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.

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