Saturday, November 17, 2007

the lucky sudanese man from kentucky

Waiting on line in the airport coming back to Juba from my R&R I stood behind a group of men that were obviously Sudanese. One of them especially. Even in a long overcoat and tie he looked like he could step out of a plane in Rumbek and be right at home. I didn't expect to be able to so quickly and obviously identify Sudanese out of context. But I did with no hesitation. "You're traveling to Juba?" I asked them. They turned around, looked at me in surprise, and replied, "yes, and you?" I told them I was headed to the same place, that I worked in Juba. "Flying on Marsland?" "No, Jetlink." The tall Dinka in the overcoat put his hand on one of his companions' shoulder and proudly said, "My brother here is living in Kentucky." The lucky Sudanese man from Kentucky sporting a suit and Dallas Cowboy's cap added, "it's the first time I'm visiting Sudan in 23 years." All I could reply was, "Wow, that's a long time." "I know, I haven't seen my mama or my family, it's a long long time." I wanted to ask so much more: How old were you back in 1984? Did you stay in the camps in Kenya before moving to the US? What part of Sudan is your family from? What do you expect to find when you land? What is your name? But as airports often do, we were steered through the security and check-in points, and I didn't see him again. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. The man looked like he was in his early 30's, so he must have been very young when he left Sudan. This place would be virtually unrecognizable from what it was in the mid 1980's and I wonder how what he considers his identity to be will be changed by this trip.

As some background, Southern Sudan is starting over after years (21+) of devastating civil war. The war was over resources (control over oil and water), religion (Christian vs. Muslim), inter-tribal conflict (Dinka vs. Nuer), and slavery. I don't feel like re-writing what you can find on Wikipedia about the history of the conflict, so click here for more info:

1 comment:

Monica said...

and KENTUCKY of all places??