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.
In our family, we greet with a hug. We also part with a hug, and maybe a kiss. Some cultures greet with a hug and a kiss on one cheek, other cultures give kisses on each cheek. It can be hard to keep up with which one is appropriate. In Sudan, if someone doesn't greet you with at least a handshake, then there is a problem. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse at home, or they are angry with someone at work. Perhaps they don't like you. It is wise to tread carefully, just in case.
Launching Into the Unknown
So, the first thing in my language learning was to master a greeting. As I watched how people greeted one another, I realized how true the story I’ve just related to you presumably was. Sudanese spend a long time greeting each other. If they are just being introduced, the greeting is short, but if they know each other, it goes on forever. They say, “Salaam aleekum, Allah yisallimak, Allah yibarak fiik,” which is all to say, “Peace be with you, may God give you peace, and may God bless you.” They both repeat this over and over while shaking hands with their right hands, then putting the right hand on the left shoulder of the other person and giving a brief hug. Then they go back to shaking hands, and hugging again, sometimes with even a kiss or two on the cheek. It made one feel as if the person was glad to see you. After they get past this part, they ask about the other’s family and mutual friends. Once assured that everyone is fine, they begin a conversation or go on their way, depending on the situation. It appeared as if everyone remembered each person they had ever met!