Celebration and Protection

Well we have some things to celebrate here in Kassala lately – our roommates Joanna and Hubi are getting married!… Well actually, technically, they are already married… but they are having what we call a progressive wedding. Their first wedding was celebrated in Hamesh Koreb with traditional wraps, henna, incense and meal. Their second wedding was in South Africa this month where they got the official marriage certificate and celebrated with Hubi’s close friends and family. Their third celebration was right here in Kassala on a Wednesday morning – yesterday. Ahmed decided to slaughter a sheep in honor of Joanna and Hubi’s return from South Africa and marriage-in-progress (their fourth and final wedding ceremony will be in Ireland with both Jo and Hubi’s family all together). So we all gathered around Ahmed, wrinkled up our faces and watched as the adorable lamb became a celebration meal. Immediately after the slaughtering, we all watched as Ahmed reached up and put imprints of his hands over the doorway of our house with the lamb’s blood (see previous blog “Beja”).  I was stunned seeing in real life an ancient and meaningful tradition being acted out on a Wednesday morning thousands of years after that blood was a matter of life and death for a first born.

Ahmed and Breakfast
Ahmed and Breakfast
Lamb's Blood over the doorway
Lamb’s blood over the doorway

We all walked back into the house under the protection of the lamb’s blood, ate and had a wonderful time being together. Joanna and Hubi are dearly loved here and the staff are so happy to see them getting married.

The SP Kassala Staff
The SP Kassala Staff

I also rememered that Joanna had shown me some videos on youtube that show the traditional Beja dances. The music in this video is consistant with music we hear around town here in Kassala. It’s good stuff. Enjoy!



First things first, Three cheers for Federer! Hip Hip!… It was very fun to watch him win the French Open. Wimbledon will be a big deal and as I mentioned in the post below we have historically made a point to see the big match. So we decided what better place to watch Wimbledon than Egypt! Actually that’s not what we thought… we wanted to go to Egypt and the timing worked out perfectly so that we will be in Cairo during Wimbledon.

The dates are set, plane tickets purchased, hotels booked – In two weeks we will be in Egypt!!!

This will be our first R&R since we arrived in Sudan and we are VERY excited about it. We’ve been in Kassala for 2 consecutive months now. It feels like it’s been a whole lot longer… not in a bad way but because of how much has happened. Since we had a month here in February, when we got back in April we were able to hit the ground running. In the two months we have been here the program went from struggling to get off the ground to moving ahead full force. The picture I get is of a giant boulder sitting on the ground. The staff last year were pushing with all of their might to get things moving. They pushed and pushed and the ground started to shift. When Brian and I arrived we were able to join their efforts and really start to move this giant boulder of a program. Just as pushing a giant boulder would expend everyone’s energy leaving us tired and weak, so has the past two months for all of us. Everyone has been putting in all of their efforts to get things moving and it has really paid off.

In the midst of fighting for every inch gained in the program, we find ourselves in an incredible setting. The culture here is sooo interesting. I have wanted many times to dive into the topic of the East Sudan culture but is so big my mind can barely find the words to think of it much less describe it. But I will start rambling and see how it goes…

The predominant people group here is the Beja people. The Beja people stretch from southern Egypt through Northeaster Sudan and into Eritrea and Ethiopia. Looking at the traditional dress for men and women, there is speculation that the Beja people originate from Pakistan or Afghanistan, but many people here claim they are from Saudi Arabia – even specifically Mecca.

The Beja people are known as fierce warriors. In the local language people greet each other by saying, “Are you strong?” To
call someone else weak is a terrible insult. Walking through the market there are many stores selling long swords that are a traditional part of every man’s attire. The thing that strikes me though is how peaceful the people are here. There is a kind of serenity that I have never experienced anywhere else.  The story goes that before Islam came to the Beja, they were a raucous, killing, thieving, violent people. But when they learned about Islam and the Quran, the became a peaceful people. Now places like Hamesh Koreb are revered as the holiest places in Sudan because of their strict adherence to the the Quran.Beja Guys


















You’ll notice that I have almost no pictures of female Beja women. Like most conservative Muslim communities, women are well-covered and even well hidden at times (see A Beauty to Hide). We have been advised to refrain from taking any photos of women to respect the culture (the picture shown below is from a report from another NGO). Brian was in a village about a month ago where they were opening a midwifery school. He said he walked in and saw dozens of bundles of colored cocoons, but not one face. It’s a difficult thing to know how to feel about such traditions when we come from such a different culture. As I have written before there is something powerful about the beauty I have seen in these women, but many women live in a situation that is nowhere near perfect. We have been very encouraged as Kassala’s surrounding villages are slowly cooperating in providing education opportunities for women as well as helping to provide better access to clean water and health care.

The thing I love about the Beja people is that they live in a way that no matter what happened to the global economy, these people would survive – they have for centuries without any of the “modern conveniences” so many of us rely upon. The conditions that many people live in is astounding. We have seen villages in the middle of the desert under a searing hot sun with no vegetation in sight. These people rely on their livestock for transportation, milk, meat and income.  In this day in age, they are an ancient people with cell phones in their pockets. We went to a restaurant in town for a goodbye celebration for one of our staff a couple of weeks ago. There was a television in the corner and I saw a commercial of a Beja guy walking in the middle of the desert with his camels and suddenly his cell phone rang and he was talking to his brother in some big city in the middle east. That commercial said so much about this area (the fact that there was a commercial about it was as strange as anything). Here in Kassala town there is a constant clash of ancient tradition and new technology. A man in a brand new Hilux truck will go blazing by a boy on a cart pulled by a donkey or, my favorite image, a man riding on a camel talking on his cell phone.

Last night Brian told me something that gave me chills up and down my spine. He said that he was having a conversation with one of our colleagues, Ali, about religion. Brian said that out of the blue Ali said, “You know before we were Muslims we were Christians.” Brian was surprised by this and started to ask Ali more. Ali told him that there is a tradition of making the sign of the cross over a door way to protect a home, or even make the sign of the cross over their body to protect themselves. Ali went on to say that they also have a tradition of putting lamb’s blood over the doorway of their homes for protection. Ali had no idea why the tradition was there or where it came from. So Brian told him about the passover. I got chills thinking about this ancient tradition and where it came from and right here in the 21st century it was still being practiced even if the ones doing it had no idea why.

Now, any of you friends and family reading this know that I try not to get too involved in politics (though I somehow always join in on the debate). I watched with the rest of the world as President Obama gave his speech in Cairo a couple of weeks ago. Politics and policy aside, I loved the way he referred to Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions. He used words that we say every day and expressed sentiments that we feel so deeply in this context. We come from the same roots – We have more similarities than we know.

Beja Women
Beja Women
Beja guys
Beja Men

I have not even scratched the surface of portraying this culture and or my feelings about it, but it’s a start. I read a culture report a while ago put together by GOAL and it talked about Rudyard Kipling‘s depiction of the Beja people. So I will leave you with it:

The Baggara (from Kordofran and Darfur) and the Beja (specifically the Hadendawa, Amarer, and Bisharin tribes)Hair. created strong impressions on the British front.  It was the distinctive Beja hairstyle, shaggy and poofy, that prompted the British soldiers to refer to them as “Fuzzy-Wuzzy”.

It is most likely that this nickname was an attempt to make a fearsome enemy seem less terrible.  In fact, the British troops believed that “…without a doubt, these Arabs are the most fierce, brave, daring and unmerciful race of men in the world.” (Sgt Danby, 18th Hussars, quoted in The Late Victorian Army, 1868-1902, Edward M. Spiers, Manchester U.P., 1992).

Rudyard Kipling paid homage to the Beja, and their tenacity, in a tribute poem entitled “Fuzzy-Wuzzy”.  Each of the poem’s four eight-line verses is followed by a four-line stanza that toasts the bravery and local success of the Sudanese fighters.

The ‘British square’ referred to in the poem is a military defense technique.  The British had used the square, quite successfully, during the Napoleonic wars; the square used in Sudan was a modified version of the Napoleonic model.  The British army and the public regarded the square as an almost legendary symbol of supremacy.  For many, it was difficult to imagine that it could be broken.  Yet it was.  The Beja penetrated the square on two separate occasions.


Rudyard Kipling

Soudan Expeditionary Force

Early Campaigns

WE’VE FOUGHT with many men acrost the seas,

An’ some of ’em was brave an’ some was not:

The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;

But the Fuzzy was the finest o’ the lot.

We never got a ha’porth’s change of ‘im:

‘E squatted in the scrub an’ ‘ocked our ‘orses,

‘E cut our sentries up at Suakim,

An’ ‘e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces.

So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;

You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;

We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed

We’ll come an’ ‘ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.

We took our chanst among the Khyber ‘ills,

The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,

The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,

An’ a Zulu impi dished us up in style:

But all we ever got from such as they

Was pop to what the Fuzzy made us swaller;

We ‘eld our bloomin’ own, the papers say,

But man for man the Fuzzy knocked us ‘oller.

Then ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ the missis and the kid;

Our orders was to break you, an’ of course we went an’ did.

We sloshed you with Martinis, an’ it wasn’t ‘ardly fair;

But for all the odds agin’ you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square.

‘E ‘asn’t got no papers of ‘is own,

‘E ‘asn’t got no medals nor rewards,

So we must certify the skill ‘e’s shown

In usin’ of ‘is long two-‘anded swords:

When ‘e’s ‘oppin’ in an’ out among the bush

With ‘is coffin-‘eaded shield an’ shovel-spear,

An ‘appy day with Fuzzy on the rush

Will last an ‘ealthy Tommy for a year.

So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ your friends which are no more,

If we ‘adn’t lost some messmates we would ‘elp you to deplore;

But give an’ take’s the gospel, an’ we’ll call the bargain fair,

For if you ‘ave lost more than us, you crumpled up the square!

‘E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,

An’, before we know, ‘e’s ‘ackin’ at our ‘ead;

‘E’s all ‘ot sand an’ ginger when alive,

An’ ‘e’s generally shammin’ when ‘e’s dead.

‘E’s a daisy, ‘e’s a ducky, ‘e’s a lamb!

‘E’s a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,

‘E’s the on’y thing that doesn’t give a damn

For a Regiment o’ British Infantree!

So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;

You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;

An’ ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your ‘ayrick ‘ead of ‘air –

You big black boundin’ beggar – for you broke a British square!

Kipling, Rudyard.  “Fuzzy Wuzzy.” <www.kipling.org.uk/rg_fuzzywuzzy1.htm>.

Tennis Tennis

Tennis brought Brian and I together. I’m sure a great majority of those reading this would be surprised (and even skeptical) about this fact, but it is indeed a fact. It all started with this ridiculous trucker hat Brian used to wear over his dreds that read “Tennis Tennis”. It was this conversation piece (most of what Brian chose to put on his body was a conversation piece) that caused us to discuss our mutual love of tennis (tennis). And so because of our mutual appreciation of the sport we spent most of the fall of our sophomore year on the Crown tennis courts laughing and flirting and… oh yeah… playing tennis. Well actually not really “playing” tennis so much as attempting or pretending or something like that. See, I suck at tennis. REALLY suck. I wish it wasn’t true but it is. My brother Jaron tried to give me a few lessons (poor kid) that ended with me threatening to break his tennis racket for one reason or another. Brian is probably pretty good at tennis, but we never got the chance to see that since I couldn’t hit a ball without it sailing over the fence. Nonetheless, we spent endless crisp fall afternoons on the court hanging out under the guise of “playing tennis”.

Both Brian and I owe our love of tennis to people who CAN play. First there’s my grandpa Don who has been playing for as long as I can remember, then my friend Ben Shidla (shout out to the Shidlas) and brother Jaron (holla). Brian’s friends Nick Petrick – who still coaches now – and Ann Otto were both really good so he became their fan and, therefore, a tennis fan.  I of course had a huge crush on whomever the prominent guy was at the time… Agassi and his crazy hair, Sampras and his dark features, Roddick I didn’t like so much because he was too cocky, and then there was Roger Federer. The cool, calm, collected (and cute) Federer. Now before you start to think that as a married woman I shouldn’t say such things, this is a good moment to point out that Brian has on multiple occasions confessed that he indeed has a “man crush” on Roger Federer. I mean, honestly how can anyone not have a crush on the guy (for an article demonstrating his typical easy-going charm, click here).

As it has for millions of people, the grand slam tournaments have become a fixture of our summer time routine. In fact in the years that Federer started his series of Wimbledon wins I started to mark the Wimbledon tournaments on my calendar, avoiding any other obligations in order to watch it. Two years ago I was invited to go camping with a group of friends over the Wimbledon weekend and felt silly saying “Sorry I can’t come camping with you because Wimbledon is on that weekend…”, so I went. To my surprise and delight I discovered on Saturday night that a few people were packing up early the next morning to drive back down to the city to go to church. I asked them if I could hitch a ride home with them so I could also “go to church” and instead ran directly into our apartment and giddily watched Federer win his 5th Wimbledon title (I did eventually confess to my friends that I had no intention of going to church that morning and they thought it was funny and loved me anyway – thanks, friends).

Last year Brian and I were in Tanzania on the archipelago Zanzibar (remember to say it in a whisper). We made sure that wherever we were we would be able to watch Wimbledon and lo and behold, the outdoor bar next to our hotel was showing it on a big screen.  As most you of you know, Federer was going for his 6th consecutive Wimbledon win, which would break Bjorn Borg’s record. So, eagerly anticipating Federer’s dominating win over Rafael Nadal, Brian and I sat under a thatched roof bar sipping cocktails as the sun set over the Indian Ocean. Now Zanzibar has a high European tourist draw so the bar quickly filled with other Wimbledon fans for the main event. We assumed that out of the 30 or so people gathering, there would at least be a Federer cheering section. Well, just minutes into the match we realized we were the ONLY Federer fans there (?!). As many people have agreed, that match was the most intense, stressful, epic match ever. We did our best to represent and cheer Federer through all of the drama into a record breaking victory, but it was not destined to be so. Instead we ordered more cocktails and hung our heads as the bar full of Nadal fans roared and cheered and high-fived.

Of course the whole reason I am writing this is because today is a big day for Federer. He has never won a French Open title and the “king of clay” Nadal is nowhere in sight. If he wins this match he could tie Pete Sampras’ record for 14 major wins. It also means that if he wins Wimbeldon, he could BREAK that record and officially be the best tennis player EVER (I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I want it to be). So I just wanted to shout from the rooftops (or for the moment, this blog) that we love you R-Fed. We even hooked up our t.v. for the first time just to watch you kick some French Open clay butt. Go Fed!

Things I Love

I love waking up early in the morning when the air is cool to sit outside and sip hot, spicy coffee.

I love learning such a beautiful language and laughing at the mistakes we make.

I love finding the common language of humor and laughing at burps and farts and tripping and falling.

I love learning about Islam. I love learning the similarities between two cousin religions who too commonly focus on the differences.

I love watching an ancient culture carry on their traditions with pride.

I love sitting on the roof at sunset,  listening to the call to prayer, whispering my own prayers of thanks for such a beautiful world.