Ode to Goodbyes and John’s Variety and Pets

I’m a goodbye person. I think most Minnesotans are. We are all familiar with the scene:  guests stand up, get their hot dish pans, get their shoes and hats and mittens, and stand at the door all bundled up, talking to the hosts until finally, after someone makes a joke about breaking a sweat in all of the winter gear, the guests open the door and disappear into the cold.

I am a huge believer in long goodbyes. We had a group of friends over two nights before we left and Brian and I did the same thing: stood at the door and said goodbye to each group. In waiting to come back to Sudan, Brian and I had the mother of all long goodbyes. Four months of goodbyes to be exact. We had our “last meals” with friends and family multiple times and got comfortable in our “leaving, but not really” status.  So when we heard that we would finally be leaving, we were there, at the proverbial door of our hosts’ house, ready to go. We had been slowly picking up everything we could possibly need for another year abroad and had a great time doing it! We went shopping with friends, reorganized our storage unit with family, and then relaxed with all of our things propped and ready for the door to open. All our stuff

When “the door” did open we gave everything a thorough look and there was something missing. It occurred to me at about noon the day before we left: I need a yo-yo. I know Sudan. I’ve been there. I’ve sat without electricity twiddling my thumbs wishing I could do SOMETHING. Like a mitten that has a window scraper sticking out of it, or battery operated heated socks, it’s a small object that you don’t need but makes life just a little more bearable. I realized that a yo-yo would be this object to me.

So no problem! We had time to make a run to Target and find my so desired last-minute object. Off we went at 5 pm to Target for a yo-yo, and wouldn’t you know it. No yo-yo! Not anywhere in the store! I started to panic a little. I knew I didn’t need it, but I thought I did need it! I REALLY wanted a yo-yo…

The next day, the day that we were leaving to go to Sudan, we made a special stop. We made time in our departure schedule to stop at the one store we knew would have yo-yo’s, no questions asked. We went to John’s Variety and Pets in Mound, MN. This store has everything: sewing materials of all kinds, costumes, craft supplies, toys, cleaning supplies, candy, office supplies, pet food and of course, animals. Like real animals. Birds, snakes, spiders, rodents of all sorts, turtles, frogs, bunnies – those who know can help me continue the list. It is exactly what the name says it is! It’s John’s shop that has everything you want and pets!

Notice all of the signs in the windows.

So on the morning of our departure, the day the door would open and we would say goodbye to all of those whom have been such gracious hosts to us, our last act was purchasing a yo-yo (along with some playing cards and candy) from John’s Variety and Pets.

As we flew away over frozen lakes and fields, this was what I was saying about our lovely stay:Frozen lakes and fields

Thank you so much for all the food. It was all delicious. We loved being back in Minneapolis, which is still our favorite city in the world. All of the time we got to spend with you, our family and friends, was priceless. The laughter and tears that we shared are so special to us. We got to share hope and hopelessness with you as we watched our first African American president rise and our economy fall. We will stay in touch. We can’t wait to come back here. We’ll bring presents and stories and we can’t wait to see how you and your family has changed. Really, thanks for everything. You made our time so precious.

Drive safe, stay warm and have a great night.


Thursdays are Fridays, Sundays are Mondays

sunset over khartoum

We arrived in Khartoum on Thursday evening just before the sun was going down, got into the Samaritans Purse   car and headed to the office/house where we will be staying for a couple of weeks. We arrived and started meeting some of the staff, put our bags in our room and sat down to talk to Donna, who we will be staying with for a while. She told us she would be going to church the next morning and said we would be welcome to go with her if we weren’t too tired. We told her we would think about it, said good-night and went to bed. As I was laying there, trying to soak in our new surroundings, my mind suddenly went to the church question,

“Isn’t it Friday tomorrow?… Aren’t they working tomorrow?”

I asked Brian about this and he told me,

“Nope! Thursdays are Fridays here and Sundays are Mondays!”

… and apparently Fridays are Sundays too – at least that’s when people go to mosque or church.

So we woke up Friday morning and joined our new colleagues at church! Saturday we did some grocery shopping, and today, Sunday, we woke up and had our first work day with Samaritans Purse. Maybe we should refer to Sunday as Sundaymonday just so we don’t forget it’s work day.

The staff here are really lovely. It seems like it will be a great team of people to be working with. Over the course of the week the Kassala staff (where we will be working on the eastern border) and the regional directors from headquarters will be coming here to have some meetings and get everyone ready to really dive into the projects that will be happening in Kassala.

Besides Brian not sleeping very well, we are adjusting to our new surroundings pretty seemlessly. It is definitely warm outside (not that I’m complaining). It’s only 80 – 90 degrees and from what our colleagues have been saying, this is COLD. So I’m enjoying wearing the light weight skirts I bought in preparation for being here and from what we’re hearing, they will come into great use in the future.

Happy Sundaymonday!



The first time I came to Khartoum, July 2007, I didn’t enjoy myself in the least. After a month in North Sudan I couldn’t wait to get home and move on from what had been an overall poor experience. After only two days in Khartoum I realize that it wasn’t the city that left me so upset but actually the experience and the issues I had to deal with (not eating, barely any human interaction, etc.). This time around I am actually finding Khartoum quite pleasant. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I am guessing it could be the warm staff we have been spending time with, the nice restaurants (Lebanese and Italian so far!), or the grocery store with more produce and variety than we could ever have imagined. At any rate, so far so good!

One of the highlights of the last two days was when my new Country Director and I were discussing his background as a Lebanese man growing up in a very volatile part of the world and my experience in Sydney, Australia in a part of town with one of the largest Middle Eastern populations in the world. I commented that it was crazy entering into a part of town where I was the only non-Middle Eastern white person to which he responded, “But with your beard you looked the most like Hezbollah.” HA!

Bethany is currently deeply entrenched in Harry Potter book 7 and I am enjoying some downtime with my PSP. Bethany slept very well last night. I, on the other hand, slept from 11 until 4am, got up and did some emailing till about 6, went back to bed and tossed until 7, then slept till 10…not a good night of sleep.

The call to prayer just started.

It is definitely warm here. Luckily we are here in the cool season, so upper 80s/lower 90s is the max. We both feel a bit exhausted and believe it is because of the extreme cold to warm temperature shift we went through (as well as the loooong flight fatigue).

We might go to see the Sudanese pyramid(s) next week…unsure if we will be able to or if there is actually more than 1…

More updates soon…no photos yet because we aren’t in our actual living quarters (Kassala is where we are going, Khartoum is where we are right now, waiting to get our travel permits).

Take care…more to come!


Out of the Cold, Into the Heat!

Good news!

After 4 months of waiting we are finally going back to Sudan! Our visas have been processing in Sudan since September and we got word about two weeks ago that they were on their way to Washington D.C.

Our depature date is set for Wednesday, January 21st. We are pretty well prepared to go, we just have to do a few last minute things like get Brian a tetanus shot and finish packing  and then off we go! We have both said that we aren’t really going to believe we are leaving until we are on the plane and it is in the air.

As Brian posted, it has been INCREDIBLY cold here in the great land of Minnesota. Yesterday reached a new low, though. I woke up at 8:30 and turned on the news and the official temperature was -25 degrees (f) with a windchill of -40. A lot of schools closed for the day including Mound Westonka which was a big deal because they NEVER close. Yesterday was colder than it has been in 5 years here! Now we Minnesotans are used to cold. Heck, we’re just used to extremes.  But what Brian and I are NOT used to is going from -20 to 105 degrees in one day. If there is anything that I am nervous about, it’s the thought of getting off the plane in Sudan and keeling over out of sheer shock. Not that I’m complaining.

Yesterday, on the frigid cold day,  I walked into my parents’ house to find my mother sitting at the dining room table, wearing snow pants. As far as I could tell she wasn’t coming in from outside nor did she look like she was about to go outside. The big old farm house just couldn’t keep the cold out and the heat in, so the only solution for staying warm in the house was for her to wear her snowpants. It is almost comical how little I thought of that scene until after I had left.  I suppose it’s not ever day that you walk into a person’s house to find them enjoying their coffee and e-mail in their snowpants. So, Mom, I will walk into the desert heat and embrace it for you and for all of the Minnesotans sitting at home in their wool socks, stocking caps and snowpants.