Three months after my return to my comfortable home and comfortable life I find i am still struggling with the discomfort of this dichotomy: my 6 weeks in a rural village working with women and girls feeling more 'right' than me back here where I've always been, doing what I've always done.
I arrived back in Seattle knotted into defensiveness, my brief time in Sudan clutched to my heart. I was not ready to let anyone in or to share my experiences for weeks. For weeks, I was silent; grieving.
Such a strong response baffled me as I've left my home dozens of times before to venture out into the world. I've returned home an equal number of times, each bumpy with the little shocks of re-entry. This time, however, was brutal. I felt like an alien in the home I grew up in unable to understand the necessity of things we take for granted like the exorbitant choices of milk, or variety and plentiful food, or even the abundance of diets. A few days after I had come back, a family member, proud of her recent weight loss, exclaimed that I had not recognized her svelter figure. I could hardly mouth the words "I'm happy for you" as visions of slender Sudanese who struggled to get 2 meals a day were all I saw. Or another wonderful person in my life who complained of her less-than-perfect hair cut.... I had to get up and walk away because I could not juggle where I was - how real Sudan still was - with where I am.
Is it that their suffering is more noble than ours that I cannot see the Sudanese girls' struggle to remain in school instead of being married off by age 15 on equal footing with US adolescents' struggles for autonomy? How is it that I have an internal weighting system that sees girls and women in developing countries as being more worthy of our efforts and resources when I work at a domestic violence organization that supports (mostly) US victims of horrific abuse? I am slightly appalled at my own creation of a "hierarchy" of suffering...
I scour the news to see how the lead up to the January 9, 2011 referendum is going. A contact still in southern Sudan said the first few bombs were dropped on a nearby town and that the North is pushing its "unity" campaign even harder, trying to convince the southern Sudanese whom they've oppressed, enslaved and massacred for years to remain united as one country, rather than to succeed and forge the newest global country of Southern Sudan. I believe the prior US government under George Bush would understand northern Sudan's keen interest in maintaining the south: oil.
I'm more fully arrived now, three months later. I can go through my days again taking things for granted like my car, microwave, carpet, cable TV. But I cannot, or will not, forget the women and girls I worked with. They have re-ignited my motivation to move more into the international realm and pick up pieces of my dream to work in international development. I bless them for letting me into their lives, sharing their hopes, dreams, and current concerns with me. I hope they know how much they've impacted my life. I'm forever grateful.