Cultural Tidbit #8 – Another Field Trip

This afternoon our Dinka cultural class, which also happens to be made up of the entire Rumbek contingent of the MCC Sudan team (plus a priest and sister thrown in for good measure), set off on another special excursion: visiting the blacksmiths. Our teacher had told us about a place where there were many blacksmiths making all kinds of neat things. Being people who enjoy viewing and purchasing things of the neat variety, we enthusiastically asked when we’d be able to go to said place. “Well, if it doesn’t rain this afternoon, we could go then and also visit the local cattle auction.” Celebration ensued and we began to get excited about our field trip.

We turned off one of the main market roads and drove for a while until we could hear the pings and clangs of the smithing tools through the open windows of the Land Cruiser. We walked along the one row of about a dozen small crudely built structures of what comprised the first section of the Jiiric Rural Blacksmith Group (brought to you in part by Oxfam & the Government of Southern Sudan).

The coals that they used to heat their metals were heated by either goatskin bag bellows or modified bicycles. The wares on offer at all of the small stalls were fairly similar from one to the other: farming implements, spearheads, bracelets, and bells to adorn your favourite bull. Kaitlyn & Luke bought some aluminum spoons and I bought a chisel.

The second section of the group was dedicated to the kitchen. They had charcoal “range tops” and wok-style frying pans, all fashioned from the remnants of oil drums. Lots of ingenuity and recylcling going on; especially inspiring for me, the one who’s become best known in our small circle of expat friends for doing “arts and crafts.”

Right before it started pouring rain, we stopped in at the cattle auction, where things seemed to be just getting started (this was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon). There wasn’t much to see and we were surrounded by a group of very curious and talkative Sudanese men, so we decided to talk to them for a while.

Many of them couldn’t speak English, and our Dinka is still “small”, so a lot of miming was going on; one older man even tried to give me wrestling lessons. Then a gust of wind came and blew Heather’s hair all around. This was apparently fascinating, and many of the over six foot Dinka men began to examine the top of her head very thoroughly. We think this was because they were trying to figure out if it was real or a weave; any African woman with blonde hair would obviously have a weave, so was it the same for khawajas (foreigners)? They quickly saw that the hair on Heather’s arms was of the same colour and perhaps felt that touching her arm was more acceptable (though one man did touch her head hair). It was at this point that they discovered that her arm was very “soft” as it was translated. Either they said that her feet would be too soft to walk barefoot, or that if they walked on her skin that it would be very soft. Meanwhile, I was busy having a conversation of my own. I think some of the men, one of whom was my wrestling mentor from before, were asking about my virility (I figured out that it has something to do with my “man parts” when my wrestling mentor grabbed his crotch when I admitted that I didn’t know what they were asking me). They also inquired as to why I had not yet been initiated. This refers to the scarring that Dinka men have on their foreheads, which is usually done in young adulthood and varies from area to area.

The other thing that consumed a lot of my attention during the entirety of this excursion was taking pictures. I actually got a few smiles. Looking at pictures of Dinka, or walking around town, it might seem that this is a big feat, but actually only when cameras are involved. Despite their fierce and imposing default face, when smiled at,  most Dinka will transform into the friendliest looking people you’ve ever met.

NOTE: Pictures coming soon.

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