Christmas almost got lost that year. In Sudan, there were no external signs of this major holiday. As an Islamic country, at least in the northern part, there is no motivation to celebrate a Christian holiday. Since I was living with Brits and a Canadian, everything was different anyway. We attended church in the morning, then returned home to open gifts and ate an enjoyable meal together. I wanted to phone home, but none of our phones made an international connection. The time difference was also a factor. Sudan is seven hours ahead of Tennessee, so to reach my parents in the daytime meant I had to call in the late afternoon or evening. I would have an hour-long journey to an international phone, wait for the call, and make the hour-long return journey. I couldn’t face it, so I didn’t phone home.
The day after Christmas, however, I stayed overnight at a guesthouse which had an international line. It took more than an hour to get through to the U.S., but I spent the night at the guesthouse and didn’t have the hassle of trying to get home again.
In the 1980s, to place an international call, it was necessary to go through the local operator. I decided I would try to conduct that discussion in Arabic as my own final examination. The operator thought this was great fun. I explained I wanted to phone the U.S. He took the number and said it would be about an hour before he connected the call. He instructed me to wait near the phone. I waited, and in a few minutes, he called me back. No, my call hadn’t gone through, but he wanted to chat. We must have talked for an hour, all in Arabic. It is much harder to speak to someone in a foreign language if you can’t see that person. It’s amazing how many cues you get from gestures and facial expressions. Those cues are not available when you talk on the telephone.
Finally, after sufficiently entertaining him, or maybe his boss came by, he connected me and it was great to hear my dad on the other end of the line. It was joyous talking with them in person, but they were rather unhappy that I hadn’t phoned ON Christmas Day.
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