Friday, November 25, 2005

A Sudanese Thanksgiving

Here in Sudan, Thanksgiving this year was a time to remember, indeed.

Debby has been here for the past week as a Library Consultant to the American school. It has been great having her here. She has been working hard at the school each day and we have enjoyed catching up on all the news with each other in the evenings. The weather is absolutely gorgeous -- sunny and warm, but not hot -- and the dust has not been too bad.

On Tuesday evening – two days before Thanksgiving -- we went out to Mayo to visit Ephrem’s family. Mayo is a huge settlement of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – Sudanese from the south, the west and the east of Khartoum. No one knows how many people are living there. Thousands and thousands, I’m sure. Micaiah Duku and his wife, Joyce, (Ephrem’s parents) live in a small compound with two of their children – Tongu (in his early 30’s) and his wife and soon-to-be- four children, and Samuel, who is about 20 yrs old. We have a number of workers at the school who live in Mayo so I asked two of them to show me the way since I had only been there once in January and I was sure that I'd never find my way on my own. We got to Ephrem’s parents' place at 4:45 and they were waiting to greet us. It was wonderful to see them! For Debby, it was the first time to meet Micaiah and Joyce so, of course, Debby was greeted with great warmth: hugs and kisses all around.

Ephrem’s mother looked wonderful -- dressed in a bright, African print. His dad had on his clerical collar -- looking very official but always his joyful and humorous self. And Tongu was there. That was my first time to meet him. He is a delightful fellow......quiet but with a nice, easy sense of humor. He speaks excellent English -- the best of the family besides their father. I must say that he reminds me of Ephrem when I first met him. Unfortunately, Tongu’s wife and children were not there. Her father had just come up from Juba the day before and she was visiting him in Khartoum. Their new baby is due within the next few weeks, it seems. In the time since I was there in January, your father has built a new little one-room place on his compound. I think it is intended for Tongu and his family. Samuel, of course, was there, too, as well as a couple of their female cousins. Lydia was one of them. Man, is she ever good looking!!! With a great smile and excellent English skills. Too bad she's Ephrem’s cousin…. there would be a great wife, if she weren't! And while we were there, people came by to greet us....being introduced as "step-sister" or "cousin." I couldn't keep them all straight.

We took Ephrem’s advice and brought gifts of food to the family: a big, 100-pound sack of sugar, big packages of powdered milk, and big packages of tea. I've already seen how much sugar and milk Sudanese people use in their tea so I'm not sure how long that 100-pounds of sugar will last!!! They had prepared refreshments for us: tea and soda pop and bottled water, dates, candies, and apples. We munched on these while we all talked and shared stories. Debby had brought along pictures from Mom Wells' 80th Birthday party 5 years ago where Ephrem is prominently pictured. Those pictures got passed around the circle many times during the afternoon......everyone smiling and pointing at (and talking about) Ephrem. He is very much a part of their lives although I must say that he is close to attaining legendary status.

As the sun set, we began to think about going. While we were still seated there in the courtyard of the compound, however, Ephrem’s mother came over to Debby who, at that point, was sitting next to Micaiah. Joyce mother took Debby's hands and began to speak in her native language. It was obvious that what she had to say was of considerable importance because everyone was silent as she spoke. Micaiah translated her words into English: "Now you are my sister and my son is now your son. And your sons are now my sons. May they remain so forever." Amen.

I have been witness to many sacred moments but there was none quite as special, quite as sacred, or quite as profound as that moment when those two women looked into each other's eyes.

A little while later, Tongu got in the car with us and helped us make our way through the dark to the main road to Khartoum.

So, two families have finally come full circle. Our hands have been joined around Ephrem, quite literally, by Debby's visit to Khartoum. What began so many years ago in Cairo -- the link of two very different families from opposite cultures -- has finally been joined and Ephrem is the critical link, the bond between those families. It is hard to describe how profound and rich those moments were with his family. Ephrem was very much a part of the day and, of course, was very much missed.

Thinking back over the past three decades, I have many, many Thanksgiving memories: at the Call farm in Batavia, in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens, in the tropics of Luxor, in the snows of Moscow, in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower…..but none will quite compare to our experience here in Khartoum in the glow of two very special families, from two very different cultures, who have, indeed, become one in a very special way.


At 11/30/2005 8:10 PM, Anonymous jack said...

Phil: What a beautiful letter! I had goosebumps as I read it and tears when I finished. We are so glad that Deb had the opportunity to met Ephrem's family since she and her family have certainly played a big part in his American experience. Thinking of you both and praying that all goes well there. Uncle Jack


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