.) IRC, ARC, Save the Children, Malteaser, the list is exhaustive, are all working here. The UN, particularly WFP, literally funded nearly every major project in this town; the air strip, the construction of the roads, food for training and work programs etc. This creates a pseudo reality of society and dangerous dependence. Although, I work in the so called development field I often question the idea of development and it usefulness. That may seem bizarre to some people, but what is the alternative to the current practice of development assistance. It is our human duty to try to help each other, and right now this is the only model we have so I am working within that framework.

I wonder what will happen here after the aid agencies have left. This was the topic of a coversation I recently had with one of my co-workers who is from Rumbek. I posed the question; "what do you think Rumbek will be like once all of these international aid agencies have left." He gave me the most incredulous look, as if the idea of Rumbek without these organizations is not even a possibility. I had to inform him that all of the organizations will probably not leave, but their presence with be significantly reduced. Some agencies are working on their exit strategies even now. My advice to him was to get what he can now in terms of skills and knowledge and to be creative about ways to support himself.
The aid society that has been created here is not sustainable. A huge part of the local economy here is to support running development programs and providing services to international expatriate staff. The INGOs have their living compounds that have maids, drivers, grounds-keepers, cooks, translators, logistics people, vehicle mechanics, engineers, security guards and other positions that I am not aware of. I would guess that about 70% of income generating activities here are linked in some way to the implementation of development programs sponsored by international aid agencies. That is frightening if we look at what that will mean for the economy in 5 years at the time of the referendum for independence. I invite you all to read Michael Maren's, The Road to Hell. The book goes into these issues of dependence and international aid and how it has harmed societies, destroyed lifestyles and even fueled conflicts. The intention is not to cause any harm, being here I can clearly see the truth in the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Is that biblical? Well if any of us had the answers to all of these complex questions in life the world as we know it would not exist, so for now our efforts must be to address these kinds of issues in the best manner we can.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

I had a lightbulb moment (well actually two). I wa...

I had a lightbulb moment (well actually two). I was talking to one of the WFP employees who is from South Sudan but has been living in the United States. He is one of the very few people here I believe that has some understanding of my background and perspective. I told him about some of my skirmishes around here. Well he told me that if he were to go into some neighborhoods in the United States, he would be subjected to the same kind of treatment. And he is right. He would not be welcomed in a small town with no ethnic diversity -at least not without someone who is from there. He could be accused of trying to intergrate the place, and since cross burning is not so popular anymore there might be swastikas and racial slurs spray painted on the property where he stayed and he would be subjected to various forms of harassment. Being an outsider and an African could make him a kind of target. Many Americans do not experience diversity in their own communities, and without a doubt are suffering from a lack of exposure to the world community. So essentially, anytime one moves around from country to country, depending on social realities, the community's level of openess to foreigners and a host of other factors, there is a chance that some people just won't like you. Hmmm.
My second epiphany is that over years of living in inner-city ghettoes I have developed a fighting spirit and confrontational tendencies. I, however, try to keep those characteristics in check and use them only when issues of justice arise. The problem with a fighting spirit and confrontational tendencies is when you are immersed in a population that has been in conflict for most of the last 50 years and they possess those same characteristics. They clash. So who would have guessed; I am like the Dinka Agar. This would be interesting research; ( I am sure it has been done and proven). Does being raised in urban ghettoes in the United States produce the same social chracteristics of people who have lived in protracted conflict in non-industrialized societies? So now I am thinking I should feel right at home here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I seem to be upsetting alot of people with my blog...

I seem to be upsetting alot of people with my blog. Some of the comments that I have received are unbelievable, but I know that is what happens when people expose themselves in this format. Each person who has posted these terrible comments has no clue who I am, my background or my world view (and has not read the entire blog). They just happened upon my blog and didn't like what I had written and decided to write some mean-spirited comment to me. Well I would encourage these people to keep writing these comments it strengthens me and makes me want to stay here longer. People don't like the fact that I write about my good AND bad expeineces here. The strange thing is I don't even write about the worst things for fear that it will upset my family and friends too much. I deal with reality and I write about what happens in my life; good, bad or indifferent. I will continue to do that. I believe anyone who reads this blog is intelligent enough to understand that I live and work in one small section of a the largest country in land mass in Africa, with numerous and diverse ethnic groups, sub-groups, religions and cultures. Someone else in this very same town is probably having a completely different experience than me.
I fully understand that this region is recovering from 50 years of war. In fact that is the main reason that I feel strongly about staying here. People are recovering socially, mentally, physically, spiritually from conflict. Because this is a post-conflict setting I recognize that there are certain things that are likely to happen. If the things that have happened to me here had occured in a non-post conflict setting I would have left, because there would be no underlying cause for such behaviour. Conflict has devistated the society on all levels, so even daily human interactions have been adversely affected. People are still trying to reconstruct their lives and regain a sense of normalcy. This is a dynamic time to be in South Sudan, I love my work and feel it is an essential element in the development process. I am like Ann Frank and believe that people, despite the evil that they may committ, are good at the core, so it bothers me when people do things that show a lack of regard for their fellow human beings because the inclination for good is there. I will continue to pray that all of us remember our capacity to empathize and be just to others and perform acts of kindness.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I was ready to write about my life or work here, o...

I was ready to write about my life or work here, or my incident in the market until I got an email about a friend of mine who died in a car accident in Accra, Ghana. Learning that a friend has died in an email is a surreal thing so I am not sure if even now I believe that she is not somewhere in Ghana just missing off on some adventure. Kim and I were Peace Corps volunteers in South Africa together. Kim is one of those smart individuals who is quick to smile, lives life fully, and pursues what she wants. My most vivid memory of Kim was when she, myself and four other volunteers absconded from our pre-service training and went to Pretoria to enjoy some city life. Ever since we were known as the "Pretoria 6." We actually got into some trouble leaving like that, but we needed to get away and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Looking back, it was well worth because now I have that memory and it makes me smile. I have not actually spoken to Kim since I left SA in 2000, but we have had infrequent email exchanges and knew what the other was doing. I have been looking at my photos with Kim in them and thinking of her and have asked myself what stops something like this from happening to me? She and I are alike in many ways; we love traveling, involved in the same field of work etc.. I know that no one can ever know the hour of their death or the details involved in it, and I am not attempting to delve into that area of human existence, it is just that she is so young and full of life, so I am having a hard time wrapping my head around this. Ever since she passed emails have been in circulation about how she lived a full lifetime in 30 years, and frankly she has. She has experienced things that most people say that would like to do, but it is idle talk; nothing would ever come of it. I admire people who pursue their dreams, despite whatever obstacles may exist. I look at Kim as someone who made her time on this earth have meaning. Yes every life has meaning and is important, but there are those people out there who make a conscious effort to take this time that we have on earth and do something of value for someone outside of themselves. I hope that I can be one of those people one day.

So naturally now, I am thinking about my own mortality and asking myself what can I do now to live a more meaningfull life. Because all we have is this moment right now. I have been so involved in my Rumbek bubble that I am not even current on world affairs, but when I visited the news websites I became disguisted and moved on. A couple of blog entrys ago I was complaning about some of my frustrations and I have been thinking to myself, "hey silly girl at least you are alive to have those experiences, each day is another opportunity to do something good -something that could bring joy to someone else." I know this is all a bit like a therapy session, but indulge me for a moment. News of my friend's death even made my little market incident seem unimportant, but people have been asking me about it so here is the story.

A few weeks ago I was with a friend of mine trying to find something in the local market. We went to the shop of someone he knows. While I am making my purchase a young man walks up to my friend and demands money from him. My friend and the young man have a verbal exchange, the only thing I heard my friend say was something like what have you done for me that I should give you my money. So I finish making my purchase and we proceed to walk out of the market. My friend was walking a little ahead of me and as I walked by the young man he kicked me. I was stunned that someone would do something like that for no reason. So, being the person I am, I walk up to this guy and ask him why did he kick me and my friend is right there with me. As soon as we start talking to him a swarm of people gather around us. My friend explains that this guy kicked me to the crowd and the circumstances surrounding it. The response was forget about it and just leave and people were beginning to get hostile. So I said to my friend let's go. We both knew that people around here are armed, and of course we are not and violent reactions to disputes are too common. Besides, if I get killed my body would probably not be at home, washed and funeral rights could not be performed in 3 days time from where I am right now. I have to consider those things. I was livid about this incident. I felt very helpless, I wished I had some of my crazy male cousins around here at that moment, but then of course it would have created a mini-war. So now I don't go to the market. I had been warned previously about the market, but I still have this Peace Corps mentality that I need to mingle and engage with the community, get to know people, learn a few more Dinka words. I had all that taken away from me within the span of a few minutes. I wondered why he would kick me when the one he had the words with was my friend. Then I remember, my friend is a man, and he was probably trying to provoke him through me, so it wasn't a personal thing, the guy was just a hot-headed jerk who mistakenly thinks that a stranger owes him something. Then I thought about other situations that have happened to some women I know around here; the young lady who braids my hair was slapped when she was having a minor disagreement with a guy here and another woman who is a doctor was also slapped. I thinkthe doctor was slapped during an immunization because the inoculation was painful to her patient, a child, so the father slapped her. So at least I wasn't slapped. For me that would put me over the edge, it is the ultimate disrespect. I don't know what I would do if I was slapped, but it would probably be something that would make it impossible for me to stay here.

I have decided everytime I write about something negative, I have to write about something positive. Earlier this week I was with my two co-workers doing an awareness with teachers, students and the community elders in a community a few miles outside of town. Part of the local protocal is that we say a proper good bye to the important people; in this case it was the teachers and the elders. After saying my farewells to the teachers I went to the circle of elders and they were so kind. The oldest man in the group said he would marry me, but my father wasn't around to start the negotiations. I mean this man was old, but apparently not too old for another wife! The elders expressed that they were happy that I was there and made a beautiful prayer that I exceed them in age and have lots of children. It touched me so because it was sincere. That someone would want you to have better or more good things than them is not common in the individualistic, competitive society where I come from, so it is refreshing when people wish that for you and it is real. I nearly cried -especially since I had been having some bad days recently. I generally don't experience this kind of well-wishing at home unless it is with family or I am around other Muslims.
Oh, and the other good news is that my stock is rising. I am up to 500 cattle now as an offering for a bride-price!! I don't take the offers seriously, but hey I am a woman and it is flattering nonetheless.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Just when I think I am spinning my wheels to keep ...

Just when I think I am spinning my wheels to keep myself preoccupied in Rumbek something happens that tells me that I might not be a foolish idealist afterall. Yesterday we had a workshop with the youth and it was spectacular. There is a youth group that has been approaching us to do some activities with them. I was initially hesitant because officially, the youth is not the target population for the program here. However, I had a conversation with a colleague here who works for another INGO, or rather a complaint session about our work. We discussed the barriers which exist that inhibit us from accomplishing work goals and objectives. She said to me that we need to focus on the youth because they would be most receptive to change. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. I thought about it, here I am trying to convince communities that have been at war for more than 2 decades to trust me, a stranger, discuss very sensitive topics with them and advise them on how to lead healthier lives. They have been in a state of resistance all these years why would they not resist me and whatever I bring. Undoubtedly, I still believe strongly in the human potential to develop and achieve -that is part of who I am, but behaviour change is an extremely difficult thing for anyone but especially for adults. It seems that I had forgotten that. Additionally, a part of me was just curious to see what would be the difference between working with adults versus youth in this context. So I said let's try; they are motivated enough to keep walking long distances to our compound to inquire about working with us, that alone earns them my attention.
Well, the difference between the two groups was like that of night and day. These students were interested, posed questions, were humorous and it was a joy facilitating with them. It was one of the most perfect work-days that I can remember since I had my first McDonald's job at 16 years old. Very life-affirming. I wish I could work with them all the time, but if I did I would probably lose hope with the adults.
I have been speaking with some people about some of my skirmishes with the local Dinkas and then last night I spoke with a sister from Khartoum about some experiences she has had (very scary) and she had to point out to me something that I had thought about before I arrived in Rumbek but dismissed too quickly. It seems that my issue is that I am being mistaken for a northern Arab. To me that is ridiculous, but virtually any Black person whose skin is more brown than ebony could be mistaken for someone from the North. Firstly let me help you to expand your definition of an Arab. In the United States at least, and I believe the same is true for much of Europe we think an Arab is a light skinned/olive skinned individual with curly to kinky hair who, speaks Arabic. Like African Americans, Arabs come in all shades of skin color. I used to look at all Sudanese as being Black, after all As-Sudan literally means the Land of the Blacks in Arabic. I was initially shocked and offended some years ago to learn that the northern Sudanese consider themselves Arabs and not Black, after all they look like they would fit in at one of my family reunions. But being here has helped me understand why they consider themselves Arab. So an Arab is defined by language and culture and not skin color. I had previously written about how as a Black person in Africa I am often put into a local ethnic group, well that can be a good thing because it makes me less conspicuous, but it can also be dangerous depending on socio-political and historical factors. Well at least now I know. I know I said last week that I would tell you about the incident that will be forever known as, "The Kicking at Rumbek Market," but I don't want to revisit that right now let me be happy about one of my most perfect workdays ever.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

I fully retract the statement that people here don...

I fully retract the statement that people here don't value cattle more than human life. Empirical evidence leads me to assert that human life in the local culture is less important than cattle. The North versus South war has been replaced by inter-tribal conflict; which takes fewer casualties but is even more senseless. Cattle ownership in the society is equated with money, power and status. Throughout history, on every point on this globe people have done heinous acts for money/power/status. So here it is not the owning of the cattle per se that is problematic it is what one is willing to do to get the cattle which is associated with money, power and status. There is a story of a young man who impregnated a young lady outside of marriage and was killed by the girl's brother. He was not killed because he dishonored the girl, ruined her or any of those reasons that you might think. He was killed because now that the girl was pregnant she would get fewer cattle which poses a problem for the brother in his search for a wife. No one bothered with the fact that now this baby will forever be fatherless, and imagine the pain of the mother; to endure a pregnancy and know that you own brother killed you child's father. What will this mean for the child's future relationship with his uncle? The tendency here is to react violently without critical thought.

Furthermore, I have to be honest and say of any culture I have had the chance to interact with significantly, this local culture treats women the worst I have ever seen. Working in development I hear often that women in Islamic societies are oppressed and abused. I spent some time in Guinea in West Africa which is about 95% Muslim; and the women there were treated with respect and care and protected. Women were treated better there than in South Africa, a primarily Christian country which has the highest rape incidence in the world and they were certainly treated better than here where women are a comodity in a man's bid for power.
If you are still not convinced let me tell you about an accepted cultural practice here. If there is a dispute within the family here and the mother and father are in disagreement the son has the right to physically discipline his mother!!!!! This is to help her come to her senses and agree with the father. So this boy/man who spent 9 months in his mother's womb, was nursed by this woman and cared for as a child can beat his mother and everyone is fine with that. How humiliating for a woman. As development workers we have been given the politically correct mantra that "We are not here to change the culture." Squash that. People (particularly the local community) need to be actively engaing to change that aspect of this culture. As I think about my work and the way I interact with the local community I can see how even with me there is some of that lack of regard for women present. I see it in small ways like not being quick to respond to my requests or questioning one of my work related decisions. When we were in Akot last Sunday for the VCT there was a man there who was not able to get tested -it was getting late, we were running low on test kits and the guys were tired. So this man is literally demanding to me that we stay longer, in fact his exact words were; " I say you stay here." At that point I was too sickened with the sexism here; so I told him who was boss (me) and that my commands are what will be and then added that there was absolutely nothing he could do but live with it. He looked like he wanted to punch me. A woman with more power than him was too much to take. I have more stories like this (one day I will tell you how I was kicked in the market!!), but I cannot stay too long in negativity.

Happy news is that I have an incredible circle of friends in Rumbek who have fascinating lives. As someone with an adventurous spirit, I devour their stories and live for a moment in them. Everyday I laugh. Outside of having work that you enjoy, the way to survive living in an aid town is to have elements of life that will help maintain sanity. All of the aid organizations have self-contained compounds with international expatriate staff living there. For example, I live, have an office space (a tent) and eat at my World Food Programme compound. It is very possible for me to only leave my compound when I go out to the field for work. I cannot live like that so I walk or catch rides to other compounds and socialize. I try to make it to the Mosque every Friday, sure I don't understand 95% of what is being said, but being there is comforting and provides me with so many other benefits. This is how I maintain my sanity.
When I look at my challenges in Rumbek I do so comparatively. If I was not in South Sudan dealing with sexism or violence, I could be at home in Chicago dealing with racism or inner-city crime/violence, but be alot less fulfilled in my work, not travelling and of course I would not experience the depth of human diversity at home as I do here. So I said all that to say, despite all the things that may cause me grief, I recognize my blessing and treasure it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

My work day varies. This week alot of meetings wit...

My work day varies. This week alot of meetings with INGOs (International Non-Governmental Aid Organizations). I represent my employer, ARC, at these meetings and present our programs/activities in south Sudan. These meetings are necessary, but not the part of my work I find the most fulfilling. I enjoy the field work. For example last Sunday, we did an HIV/AIDS awareness workshop at one of the construction camps in a rural area, Akot. There was a team of three which was myself, a VCT counselor from the community and an International Rescue Committee HIV/AIDS Field Officer, who is Kenyan. We arrived in the afternoon, did about a 3 hour workshop, discussing HIV, prevention, transmission, disease progression, AIDS, STIs etc. In the camps there are are a good number of Kenyans as well as Sudanese. Due to language barriers our counselor also doubled as a translator. Kenyans in general know English well, so the translation was for the Dinka local dialect. We will be back in Akot in a few days to offer the VCT (voluntary counseling and testing for HIV). As I mentioned right now HIV here is not at epidemic proportions here like Zambia where the life exptency has dropped to 33. However, the goal is to avert infection. Generally during war times in African countries HIV infection rates are low, but then dramatically increase when conflict ceases. Right now the country is at a critical point that will determine if the country is going to be another case like Zambia. For me it is rewarding to be a part of this effort.
Some of the cultural practices like facial scarring and wife inheritance pose the greatest risk. Maybe I should explain a little. Upon entering into manhood boys have multiple lines cut across their forehead, of course they are not to cry because this is a test of their manhood. In a ritual like this the blade used may not be clean and used on multiple people whose status of course is not known. Wife inheritance is the practice of a man taking the wife of his deceased brother as his wife. If the brother has children with the deacesed brother's wife, they are considered the children of the deceased brother. It is critical for everyone to have children, not to have children is like not existing as a human being. Wife inheritance is practiced in other places in Africa where it has contributed to HIV infection. I know that I cannot know, but I often find myself wondering what the situation will be here ten years from now.

Doing the work that I do and being Black is an anomoly in probably most of the African continent. Everywhere I go people place me into an ethnic group; in West Africa I am Fulani, South Africa I look like a Venda, here I've gotten Ethiopian, Zande (an ethnic group of south Sudan) and Kenyan. I find it amusing. When I tell people here that it is most likely that my ancestors came from West Africa they are a little disappointed. People need to place people into a category to make sense for them. So for the people around here it would be easier to understand me if I was Zande.
Unfortuantely because of world wide stereoptypes about Black people, I find that people doubt that I can do this work. Simply put they think that I am not qualified. I have noticed this especially when I meet white American women (who are a majority in the international aid/development field). Almost always the first questions they ask me is about my educational background or experience in this field, which are acceptable questions on a job interview, but not informally just meeting someone outside of a work context. They want to know what on earth I am doing here since it cannot be that I have something to offer. It is frustrating and I have to continually remind myself that it is not my problem to address but their's, I still have those moments where I want to go into the "angry black woman" stereotype, but I realize now that it comes with the territory. But if you do hear about somebody in the Sudan getting a ghetto style checking you'll know it was me.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Primarily what I do is HIV/AIDS awareness with the...

Primarily what I do is HIV/AIDS awareness with the construction crews that are rebuilding the roads in the south, and of course with the community at large. I am busier with work now, just Thursday I helped facilitate a training for military leaders and today I am on my way to do one with a construction crew in Akot, about 75 kilometers away from here. I love my work, it of course can be very serious but there are always funny moments. How does the post-war atmosphere affect the work? Firstly people do not believe that HIV/AIDS is real, and they often do not trust the information coming from outsiders. There have been two workshops that I have attended since I have been here where people have said that HIV+ people should be given their own area of the community and not interact with HIV- people and oh yeah and one community leader said that they should be locked away. People often resort to violence here for resolving issues, so I am afraid that HIV+ people will be killed for infecting others. The men in a family seriously guard their sisters because like I said previously a daughter marrying is a source of wealth for the family. If a young lady becomes involved with someone and has extra-marital sex the man must pay so many cattle (maybe 8 or so) to the family for dishonoring her, however, I have heard of too many stories where the man has been killed. I fear that the stigma on HIV+ people will be too great and they may end up being seriously harmed or killed especially for infecting a woman. Right now the HIV rates are very low, but as refugees return from Kenya, Uganda, DRC and the like, the rates will rise. Refugees that have been in these countries have taken on some of the cultural practices of their temporary homes and this includes sexual norms. In the traditional local culture sex outside of marriage is extremely taboo, but that may not be the case for other cultures where people may have been living for more than 2 decades. It is hard to know how this will re-create the social dynamic here. I need to go prepare for work so I will write again tomorrow.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

It is very evident that this is a society recoveri...

It is very evident that this is a society recovering from conflict. The signs are everywhere, notably random people walking around with guns. To see this you only need to take a drive around Rumbek. There are people, most of whom are civilian, walking around in tattered clothing with a rifle swinging from an arm. I’ve been told that people don’t feel safe without them. It is a very normal thing and does not raise an eyebrow –except to someone like me. But then again “normal” is something that varies from context to context. An interesting note to that is that people in the remote areas believe that the war is still going on. I think maybe it would be a polite and worthwhile thing to inform them that the war is over. In addition to this; disputes are often settled with violence; meaning people get shot. That’s the way it has been done for the past 21 years, it was effective so it is still done. There is an aggressive, confrontational mentality of people –especially those who stayed inside the Sudan during wartime. Just the other day a man came storming into the administrative office demanding his pay check. He was completely belligerent and even pushed the administrator (a Kenyan). From what I gather, it seems that there was some kind of clerical error so he didn’t get paid when he was supposed to, and most people in the professional world know that sometimes these things happen, but this man had it in his mind that he was being cheated, so he resorted to cave man behaviour thinking it would be sure to get him his money. Now, in the states this man would have been fired, and he would have been defending himself in court for assault. I am not sure how he was dealt with but somehow I don’t think he was fired. People are most familiar with this aggressive lifestyle so they have yet to release it. Arbitration, which is actually a traditional part of at least Dinka culture, has not been fully reinstated. Despite all this I feel and am very safe okay!!!!!!!!!!!
The SPLM and the SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army) are the political and military forces that fought against the north Sudanese government forces. Of course at the center of the SPLM was charismatic leader, John Garang., who lead rebel forces for more than 21 years. He was instrumental in working for southern Sudanese liberation and negotiating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005. Garang also died in 2005 in a helicopter crash. People around here believe he was murdered. Personally, I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but people in the south they are intensely suspicious of the northern government and think them capable of anything; including murdering someone and making it look like an accident. People in the south adore Garang and he is a legendary character already firmly placed in their history.
For a long time to live in south Sudan meant to be involved in the liberation movement. The military is very highly regarded. Even now with a peace agreement firmly in place, people are still enlisting in large numbers in the SPLA. I see military training groups scattered about Rumbek marching and exercising. I wonder is this normal peace time activity or are they preparing for something to come. I know one thing; I won’t be around when the time for the referendum comes (I think 2011) it will be a defining moment for the whole of the country. Besides, if war breaks out my mother would kill me for getting killed in the Sudan!!

Saturday, July 1, 2006

I made it to the Mosque yesterday –my first time i...

I made it to the Mosque yesterday –my first time in the Sudan. Generally, before going to any Mosque outside of the United States, I do some inquiry; that is I ask do women attend the local Mosques. Although, Islamically there is nothing that prohibits Muslim women from having access to the Mosque, in fact in the time of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) the women even went all times of the day and night, however, in many Muslim communities women do not go to the Mosque. So this is a cultural practice among some Muslims that has developed over time. I know a South Asian sister who has never seen the inside of a Mosque. Imagine never spending a moment of your life in your place of worship! Well, I was overjoyed even though I could only understand some of the Arabic Islamic terms in the Khutbah (sermon). I am looking forward to going every Friday.

About language; I met a Muslim man from Nuba Mountains in the northeast. He is fluent in Italian, English and Arabic. He was amazed that I am non-Arabic speaking. In fact his response when he learned this was, “So, that means that you are only half a Muslim.” Well you know I had something to say about that. Of course I would love to improve my little Arabic, but the main purpose for that is to read/recite the Qur’an and learn more about the religion not to just say I speak Arabic. The Muslims in North Sudan are Arabic speaking yet they engaged in an unjust war against the southern Sudanese and currently are even fighting other Muslims in Darfur, so are these people full Muslims? I have noticed among too many of my acquaintances that were born and raised in Muslim countries/societies that the spirit of Islam is not there. Kindness to neighbors, giving in charity, seeking justice for oppressed people and the countless other good acts that Muslims are supposed to do are treated like things that are not to be actualized. Actually, I pity Muslims who think the title Muslim is about superficial things; they don’t know the gift that they have. Did I mention while the brother is telling me I am half Muslim he is nursing a beer and smoking the popular local brand of cigarettes? In spite of all this, the brother still has a good heart and he started teaching me more Arabic right then and there. Everything happens for a reason.

Cattle have a distinct place in Dinka culture, as with many other African communities. I cannot be among the Dinka and not talk about their relationship with their cattle. Here is one aspect of that relationship. In Dinka tradition, when marrying the Dinka give cattle to the family of the bride for a dowry. The bride’s beauty, family lineage and character and height are all factors that determine bride-price. I am told average starting bride-price would be 50 cattle, anything less would be an insult to a woman. I was informed that I could easily get 200 cattle. I’m not saying that I am fine or of good lineage, but I don’t want to offend the man so who am I to argue with his cultural sensibilities if he insists I am a 200 cow gal (smiles). Of course in my religious tradition I would get those cows, not my parents. I thought about it for a moment; I could probably live nicely in the Sudan with 200 cattle as financial leverage, but nah I’ll pass. After the dowry has been received by the bride’s family they give some of the cows to the newlyweds so that they can have a good economic base to start their marriage. The cow is a source of food, wealth and subsequently status. The driving in these parts is frightening; yet I have seen people driving come within inches of hitting a person, but they brake and proceed with extreme caution yards before coming upon a herd of cattle. I don’t take that to mean that the Dinka value cattle more than humans, they take for granted that people are clever enough to get out of the way of a moving vehicle, but it does indicate their importance in the society.

My work is coming along fine. I have two Sudanese counterparts who are Dinka men; Marial, a Behavior Change Communicator and Monyang an HIV counselor. They seem committed to their work and ready to move forward, so of course I like working with them. The attitude about HIV and AIDS here is that is does not exist because no one has openly known anyone with it. Some believe that it is western propaganda. For my friends who have done development work in sub-Saharan Africa this is something you’ve heard before. These rumors will probably always exist. Earlier this week I went outside of Rumbek to Wulu and Pacong, two rural areas that we will be working with in the future. In Wulu there is a Catholic priest, in our first conversation he admonished me not to discuss condoms with the community. I told him that I have personal convictions that do not allow me to promote extra-marital sex or promiscuity. I then related to him a true story of a married Ugandan couple, whom I believe are Catholic, the wife is HIV negative but the husband is HIV positive. They use condoms of course to protect the wife from HIV infection from the husband. So my question is should they not use condoms because of their Catholic faith? I received a blank stare. I suppose being rational does not factor into the equation on condom use in special circumstances. Oh life !!!!!!!!!! But all is well, until next week friends.