While preparing to move to Africa for several years, I asked, “What should I bring?” The answer came, “Whatever makes you feel at home.” Having always lived in the southern United States, I had no idea how to make that decision, short of taking everything I owned. Once I arrived in Africa, I adjusted more quickly than expected to the various places I lived. “Home” became more of a state of mind than a physical location or set of things.
“How is life in Sudan different from the USA?” • Waking in the middle of the night to find the house invaded by army ants • Realizing you are the only white person on a very full bus, and feeling comfortable with that. • Meeting someone at a shop and ending up in their home having breakfast • Spending an afternoon at the Sudanese ambassador’s house • Enjoying sheep intestines while thinking it is macaroni. • Entering the home of a stranger and being welcomed like a long-lost friend.
Life in Africa was not what I expected. It is fuller, richer, changeable, unpredictable, fascinating. The people are gracious, forgiving and hospitable. The tastes, sights, and sounds reflect a vibrant, determined, joyful richness that overcomes poverty and significant difficulties. I’ve been challenged and encouraged while learning great patience and the value of perseverance. I am deeply indebted, especially to the Sudanese, who have taught me so much.
Leoma worked in the Sudan for 20 years and came to know and love many Sudanese. When she returned to the US, she wrote about her experiences as well as the lives of her Sudanese friends and colleagues. While dealing with culture shock to the US, she wrote a devotional book and several books of prayers based on Scripture.
Leoma has a unique view of life, and that is reflected in her passion for connecting faith and the reality of life in the US and abroad.
Language learning took me into many situations. In this story, I went to high school with one of my Sudanese friends, Amani. It was eye-opening to see how the girls had to learn their lessons - no books to read, just writing down as much as they could. For the tests, they memorized their notes. Rote memory is the typical teaching/learning method in Africa. Thinking is not encouraged - as it may pose a threat to the teacher. This experience provided good insight into the mindset of the people with whom I was in contact.
Launching Into the Unknown
One of my most memorable visits with Amani was when she took me to visit her school, which was within walking distance of my house. She attended an all girls’ school and there were about sixty students in her class. The teacher took my presence in stride, continuing with the lesson as if I were not there. I remember she read out of a textbook, stopping occasionally to explain the meaning of a word. Of course, the book was written in literary Arabic while the girls spoke colloquial Arabic. Thus, they would not necessarily understand or know all the words either. The teacher wrote the new word on the chalkboard. The girls copied down as much of the information as possible in small exercise books. When it came time for exams, they had to memorize everything they could and later recall it verbatim for the test. As I understood almost nothing, well actually nothing at all, I became bored pretty quickly. Apparently, the girls were, too, because they became fascinated with my hair.