My footnote in history will probably be found in an anthropology research thesis or journal. The event takes place in the southern Region of the Sudan, one of the world’s poorest and most isolated areas; hot, dry, few graded roads, no schools, clinics or outside economic activity. There is a Sudanese saying that God laughed when he created the Sudan; God must of been really hysterical when the southern Region can into existence.
There is an area in the Bahr el Ghazal province where most of the people living there are members of the Dinka tribe. History is passed down thru generations by songs; your ability to create lyrics and tune describing a particular event is highly prized. In addition, there is an annual get-together at the River Lul where young people have a chance to meet members of the opposite sex.
It so happens that Ali, my brother and I arrived at the River Lul when the annual get-together is in full swing. [This is during the first peace agreement period - no fighting]. It is hideously hot; we are tired and dusty and, as luck would have it, a heavy truck has sunk the “ferry” midstream so that folks are carrying off supply sacks to lighten the load. We would have to wait at least a couple of hours before our landrover could cross the river. There are thousands of people in the river dressed in beads, ivory and nothing else. Men and women are flirting with each other - the whole reason for being there.
Finally, the truck moves on and the ferry comes back for our landrover. By this time I am absolutely dying of the heat and see no relief because there are no cold drinks [no electicity] for miles and miles; just dusty road in a non a/c tank of a landrover. The ferry driver signals to drive the landrover onto the ferry/raft and my brother turns to me and says “I’m going to swim across the river to cool off. Inspiration! He rips his clothes off and tosses them into the car; I rip my clothes off and toss them into the car.
Half way across the river, my brother turns to me and smiles:
“You know, everyone is talking about you.” [My brother speaks Dinka.]
“Oh yeah, why? It couldn’t be because I was stark naked like everyone else. Could it be because I have pubic hair?”
“No, it’s because your swimming with your brother.”
Four days later we returned to the ferry crossing. There are a couple of guys hanging out on our side of the river as we wait for the ferry/raft to cross back to our side. There is a man under a skimpy tree singing a Dinka song softly and good-naturedly. My brother tells me that he is singing a song about this white woman who swam in the River Lul during the recent celebration. My brother also tells me that the other men are betting on whether I will do it again this time. Luckily the ferry/raft arrived and we leave with a
perplexed me sitting in the landrover this time. Hummm, cultural insensitivity? selfish behavior? Should my brother have placed a good bet?
Several months later my brother is back in the area when he hears another song about the river incident… I have often wondered if any of these songs survived and, if so, is this my footnote in history?