Day Eight in Duy Payuel—Art Classes and John Dau’s moms

Tuesday and Wednesday, November 16 & 17, 2010

In the morning, some girls came by for needles to pierce ears. We used a bit of sign language. They pointed to the holes in my ears—and the diamond stud I have in one ear—it’s too hot to wear dangling earrings. And then they made a sewing gesture, and then pointed to their ears. I was concerned about causing a raft of infections, so I asked them to follow me to the clinic. Peter explained they must sterilize the needles and clean their ears with “spirits.” Then he filled a bottle for them to share. Over the next few days, girls came to show off their new “earrings,” which in most cases were the stick pins I’d given out in sewing class, with the colored ball heads. They were short pins, but I think they somehow cut them shorter—most girls now had three in each each ear, and some had pierced a nostril as well. Other girls had braided threads in their holes, and some sported thin thorns from prickly bushes or trees.

One girl came alone to sew this morning. Though this was impromptu, I sat with her in the dining hall and we sewed together, mostly silently as she didn’t speak English. I couldn’t get her to understand the need for knots, but she happily sewed a pad, and I added a few stitches and knots to reinforce it. I hope it holds together.

After lunch, John Dau’s mother, who has returned to Sudan from the Syracuse, NY where she had been living with his family, came by with one of his stepmothers (this is a polygamous society). They brought me a delicious meal of pumpkin cooked with millet and sorghum and seasoned with sim sim. I am not sure what sim sim is, but it had a pleasant aroma and taste—almost a little cinnamony. Though I had already eaten my fill of lunch, I had to be polite, and the food was delicious. There was plenty for the staff to share. This courtesy visit was a great honor. John’s father or uncle is one of the chiefs, and the family is prominent in the community. And John’s mother is particularly special due to her excellent English skills and experience in the US.

We sat and talked for a bit. John’s mother thinks Syracuse is too cold and people stay indoors too much. She missed the freedom and friendliness of the village, and so she returned. Also, she complained she got too big in America and didn’t like that. Here there isn’t as much food so she is losing weigh, but she’s still a big woman, particularly by village standards. And she’s more than six feet tall. In spite of her distaste for cold weather, she did agree that the toilets were a lot better!

Some time later one of John’s other stepmoms appeared. I remembered her from the church distribution, and from my trip here in 2007. Her photograph is titled, Woman and Palm. The lines in her face mirror the lines of the palm tree behind her. It’s one of my favorite photos, and I had it blown up four by five feet for the exhibit at the Rourke Art Museum. This woman requested that I donate one of the sewing machines to the church. They have two women who know how to assemble them and sew with them. I agreed. So now it is worked out that one machine will stay at the clinic, one will go to the school, and one will go to the church. I have additional supplies and spare parts and oil for the machines and will leave them for the clinic to distribute as needed. I’m pretty happy about this arrangement as it will give opportunities for girls to learn to sew, for women to begin sewing through the church, and for the clinic to mend their uniforms and other things. The girls are anxious to be introduced to the sewing machines, but we have to get Maduk back this weekend to get them purring! (A correction to the above. The sewing machine did go to the church. The other two are remaining at the clinic until Maduk can train some people at the school to sew and to maintain the machine).

Here are things I’ve learned:
1. Small children draw flies. They hover around the little kids, so if little kids are hovering around me, I get the flies, too. I can pick a dead fly out of my milk and drink it.
2. You get used to flies. My skin has desensitized. They don’t really bother me much unless I am covered with milk from feeding Lashes.
3. The mosquitos mostly bite my ankles. They usually itch only in the morning. Sometimes I put on a little cortisone cream. Lashes does NOT like the smell of bug spray.
4. The roosters don’t wake me up any more. The cacophony of people noises, music, insects, birds, and cows bellowing the first two nights kept me awake even with earplugs and a noise machine. I still use the earplugs, and I turn on the noise machine in the morning if a rooster wakes me up.
5. Village girls like me and want to be around me. They also like to touch my hair.
6. My legs are stronger and I am used to the squat. When I come the next time, I’ll have to practice up to be in shape for it.
7. Daniel and Chol, who have helped with the video camera, make sure to keep the batteries charged.
8. People really want a boarding school for girls in the community.
9. The girls really enjoy learning.

On Tuesday, more than 25 girls came. Instead of sewing, I hauled out marker pens and pads of paper and coloring books. I should have brought more pads because they offered a hard surface to draw on. Those that didn’t have a pad sat on the verandas of the tents and set their paper on the rough concrete. I didn’t do any real teaching. I simply put out the supplies. I gave most of the purchased markers to the school, but Meg Foss gave me an enormous bag full of Prisma art markers—with two ends, a wide and a thin. The drawings they made were full of color. Many of them drew flowers—fanciful, curving, multi-colored blooms. There were a lot of huts with colorful thatching. Daniel drew a strong man, cartoon-like. Boys and girls make different choices. One girl drew a hyena. Probably not a choice most American girls would consider in a drawing. They drew for more than two hours, then I had them pack up. When they were finished, we gathered them together to take a group photo with the pictures.

But I didn’t expect them Wednesday, and I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught, so I asked them to come on Thursday instead.

Wednesday was the first day I have had much time to catch up on the photos and on my blog. There is a fine balance to work out–working on my computer with the power off until the battery is drained, and then finding power to charge it again. Wednesday I got them to charge it in the lab so I could work a little more. And then there is the intermittent Internet access, which is dependent to a great deal on the sun and how much power the solar panels can store. It’s been partially or mostly cloudy these past days, so not much Internet available.

Then a storm started to brew. Tom and I retreated to the tent and battened down the hatches. It was extremely windy. It rained for a while, and then stopped, and now as I type, I hear distant singing and drumming. Tom thought it might be from the church, the music carrying across the thread of grasshoppers, cicadas, frogs and birds calling.

That afternoon women and girls came by often looking for panties—some revealing the tops of their panties to me and smiling. Unfortunately we are all out. The other hot item is safety pins, which the girls are using to decorate their clothing. I have no more supplies to share with individuals—the rest will stay with the sewing machines and the women in charge of those.

A note about Lashes: She was very skinny that first day, and didn’t eat much. I got 100 ml into her on Wednesday. On Thursday 170. I asked my husband to call the zoo (not open until the weekend) and find out how much to feed a baby antelope. He watched a video where a zookeeper was feeding a baby antelope about 100 ml five times per day. So that’s my goal to get her to 500. The zookeeper has a bottle and the baby could suck. Norm said the baby antelope loved it. Lashes doesn’t have that luxury, just like children in the village. So much that we take for granted is simply not available in any form here.

I am thinking of weighing her to see what kind of progress she is making. There must be a scale at the clinic since they are assessing heights and weights of children age 6 months to 59 months. So far, it looks as though 20% of the young children in Duk Payuel are severely malnourished—a higher percentage of them are girls than boys.

There was drumming and singing late into the evening. A wedding in the village.

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