Just today I was standing outside of a café waiting for Glenn to clear emigration and load the truck onto the ferry for its 3 day journey up the Nile into Egypt. As I was sitting on a dusty concrete porch - watching a kid chase after a tottering wheel with a lead stick - a large robed Nubian man approached; in perfect English he welcomed me to Sudan and asked my name. During the course of our conversation Qutpi asked where I was from. I told him The United States, a truth reserved for officials but generally withheld from passers-by. His lips betrayed his narrowing eyes, a wry smile spread out across his face; he asked, “aren’t you afraid to be here?” “No,” I replied playfully. “Should I be?” I asked raising an exaggerated eyebrow to mirror his mockery with my own. We laughed at the absurdity of policy and he went on to tell me of his family living all around the United States and welcomed me to Sudan with a warm handshake.
Fear is a weapon that divides, a concept known all too well by people throughout the world. Sometimes it is dressed in a cloak of culture and other times faith, it is the classic us against them mentality. It usually boils down to unfamiliarity, all too often we fear the unknown. This Nubian man understood such divisors, and felt propelled to thank us for coming to Sudan. He asked me to write home and share our experiences of what it really feels like to be here. He understood that something as simple as a familiar face is often times enough to turn an adversary into a friend.
I must admit that the media machine helps perpetuate these imagined divisions between people. My first day in Sudan I was walking through the souk (market) sussing out the various array of Sudanese produce, taking stock of the new ingredients on offer. As I traversed the alleyways tasting and sniffing my way through I was welcomed to Sudan no less than a dozen times. The question that follows is: ‘where are you from?’ Up until now we’ve been pretty stoked to be American since Obama is nothing short of a demi-God in Africa. But Sudan is another story and one not so easily bridged by skin color or bought with food aid.
So are we afraid? We claim Canadian citizenship to the casual asker, so yes, in a sense we are. But I do feel more than a twinge of remorse lying to these beautiful people who simply ask out of curiosity. I am torn between portraying the truth and extending another face of America to a population as unfamiliar with us as we are to them. So why the lie? Good question. Of all the countries we been through this past year we’ve yet to feel as safe as we do here in Sudan. Glenn says that it is a safe bet, everyone like Canadians, but I think there is something else, a reason that isn’t as easily explained. Perhaps it is out of fear, but the answer isn’t one that I can put my finger on.
My conversation with the Nubian man changed my perception of the banality of that lie. I am withholding information that might break down that fear by replacing it with a human face; every day I have the opportunity to be the familiar face of America. Come to think of it, we traveled under Bush for 8 years, talk about hated, so what is the big deal? Is it because the Sudanese are Muslims and we’ve been told that Muslims are ‘bad’? How much of the fear mongering has actually taken hold? I don’t know.
From here on out we will claim our rightful nationality. Not everyone likes Americans, so what better reason to be American? We might be the only Americans presently in northern Sudan, so we’ll do our best to represent y’all.
Thank you Qutpi…