Welcome to Fargo and New York, South Sudan-Style

June 15, 2012
An awesome day. The girls are becoming bolder. More talkative with me. Starting conversations of a sort. In March, I taught them to say “May I come in?” before entering my tukul because they used to just barge in. Now, with due respect, I hear their little voices – some of them have big voices, I must admit. Some are 6′ 2,” angular and thin like super-models. But mostly quiet, they say, “Mommy, may I come in?” It seems they are all calling me “Mommy” now.

In March I brought many skeins of yarn and crochet hooks. Daruka, our matron, has taught them to crochet. In the afternoons, they pull chairs in a circle and crochet as a group, each with her own choice of yarn and design. I asked, “What color is this?” They didn’t know. But soon we learned red, and green, and yellow and blue. And the chair is blue, the ASAH shirts are pink, but they think them red, so I showed them a pink stool, the pink geodesic dome, and then the red yarn, the red beads on the necklace. I’m not sure if they’ve gotten it yet.

My nature is to set things down and walk away, mindlessly. I’ve trained myself to pay attention to where I set something–the mental note–it’s on the counter. It’s in the bathroom. I’m overstimulated here with so many sights, sounds, people. It’s constant greetings and my fumbling of the language–kudwal, chirwon, achine kerach–the greeting words, never sure exactly which one is correct. I lose things in my tukul and often spend minutes searching for something that was just in my hand. I set my water bottle down and when I’m thirsty I have nothing to drink.

I told Daruka, if you see my water bottle. . . . It isn’t necessary to look because I have another, but if you see it. . . . Soon I hear, “Mommy, may I come in?” It’s Achol Majok, our oldest girl. She has my water bottle. Fourteen-year-old Martha Achol brings me highly-sweetened milk tea in the early afternoon, or a Coke, or a sugary powdered drink. I don’t even want them, but I drink them obediently. I’m a water girl. At home, it’s black coffee in the morning, and after that it’s mostly water, or the raw milk Ron Saeger brings to me every two weeks. I love the milk tea here, since it’s all there is. When I stayed at the clinic we had biscuits, but our supply is finished here. And I have no chocolate. Usually I bring some treats for myself and to share, but this time I brought only one large bag of peanut M&Ms. The M&Ms withstand the heat, but they are with the cargo still in Nairobi that won’t arrive until after I leave. So I appreciate the morning sugar tea.

The girls were pulling down their mosquito nets for the night just after dinner. I fetched the videocamera. “Girls, may I come in?” “Yes, Mommy.” They mugged for the camera and posed in their beds, on their beds, in groups, and singly. They began to say, “I am sleeping in my bed.” Though some said, “I my sleeping in my bed.” Or they hopped into each other’s beds, and began to shout to outdo each other, “Two girls my sleeping in my bed.” I corrected them and made them repeat and asked them to talk more quietly, but they couldn’t help themselves.

Then we went through a series of “Mommy, welcome to Fargo.” They initiated this on their own, then pulled me to the next dorm tukul for “Mommy, welcome to New York.” They have named their tukuls, and proudly claim the cities. In their experience of life in the village, the refugee camp, or even Bor or Juba, Fargo or New York would be unimagineable.

I started out of my tukul to take a shower about eight, but a gaggle of girls laughed and giggled in and around the shower block. So I retreated. In a while I heard, “Mommy, may I come in?” It was Achol Majok again. “You may come for bathing now.” I hadn’t known that they saw me.

Tonight I purposely left my soap in the shower. Daruka gave me my own bar when I arrived. I brought a small bottle of body wash. but each evening there has been soap in our lovely shower. Lovely, aside from the bullfrogs and the various insects. No bats in our shower, though. There was only a tiny sliver of soap, so I opened my box and left the soap on the shelf. Akuol was waiting outside wrapped in a towel. Fifteen minutes later, she said, “Mommy, may I come in?” And she handed me my soap, for which I said, ‘Thank you very much. I let her stay a bit and watch me flat iron my curly-in-the-humidity hair and touch it to see how hot it was. And then we practiced some colors. And days of the week, which I wrote for her and gave her to share with her dorm-mates.

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