In Pain, and In Joy?

It still amazes me when people in a war zone hiding in the forest from Antonov bombers intent on killing them could possibly know about what happens in America and care about it but they do.  They do.  I am embarrassed as I look back to 2001 and realize how self-interested and self-centered I was.  Sure, there was that country with the first name, “War-torn” but I didn’t know any Sudanese people back then so I wasn’t thinking about “War-torn Sudan” as I began my work at St. Louis University Hospital.  I was worried about being a student chaplain there and having to deliver bad news.  It wasn’t about the people in the hospital.  It was all about me.  What a difference a decade makes!

In 2001, people in Lui were still at war with the north.  They were still unable to travel over many of the dirt tracks in the diocese because the roads were mined.  The clearing of mines began in 2006 while I was there!  People walked on paths in the forest to get from place to place trying to keep out of sight of helicopter gunships that would strafe them.  Morris’ wife lived in Wiroh while he lived in Lui.  His work was in Lui, he explained, but Lui was more likely to be bombed.  It was important that his wife survive so she was seven miles away by a shortcut path.

There was no local radio.  They might have caught a bit of the BBC World Service but few people had receivers.  When enemies were nearby, everyone had to keep silent in the forest.  A crying baby could tip off the enemies of where people were hiding.  I can’t imagine even living one day under those conditions but some people in Lui lived twenty years like that.  They told me stories about walking long distances at night navigating by the stars so they wouldn’t be seen.  My struggles in Lui were nothing by comparison.  My fears at SLU Hospital were miniscule and they embarrass me now.

Somewhere in Lui in 2001, a woman named Charity was expecting a baby.  She was tall for a Moru woman and “a bit red” as they would have said of her coloring (the alternative is “a bit black” according to Manyagugu).  She was beautiful but hardly ever smiled.  She dressed carefully to conceal her pregnancy and would be horrified to know that I mentioned she had ever been pregnant!  One does not speak of pregnancy.  It is just not done!

I don’t know what Charity did during those months as she carried her son.  She was probably hungry as it would have been difficult to cultivate a garden when she was expecting and when bombers could be heard for miles.  Her back must have hurt as she began to harvest the meager crop of sorghum but there was no maternity leave for Moru women.  As September arrived, Charity knew her time was near.  What must she have been thinking?  Imagine the act of utter hope involved in bring a child into the world of chaos and horrors.

I can imagine that her back began to hurt and that she paced with women who would attend her.  She might have been attended by midwives at the hospital or she might have been in a grass hut under trees far from a target-rich environment like the hospital.  She may have been wishing for a girl who might grow to help her at home, to care for younger siblings, to help fetch water from far away and to grind the sorghum into flour to make linya but she got a boy.  Boys are good, too—don’t mistake what I’m saying—but a daughter could work alongside her mother and might bring a good bride-price when she was old enough to marry.  No woman who wouldn’t even admit being pregnant would tell you that she wanted a boy or a girl, though.  I’m sure she wanted only a healthy baby that would live.  When half the babies in Lui died before the age of 5 years old, it was pretty important that the child be healthy.

Charity’s husband, Tadu, told me what few details I know about this son.  He did live past the age of five, I know, because he was five years old when I went to his birthday party!  He was a happy guy and obviously the apple of the family’s eye.  His feet had scarcely touched the ground until he made up his mind to walk on his own.  Such is the life of a Sudanese baby boy.

Tadu told me his son’s name.  As I have written before, names have meaning among the Moru people and Tadu’s son sounded kind of strange to me.  Fathers name children in Lui so Tadu named his son “In Pain”.  “In Pain?  Why would you have named him that?” I asked.  As it turns out, “In Pain” was born on September 11, 2001.  Tadu, welcoming his son, named him for us.  Somehow, Tadu had heard of the horrors of 9/11 in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC and decided that his son was born “In Pain” in solidarity with us.

A very important date is coming in July.  On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan will become the world’s newest country.  I find myself wondering, hoping even, that a woman will give birth to a healthy girl in the hospital in Lui and that her father will name her “In Joy”!

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