Traveler’s Notebook

Published May 1, 2008

TOO COOL: From the air, the roofs of Sudanese houses look like tiny coolie hats. The traditional huts are made of mud, clay and grass with thatched roofs; they can be round, square or rectangular, and are called tukuls (pronounced “too cools”).

DUCK: The Dinka are tall; it is not uncommon to see women 6 feet (182 cm) or taller. It is the only place where I (just over 5’10” or 177 cm) have ever felt of average height. So, why, I wonder are their doorways so short? The entry to my two-room tukul in Rumbek is about 5’6″ (167 cm). The door of corrugated tin and mesh separating my bedroom from the “veranda” is a similar height (with a crossbar above that seemed too often to meet my forehead). I suppose it is more cost effective to build a lower wall with a high, pitched roof.

COWS: Dowries are common for young women getting married in parts of Sudan. A local man explains that a man’s family will offer a woman’s family a certain number of cattle in exchange for the woman’s hand in marriage. The woman’s family will, in turn, give a certain number of cattle to the newly married couple upon their marriage. As we walk away from the discussion, he smiles and compliments me: with my height and my “smart body” (I think he meant my – ahem – broad hips), I would easily fetch 200 to 300 cows, he estimates.

DEADLY: Sitting one afternoon in Juba by the shores of the White Nile, we see a large green mass – perhaps 10 metres long – moving swiftly down the river. It is a mass of water hyacinth, a noxious weed that is choking the river. It is deceptively beautiful.

A FEW WORDS: When a Sudanese politician tells a gathering he wants to say “a few words,” you’d best get comfortable. One church opening in Pacong, Sudan lasted more than five hours due, largely, to the speeches from all of the politicos in attendance. And the last night of the WCC/AACC conference in Juba, a government minister began his greeting to the gathering by saying he was not there to deliver a political speech (but he hoped the churches would forgive him if he lapsed a bit, since elections are imminent in 2009). More than an hour later (and with the program already two hours behind), he wrapped up his “greeting.”

SIGNS OF THE CROSS: Many adult Dinka Christians carry crosses to indicate their faith. These are not small, delicate crucifixes: the crosses are often 30 – 60 cm long; women march and dance with them on their way to church celebrations and wave them like pennants during worship. James Kon, church secretary of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (a member of the Anglican Communion) diocese of Rumbek, says the crosses are a sign of hope and strength, a sign that “we are not going to surrender as Christians.”                                 


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