Welllllcohm, wellllllcohm. Hospitality is a hallmark here. They shake hands over and over and seem glad to see you, a long lost friend even though just met, rolling their tongues over the “l” as if tasting it. They are interested in knowing who you are, smiling and nodding and committing to a long drawn out “yeeeeeesssss” when they clearly have no idea what you have just said. Which actually is not that often.
I met David this morning. He was building a wooden box which looked suspiciously like a coffin. We chatted for a while as I helped him line up the beading he was trimming the box with. Turns out it was indeed a coffin. For a friend. He had known the deceased very well and was close to him. Building his coffin was an honour and one way he could show his respect. He said something interesting. “Too often in our cultures we dismiss the body of someone who has died, as if to say the person was not important. I want this coffin to be my very best work, to say that he was important to us and in the eyes of God.” What could I say to that except agree? I told David that that often the reverse was true of us – too often we ignore a person then want to say what a good influence they us when it is too late. And that sometimes a person who has led a dissolute life is praised up for all their good work, but only after they are dead. David laughed and agreed that was often the case here too. A funeral is not a good place after all to be saying bad things about a person even if they were a thief. I have to agree.
I had lunch with Daniel where, over a stew and some rice he told me he had been recruited into the military as a twelve year old, taken into camps in Ethiopia and trained and then returned to his home country of Sudan. One of the legendary, some say notorious boy soldiers, now fully immersed in rebuilding his country. There is going to be more to this story as we spend time together. But as I wandered back to my apartment in the afternoon reflecting on these and other characters I met today I was struck by what a privilege it is to visit – any country. For apart from any other impressions foreign places and people leave on me these trips only reinforce that I know three quarters of three fifths of very little about the world we live in. Daniel connected his story by mentioning years, as if they were the only anchor points he has. Given he has no idea when he was born that is probably true. So when he mentioned 1988, or 1994 or 1996 or 2001 I was doing my own mental checklist of what I was doing in those years and realizing I was oblivious to all that he would have been going through. It’s a story that silences you at every level that it is told or represents. And yet his capacity for forgiveness and compassion seems unplumbed and he is devoted to restoring his people. I will be flying up to his home territory in a few days. And all he has done is fuel my desire to see it for myself.
Before I finish up for the day I check in on David. The coffin is getting a coat of primer. Chrome towel rails adorn the side as handles for the bearers. It is a simple affair but if love can be measured in carets this thing is undiluted gold of the purest 24 quality and no one would be able to lift it. I leave him to it – he has a way to go yet and is convinced he will have it completed by nightfall. But not if I stand around chatting to him. But David and his coffin are an enduring theme today. Before I fly to Sudan I am to sign a declaration that I have advised at least two people in Australia as to what is to happen to my body should it and spirit be unexpectedly separated. Makes travel planning a little bit more serious than the usual.
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