“Through the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, help us to overcome hurt, hostility and bitterness in our heart” —Prayer for the Republic of South Sudan
Today, after exchanging some money, i walked to the airport. This took maybe twenty minutes and the sun wasn’t too hot, but this is not something i normally do. Let me back up a bit & start with some background.
I have been struggling lately with feelings of frustration & bitterness toward the host culture that i currently find myself in, that being the predominantly Dinka culture of Rumbek, Lakes State, Republic of South Sudan. I had been feeling these feelings so strongly that on our most recent “out week” in Nairobi, i stayed longer to get counselling. I’m back in Rumbek now, still easing myself back into life, doing my best not to fall into the same bogs of bitterness & frustration.
Now usually if i’m traveling not by car (i.e. on foot or by bicycle) i’ll put on my headphones & listen to the ol’ iPod, drowning out the khawaja-khawaja (foreigner-foreigner) shouts of children & sometimes adults. As luck would have it, Heather happened to have the iPod with her on her parish visit with Kaitlyn. Note—surprisingly, i might add—that i didn’t begin the previous sentence with “unfortunately” or another negative qualifier. I didn’t do this because if i had had the iPod, i may not have met Mawan.
As i was walking down one of the more major thoroughfares of Rumbek, i noticed in my peripheral vision a figure coming up in stride from behind me. Hello, he said. How did i find Rumbek, he wanted to know. I was courteous but a bit guarded in my answers, expecting this to be another of the many common conversations i & other expats have had:
S: How do you like Rumbek/Sudan/Africa?
E: Oh it’s nice. It’s hot.
S: Yes, yes. Very hot. Where are you from?
E: I’m from _________.
S: Ah, i’ve always wanted to go to _________. Can you help me to go?/You buy me a ticket to go to _________.
Et cetera, et cetera. Ad nauseum.
This, however is not what happened. What Mawan said was this: I want to expand my worldview, to travel. I would like your advice. You have made it here from Canada. How did you do that?
Sorry? What? I think i actually had to ask for clarification a few times because i don’t think i’ve been asked this question in my whole time in South Sudan. My frustration & bitterness was disarmed by this curious young Sudanese man.
So, i told him that i had ended up here in Rumbek by volunteering with MCC (i think i may have just said NGO; most everyone i’ve met here has no idea what MCC is, let alone Mennonites). Do you think that i could do such a thing? Mawan wanted to know. We discussed the feasibility for a bit, i trying to encourage him saying that if he wanted it & tried hard, perhaps he could find an organization with which he could volunteer (i didn’t mention YAMEN! as i don’t think it has opened the program to South Sudan, yet…).
After a few minutes Mawan informed me that his house was just to the left of where we were. We said our goodbyes & parted ways.
What struck me afterward was how much i felt that Mawan & i were equals. And that that feeling—that space for equality—was largely created by Mawan. Not me. He caught me completely off guard. I was disarmed by his curiosity & his openness to hearing about my experience. He did not seem to care whether or not i had money or resources to help him achieve his goal. (Whether he did or not could be debated, but regardless, he didn’t ask.)
Mawan—& others like him—gives me hope.