Last Sunday we decided to take our daily evening walk in a different direction. On the way towards one of the shops we frequent we saw the smiling face of Adil, the shop owner. We stopped to chat and before we knew it, he invited us to his home! Then we saw the butcher of the shop, Anwar, trailing close behind. The four of us walked the short distance to their home, learning that Adil and Anwar are brothers and live together. Entering the compound of their home was surreal. It felt more like an open air boarding house for young migrant workers. We saw several other workers from the shop/butchery and were surprised that they all live together. Being in the relaxed environment of their home was a pleasant experience. Most of them donned their “Jalabia,” the long flowing white robes which conjure images of Middle Eastern life. They gave us sodas to drink and peanuts and other snacks to eat. They took out their phones and began taking pictures with us all together as we laughed and enjoyed this serendipitous moment. All of these men are from Sudan (the neighboring country to the north) and their families and children all live in Khartoum, the capital city. One of them whom I spoke with returns once a year for a couple of months, which is probably more or less true for all of them.
Picture taken with Abdulafat (left) and his brother who
sent us this photo from his phone via WhatsApp
sent us this photo from his phone via WhatsApp
Before leaving, Anwar gave us a tour of the place, leading us back to Adil’s room, the only fully enclosed room on the compound that we observed. Adil is the elder statesman of the group, a wise and affable looking fellow who will soon be travelling back to Khartoum for the big feast of Eid al-Adha. Adil has a nice room with a couple of beds and a television; when we entered his room he was watching an impressive prayer service from Saudi Arabia. He took out a small bottle of cologne and began spraying us with it – commenting on how nice it smells!
Walking in the other direction on most evenings we have met Ismael, Adam and Naem. All three are young men and live near each other and possibly work together repairing cars. Ismael’s father died and his mother and siblings live in Khartoum. He is of the Dinka tribe and is originally from a place called Bor. Adam, his friend, is from Darfur. Naem, whom we have met twice now in the last week, lives with his son and mother and other children related to their family. His mother, Helen Frederick, is a dignified looking woman who calls us “her children.” She has invited us to come and visit her in her home sometime. Ismael and Naem have invited us to join them for the upcoming feast commemorating the sacrifice God provided in place of Abraham’s son.
A significant component of our language learning methodology and philosophy is learning language in community, not in a classroom. We don’t have a language teacher but rather a “language helper,” and our goal is to learn with him on a regular basis, but then to be “out and about” listening, learning and speaking with native speakers of Juba Arabic and Sudanese Arabic.*
Each person whom we have named in this blog post is Muslim. It has been interesting how we have connected with several Muslims in our neighborhood in the process of language learning. While the Arab/Islamic influence from the North is indeed strong, South Sudan is a predominantly “Christian” country, in that most of its citizens would ascribe to being either Catholic or Protestant. South Sudan is the only Arabic speaking country in the world which is majority Christian.
We are enjoying building these relationships in the community and thankful for these new Muslim neighbors and friends. Here in South Sudan there is a great deal of acceptance and grace given to one another across the religious spectrum; there are even inter-religious marriages between Muslims and Christians. In a world that is becoming increasingly polarized along national, ethnic and religious lines, we are grateful for the opportunity to build bridges with our Muslim sisters and brothers. Pray that we can continue to find ways to bless one another!
*Sudanese Arabic and Juba Arabic are two distinct languages, similar but different. Sudanese or Khartoum Arabic is closer to the Classical Arabic of places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. If one knows Khartoum Arabic, one is able to speak more widely in the Arab world. Juba Arabic is a creole or pidgin. It is a language unto itself yet does not have an official status, not even in South Sudan. It is widely spoken and understood here in Juba and throughout much of South Sudan, particularly the Equatorial regions. We are primarily learning Juba Arabic, but also picking up some of the more classical words and expressions as well.