I went to Sudan when I was in my early twenties while it was at the beginning of a civil war.
My purpose for going there was to volunteer as a teacher’s aide as a native English speaker.
Despite all the advice and warnings I was given, I had no expectations or fears.
Looking back at my experience there, I have come to realise that my greatest achievement was to win the respect of the local male elders. As a woman who was perceived as a foreigner or westerner, this was far from any achievement I could have expected.
I wonder how I did it? What did they see in me or learn from me that made them treat me as an equal?
I was asked by the teachers at the centre to take some of their classes so they could observe and learn, the students were well-mannered and willing.
Not long after, a headteacher from a local girls secondary school asked if I would provide maternity cover for some English classes. I taught ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ to classes of 60-65 students aged 15 – 16.
A male teacher tracked me down and asked if I would teach at the local secondary school for boys where he worked. I was willing, the director at the centre was not.
Soon after, a male teacher at the centre invited me to dinner at his house. I was the only woman present, as the women generally sit separately. I hadn’t realised I would be meeting a group of male elders and that they were going to ask me to join their co-operative for local causes and concerns. I felt honoured just to be asked and to be treated as an equal by some of the most important men in that community.
My journey took an unexpected twist. I contracted malaria and while my fever was running high and I felt as though I was leaving my body, another great man honoured me with his presence.
A mystic came to me and revealed another side of my life to me, I didn’t have to introduce myself or tell him what I was doing, he knew it all already.
The message he brought to me was ‘trust your heart’, his voice still echoes inside of me particularly when I am in need of help.
What experiences of cross-cultural work have you had?
What were your experiences?
What did you learn?
Would you do it again?