Because often times it feels like that here. Although there are several “Kawaajas” (I just recently learned the proper spelling for the term that means “white person” in Juba Arabic) here, that in no way means that people don’t stop and stare. I have taken several walks through small groups of tukles close to where I am staying. As I walk, I continually hear “kawaaja, how are you?” and many times “kwja, how wa wu?” which is the first English greeting Sudanese children learn. There are times when I pass someone on the road and give a friendly nod and “hello” and in return I hear “I am fine.” This obviously goes right along with the first phrase. It makes me smile every time. I think how silly I must sound as I try to greet Neema in her mother tongue. Because the people here almost always shake hands when greeting someone, it is no surprise that many of the children that I pass will stare at my hand until I extend it to them. The other day Diantha and I were taking a path home that passed closely by a compound. We were greeted with the high voices of children greeting us and then heard the stopping of their feet as they ran towards us. It was late in the afternoon and they had obviously been playing outside- they were full of dust. The youngest one who was maybe three years old made it to us first. He didn’t have a shirt on and he looked like he could have been playing in a sandbox. There he stood smiling at us, asking us how we were the best he knew how, with a freshly washed hand extended- it was still dripping! The other children quickly followed behind him; their hands, too, washed in preparation for greeting us. That image will remain in my mind for years to come.
Now that my luggage has arrived I have been jogging each morning. I take a route that was suggested to me by the guards and is starting to be very familiar. On the first day that I was out I passed a woman who is VERY pregnant. I gave her a warm smile, pointed to her belly, and commented that the baby would be here soon. She shyly smiled back at me, nodded in agreement, and went on her way. The next morning we met in almost the same place and we exchanged warm smiles and a wave. On the third morning running I again passed her, but this time I was greeted with a jubilant “Good morning, sister!” It almost brought tears to my eyes. I realized then how easily relationships can bud just by being present, by carrying on a normal routine. God is so good! I continued my run with a little extra spunk in my step and soon came up on a pair of little boys. They looked to be about two years old and they were holding hands coming toward me on the path. The thought went through my mind that a picture of this scene could easily be sold on a greeting card. Just then one of the boys caught sight of me and let out a blood curdling scream! He was deathly afraid and began crying and ran the other direction! I must have forgotten to take off my Barney costume. He called for his mother and found her pretty close by laughing at the scenario. I had stopped in my tracks and turned away from him, feeling awful that my white skin had scared him so badly. The mother continued to laugh and urged me to just continue on. This, too, I shall not soon forget!
It has been quite an experience being around so many people with little exposure to Caucasians. During the first week a few girls from the village were very curious about my hair and on of them worked it out so that she could sneak a touch to it. Diantha had told me that this might happen, so I went ahead and let my hair down so that they could all touch it. Just two days ago while I was eating lunch during a youth training I felt a breeze on my arm. I looked over and found a girl of about 12 blowing on my arm to see the hair on it move! She was embarrassed that I had caught her, but I do appreciate her curiosity.
If only they knew that I was just as curious about them. Not so much about the way their hair and skin feel, but about the way their relationships function. I’m curious about their beliefs, traditions, and of course their language. I’m glad to have so much time here to at least satisfy a small bit of my own curiosity!