I must ask myself, what have I learned in the months that I have been in Sudan, Africa? It is an answer that can include so many topics and you will see that I have included many of them in different ways. I learned that living poverty is not the same as being poor. The poor have no option and we as religious do have the options to live poorly or not. To be in solidarity with them is not always the same as being poor with them. I have learned that social justice encompasses more than just inventing more meetings and conferences. It means actually being among the people, aiding them, giving them your time, your money, your clothes, your food, etc. I have learned that social justice begins at home and not outside where others only see and hear you, and don’t live with you.
I have learned that the Dinka tribe sings to their cows every day, and they would never consider selling them, or killing them since they are used as the bridal dowry for their sons to purchase a wife. A Dinka woman’s selling price at present is now 100 cows, or over $100,000.00 dollars! I wonder at times what they would think of a $65 marriage license fee instead.
I have learned that the worse dry season I have ever spent on earth has been in Wau, Sudan. Not to have a breeze at night for almost 4 months makes you believe that you will surely suffocate, especially when the electricity is turned off at 2am, or worse, when there is no electricity. I have learned that we can actually live without electricity, ice, cold water, frozen foods, fresh vegetables, without many things and not die. I have learned that to feel cool at nights, it is better to lie on the cool tile in the bathroom, except that you must share the space with crawling insects and lots of mosquitoes.
I have learned not to complain when I am eating food. My workers and a lot of the people around me hardly ever get meat. I have learned not to eat everything which my eyes see and my nose smells on the streets. I had the worse diarrhea for 5 days because I ate chapattis, which are the closes things to a Mexican flour tortilla at the worse little tin stand. The dirty building should have told me something already.
I have learned that if I wear my Claretian crucifix, someone will automatically know that I am an Abuna, a Priest, and greet me. I have learned that although I took medicines for prevention of malaria, I will get it one day. It is not a matter of getting it or not, but when? I have learned that an old priest can get Herpes Zoster, shingles, by having been exposed to chicken pox as a child, be the ripe age of over 60 and be stressed out in his work. Sudan was the worse place for me to have gotten this illness. There was so little relief due to few medicines, nothing cool or cold at times, no fan, humidity, the itching, etc. If I suffered, I have learned that the poor suffer even worse. How shameful of me to complain.
Although you think many of the things I learned were complaints, I would do it all over again. I learned long time ago that I was born to be a foreign missionary. I know I am not good enough to be a priest, nor a Missionary Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but I have learned that I was called to become one and to also become a saint with or without my weaknesses and strengths. I do not like what I do, I love what I do. I have learned from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that I too can help this world, one person at a time.
By Fr. Alberto M. Ruiz, CMF, a Claretian Missionary working in Sudan, Africa.