Friday, July 18, 2008

The Pulitzer Center

I had mentioned before that I received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for this trip. The blog is up and running now, so you can check it out here. For a description of my project, you can click here. They will also post links to all the radio broadcasts and articles I am producing from here.

Otherwise, things are going well. I never really finished telling you about the village. Here's a pic of me in the multi-purpose cloth which serves as a blanket at night-time and a full-body garb during the day. NOT easy to walk in however, although not as hot as you would imagine.

In the last post, I wrote "The Simple Life?" with a question mark, but never explained why. Mohammed always used to say living in the village is such a jihad - or struggle. "Everything is a struggle," he would say. To open the front door of the house, you have to pull on a metal wire that sticks out of a hole, until the latch loosens. To go to the bathroom, you have to use your hip to shove the door shut. To shower during the day, you have to put cold water aside at night - otherwise, it will burn your skin from sitting in the sun. Nothing is smooth and simple. I always scoffed at this "jihad" he referred to. Life wasn't so bad. They had enough to eat, they had a safe home - "Don't be so high maintenance," I would tell him.

But after a few days, I began to understand what he meant. I did no cooking or cleaning while there, and had no baby to take care of, but at the end of every day, I was dead tired. The heat in and of itself is exhausting - and there is no escape from it. But these women, who spend all day in the heat, cooking, cleaning, feeding the screaming babies - it really is a struggle. Their husbands are mostly gone off to Saudi Arabia to make the only money that keeps them surviving.

Here's the baby of the family - Dodi. While his mother is busy with chores, he sits with no underwear in the dirt, a slobbery piece of cheese in his hand, mixing with the sand on the ground and then entering his mouth. His mother has no time to do anything with him - so he just sits at home all day, unstimulated. And while she is the most patient and loving mother I have ever seen, she didn't seem to have much understanding of simple parenting concepts - stimulating the child with new places, things; letting him fall so that he learns to walk on his own, etc. Or maybe she understood but just didn't have the luxury of being able to provide it. Her husband has never even met his son, who is a year and a half old. He's been in Saudi from before he was born.

Anyways, it was really nice to get a real taste of Sudan. In the capital, I live a mostly ex-pat life that is consumed by work. There, I got to live among real people, who were kind, generous and really took me in. I was very new and foreign to many of them. I don't think a woman in the village has ever worn pants, played soccer with the boys, or used a laptop (In fact, Mohammed said a computer had never before been used in the whole village).

One day, I went to help prepare the shu'raya (noodles cooked with sugar and served for dessert) for an upcoming wedding. They were making this stuff on mass (the wedding preparation - mostly involving food - went on for something like five days before the wedding). All the women of the village get together and prepare the dough, flatten it, put it through a machine that strings it, then leave it to dry. And by this point, I am told, everyone in the village had heard about me, but some had not yet seen me. I have NEVER been stared at so blatantly as I was that day. They just sat there in groups, looking at me as if I was a weird object they just couldn't get their heads around. But by the end, of course, they each wanted to practice their few words of English with me and have their picture taken.

Anyways, it was a touching place to be, and I will miss them! (Sadly, it keeps becoming easier and easier to say goodbye to people you know you will never see again. Maybe I am becoming cold and uncaring - even more so than before!)

Tomorrow, I'm off to see the pyramids of Merawi - I wonder how they'll compare to Egypt's. Then Sunday, I'm off to southern Sudan (pray that my plane doesn't crash - there have been four plane crashes here in the last two months!).
Here is some henna someone did for me in Dongola, capital of the Northern state and the only big town within 5 hours.

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