April 4, 2018

Cultural Gestures: How Tall?

Every culture uses hand and other gestures in communication. Some gestures are the same in different cultures. This is very helpful if they have the same meaning; however, if they don't, it can cause various degrees of misunderstanding, ranging from the minor and funny to the major and offensive.

Take the gesture demonstrated by the boys in this picture: a hand extended, palm down. What does this mean to you?

In my home country, Canada, this gesture is used to show the height of a person (usually a child) or an animal.

However, here in the Dinka Malual area where I live, it's only used to show the height of animals, never people.

Using this gesture to show the height of a child will elicit snickers or perhaps even outright laughter from listeners. It's not a huge cultural faux pas, but it shows that the one using it is still rather a cultural outsider.

So how do my neighbours show the height of a person? Like this:

The hand, held vertically with the palm facing forward, shows the height of the head of the child.

I must admit I didn't clue into the use of this gesture until I had been here some years--how did I not notice this? People probably chuckled when I showed the height of a child in the "hand extended-palm down" way, but I must have just assumed it was because of something I had said in my far-from-fluent Dinka. 😊 Finally some kids at school set me straight. 😀

September 23, 2017

Harvest Time

Aluel in her garden early one morning
We've had a good growing season in our immediate area this year, with a good balance of rain and sun. It's always a joy to see people harvesting and processing the fruits of their labours. Aluel, one of my close neighbours, has been harvesting and drying okra, sorghum and beans.

The picture below shows some of the first heads of sorghum that she harvested this year, which will typically be used for seed next year, as well as okra in various stages of the drying process.

Bottom left: freshly cut okra; top centre: okra that has been drying for a few days; bottom right: beans still in the pod.

One of my neighbours, Nyibol, has had a great harvest this year of a kind of cucumber that folks here grow. It is oval-shaped and has quite a thick rind. I find that when it is cooked it tastes a lot like zucchini, a vegetable I really like but can't get here.

Nyibol has given me cucumbers several times in the past few weeks, and this week she also brought me some of her first groundnuts (peanuts).

July 13, 2017

Aloe Giveaway

My aloe plants continue to thrive and multiply, and we continue to give them away. Since our first giveaway three years ago, my co-labourer in health ministry, Agau, and I have given dozens more plants to church members and other neighbours.

They use the aloe to treat burns, sores and various other skin problems. It grows well here. One advantage is that it doesn't need protection from hungry livestock, as many other plants do, since they don't like its spines.

Last Sunday, Agau announced after church that anyone who wanted aloe to plant should bring some kind of container and come to my house (which is very near the church). This time, a lot of children from the congregation came, as well as some ladies. Agau explained to each one where to plant the aloe, how to take care of it and how to use it. Here are some snaps of the happy recipients.

July 11, 2017

My Morning Class

This year the class I am in charge of each morning has just 15 students, which is so nice since the past two years I had twice as many. The picture below shows all of the students, along with my junior teachers Abuk and Achol (back row, far left, in white).

My class is the third year at our school but is a grade one level: the children learn English phonics and reading in English, as well as math and social studies. (They learn to read in Dinka, their mother tongue, during the first year, then spend a year learning oral English.)

There are eight boys and seven girls in the class, and, as in previous years, there is quite a wide range of ages, from 8 to 16.

Junior teachers Achol and Abuk, who do their own studies in the afternoon, have made good progress in learning to teach the grade one curriculum. They are able, with supervision and some help, to teach most of the class.

Having Achol and Abuk teach gives me some time to spend in the three Dinka literacy classes. I mentor, encourage and help the local teachers who teach these classes.

July 4, 2017

Planting a Patch of Purslane

For the past few years I've enjoyed eating a leafy plant that is sold in our local market. I only recently found out its English name, purslane, and that it grows wild on our property. It looks kind of like a miniature jade plant.

With a little research on the internet, I discovered that purslane grows in many places on the globe, including North America. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. It's got lots of nutritional value (beta carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and more). However, many people are unaware of its nutritional value and consider it to be simply an unwelcome weed.


One Saturday recently, I hired Awan, a student from our school who is also a budding gardener, to pick some purslane for me to eat and some to plant. I'd like to have some close to the house that I can water it and keep alive in the hot, dry season.

If the plant is picked carefully with the roots attached and then re-planted, it takes root again and continues to grow.  The plants spread out and multiply as the seeds fall onto the ground and easily germinate.

While Awan was picking the purslane, another teen, Abuk, was clearing grass from a patch of ground near my house, next to my clothesline.

As Abuk was finishing her work, Awan hoed a patch of the freshly-cleared earth.

Then Awan planted the purslane that had the best roots.

The purslane patch, a few days after planting.  All the plants survived being transplanted and are growing.

June 17, 2017

Cap Top Fun

I've recently noticed boys at school playing with a toy I hadn't seen before: a top made from a pen cap inserted in a bottle cap. The boys make a pointed tip on the pen cap using fire. They spin the top by flicking the pen cap between their thumb and middle finger. It looks easy but despite many tries I have yet to set one of these tops spinning.

There are a few boys who often play with tops like this. I enjoy watching them and seeing the fun they have with this simple toy. Yesterday I watched and filmed Garang (L) and Aluong (R).

One of the tricks they do with the top is making it spin on their own hand and then sliding it on to someone else's hand. At the end of the video below, Garang does this with me.


June 8, 2017

Seen on the Way to School

A few pictures from my walk to school the other morning. 

Most of my neighbours are in the process of tilling their soil and planting. They usually work kneeling using a hoe with a small flat blade.