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.

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