Thursday, April 05, 2007

when the laughter counts

Perhaps it was because I had Sudan on the mind that this moment was especially poignant. Perhaps the tight feeling in my throat played a part. That feeling I have every Thursday afternoon on my walk down the hill from Champlain’s main campus to my beautiful sky-lit office on the waterfront. The feeling that causes me to sniff the fresh air twice as hard. The feeling that makes me want to turn around, run home, and just... I don’t know... just do something.

I passed a group of four or five Sudanese women and about 8 small children. The numbers aren’t essential—they blended together in a vibrant crazy-quilt of printed color. The women were walking leisurely and talking loudly and as I passed (oh, my quick professional gait) their words grew and grew. Walking, talking in a language I’ve never even heard before. And then there it was: laughter. Large laughter. Different kinds of laughter. Genuine laughter.

It made me want to cry. Or laugh. Which was it? I only wish I knew what they were laughing about!

For weeks now, every Thursday afternoon from 2:00-3:15 p.m. I get my good, albeit distant, dose of reality. That is when Champlain’s Community Book Committee meets to edit, research, plan, and discuss whatever book we’ve chosen for the school year. It is my favorite part of the week. This year, we’ve chosen Dave Eggers’ What is the What, a novel based largely on one boy’s true story of his journey as a lost boy of Sudan. The story tells of Valentino Achak Deng’s countless struggles as he tries to navigate his region’s civil war torn land on foot and oftentimes alone, in constant danger of disease, rebels, wild animals, hunger, and even his own government.

But what’s equally compelling in the novel is what Achak describes as an even larger, very different struggle once he finally arrives in America as a refugee. The culture is so different, and the feeling of loss so huge, at times the future seems like a strange, helpless void.

When you have something on the mind, it seems you find connections to it everywhere. I read a story in the New York Times earlier this week, After Darfur, Starting Anew in the Midwest. In it Fawzia Suliman, a refugee who has settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana (a refugee designated city not unlike our own Burlington, Vermont), describes a wonderful, welcoming community with a lot of opportunity. Indiana’s landscape also reminds her a little bit of home and offers therefore a quiet solace. Still she says, “I cry every day.”

I can hardly imagine what that feels like—to cry every single day.

And yet, the laughter. There is still laughter. I heard it myself on the way to work. It’s still ringing in my ears.

No comments:

LinkWithin - 4 posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...