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The KIds of Sudan


Wow! June already. A thought: Looking at the encroaching village tukols, I am reminded of the growth of Toronto towards Barrie, my home town, destroying and devouring everything in its path. These neighbourhoods look more benign because the tukols are made of straw, wood, dirt and red brick. One of my Danish colleagues says the earth is red with the blood of the Sudanese caught in the war. However, just like home, villagers consume all the local resources and must go farther and farther afield to gather materials.

Another thought: Janan and I go into the village to get my flat tire repaired. Janan buys a table for his quarters. While I wait, I just stand there trying to take it all in. I must remember everything. Wandering soldier (Sudan People’s Liberation Army?) with an AK-47 slung over shoulder and full ammo pouches. Tailors using treadle sewing machines. Bike repair shops set up in the middle of dirt roads. Garbage everywhere. The heat. Cute girls with trays of sweets for sale balanced on their heads. And of course, the tall, slim, beautiful Sudanese women with their languorous gaits. I know I will never ever be able to adequately tell this story.

I ride The Beast through a nearby encampment of straw tukols. This is the equivalent to a Canadian suburb, complete with shops (made of bits of canvas, plastic and burlap), tea and coffee klatches, dirt soccer fields and ‘handraulic’ water pumps for the women to fill their head-carried containers. Of course it’s hot – in the high 30s. However, both The Beast and I are rusty so we set out in the heat for a wee tour. I always enjoy getting on the ground. These two-wheeled excursions remind me why I am in Sudan, so I saddle up and follow the aimless and rutted paths that meander everywhere. I throw out my few bits and pieces of Arabic and receive great smiles, waves and better English in return. Often I stop, especially around the water pumps, just to watch and practice my Arabic. When they find out I’m from Canada, the smiles grow even wider. “Ah, Canada. Great country, Canada. We are very happy you are here to help us. Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto – we know all about your great country!”

It is, of course, easier to engage the men and children, as the women are a bit more cautious. Still, I am able to elicit quite a few smiles from them, especially when I try to balance a water container on my head and am not even able to lift it up. When I do get it settled on my head with their assistance, I spill it all, forcing myself to refill it at the pump. Still, I think they think I am a good sport or possibly a dumb kawaja (foreigner or white person) who doesn’t know any better. Watching the women work enthralls and saddens me. These beautiful, wonderful women do not rate high on the scale in families or society. There are, however, glimmerings of change as more women become educated at the university level. But it will be a very long time.

The children of Sudan and Dilling make my adventure. For the most part, they are dressed in clean, pressed, if sometimes ragged, clothing. They wear brilliant smiles and are allowed to live independent lives, unlike in Canada where we stifle our children with organization and security. The ones not in school are enterprising and hard-working. This includes shoe-shine boys with modified oil containers holding their supplies, donkey cart drivers, plastic bottle scroungers, little street merchants, moochers, herdsboys and more. They play soccer on rough dirt fields and make skeletal goal posts of branch limbs. Their soccer balls are so worn, they are held together with string.

So The Beast and I are bouncing along, round the corner of a straw fence, and there are some children playing in the dirt. They don’t have Barbie dolls or Tonka toys. Their parents are not watching indulgently as they ride plastic tricycles around or suck juice from juice boxes. Just half a dozen or so kids playing in the dirt, some of them looking after wee babies. The fantastic ingenuity of their homemade toys amazes me. One boy proudly pulls a “lorry” around on a string. It’s manufactured from bits of wire, bottle caps for wheels, empty matchboxes for lights and bits of coloured wire and string for “bling.” He doesn’t seem to mind that he doesn’t have an iPod or light sabre, although I am sure he would love those as well. I ride on after a bit – after his big brother, who is in the army, pumps up The Beast’s rear tire. I’m thinking about the huge dichotomy that exists between our two societies and if ever it could be shrunk somewhat to make things a bit fairer for all.

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