When I was asked by my life long friend, Ellen Ratner, to go with her, and a handful of others, to Southern Sudan, where she wanted me to show some women in a village there how to make a particular beaded item that she could market for them, I was struck with several dilemmas.
Dip my toes into a war zone? I didn’t know. Go to the ends of the earth to teach a technique I did not yet know? I didn’t know. Go to Africa, a land I’d always wanted to visit? Yes. Learn a new skill and teach it to some women who could really use the income it could generate? Yes. Go outside my comfort zone, leaving grand daughter, family and friends behind? Hmmmm…
After years of Ellen’s generous friendship, finally she asks a favor of me. How could I say no?
So I went with great trepidation to the travel clinic at Mass General and got the 6 shots. Except for a tetnus shot some time in there, I hadn’t had an immunization since third grade. Once that was over I was curiously elated.
I went down to the local bead shop, Beadniks, and picked up some beads to try to learn the technique for making this item, the Swarovsky crystal Puffy Heart. Do not try this at home alone. I spent two weeks with my online tutorial, cursing the darkness. Ahhhrrrrrgh! Finally Ellen sent up a very talented beader from Long Island, Brenda Levy, who sat with me and got me over the rough spots. How was I going to show these Sudanese women how to make this heart when it took me so long to learn? Once I had it though, I had it. Does anyone want to learn? I can show you.
I ordered the supplies I’d need to teach between 20 and 40 people and leave them with enough supplies to keep them busy till June when Ellen is going back again.
Ellen has been going there for the last three years. She is a talk radio commentator, and had learned about this area from a group called Christian Solidarity International with whom she had done a show.
Here’s what we did to get there. We boarded a plane at JFK and flew all night to Zurich. Love Zurich by the way. Here’s a picture of the Swiss Alps from the airplane window. We jumped on board another plane in Zurich and flew another 8 hours to Nairobi, Kenya, a teeming city with millions of people in one place and then an expansive savannah right next door that spreads out till sunset. More on that later.
We hopped on two small planes in Nairobi with all our bags. This was lots of bags my friends. We had with us Ellen, her brother Bruce, her niece Rebby, a four person film crew (Academy Award winning documentarian Barbara Kopple and co.), John Eibner (co-head of the CSI), a rabbi and his wife, a journalist, a nurse, a politician/newspaper owner from Jersey and her assistant and little old me. We had a mountain of film gear, trail mix, clothes, tents, sneakers (more on that later), baby wipes and beads. Here’s a picture.
You fly and fly and fly over sandy desert. (See picture) You fly some more until you don’t think it’s possible to go any farther. You touch down on a dusty (read unpaved), hot runway. This is to refuel. You are now half way there. You fly and fly and fly some more, and then, you’re there. Aweil. South Sudan. South Sudan, which has just been through years of civil war with it’s northern half. South Sudan which has just now voted to become what is the world’s newest independent state.
I have so much more to tell you. Will you check back in for further pages? Stay tuned for the story of “Shebop”.
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