Monday, January 12, 2009

Lui dust

With all of the trucks roaring through Lui while we were there (container trucks, dump trucks, pick up trucks), and the cars and the motor cycles, there was always a certain amount of dust in the air. You could see it settling on the leaves of trees and plants alongside the road. I had a white tee shirt hanging on a line in my room of the mud guest house. When I took it down to pack for our return trip, I noticed a red line of dust where the shirt had been folded over the line. The toes of my boots pretty much remained covered with a reddish-orange patina the whole time we were in Lui. When I got home and unloaded everything into the washing machine, I caught the distinctive smell of Lui dust on pretty much everything I brought back, including the suitcase.

I noticed with some regret on the trip home, that my boots were loosing their coating of Lui dust. Walking through airports, sitting on airplanes, being wrapped under airline blankets against the unexpected cold (funny how ambient temperature becomes relative), the dust was coming off. Jesus instructed his disciples, when he sent them out two by two, that if a town or village did not welcome them, they should shake the dust of that town off their feet as they left, nevertheless warning them that the kingdom had come near. So, if a town had welcomed them, were they to keep the dust on their feet? We were certainly welcomed, we ate what was set before us, and we really didn't have to tell anyone that the kingdom was near -- it was pretty obvious.

The Moru are not all good, and we Americans tend to romanticize people who live simply. That would be a mistake. We met plenty of people with the sophistication to "work the system" and there are plenty of systems to work. It would be easy to get sucked into that good liberal guilt that tells us we should just give lots and lots of money, but that isn't relationship. Walking around the cathedral our second or third day in Lui, Deb and I were invited to sit on good chairs in someone's compound and offered "first pour" coffee, in small shot glasses. We sat and talked and laughed and were generally well entertained. No one asked us for money, they were just delighted that we would sit. There were many moments like that, which helped me to see what interdependence and community really look like. I'm sorry to see my boots loosing their coating of reddish-orange dust.


Debra Morris Smith said...

Amen to all that, Dan. I was thinking as I read that I still have lungs full of Lui dust, and perhaps it has entered my bloodstream. I definitely don't want to shake it off my feet.

Lisa Fox said...

Thank you for this reflection, Dan.

I had an analogous experience upon returning from Lui. I had carried a good-sized NPS-green backpack with me to Lui. In churches and payuts and in the tukal and under mango trees, it was often slung onto the bare dirt. When I came home, my backpack had more than a little patina of Lui's red dirt. My first instinct was to wash it, but I just could not. I never have, in the 2 subsequent years. I was a bit dismayed recently to notice it has lost that patina over time.

Isn't it funny how we want to carry some of Lui back with us in ways that are tangible and earthy?

Susan Naylor said...

Great post, Dan!
One of the last things I did on my trip (2005) was to scoop some of the red dust from the road and put it in a couple of small vials I brought along for just that purpose. One I gave to a friend who collects and displays vials of sand from around the world. The other sits on my dresser. I was initially sad when I realized that I'd left behind the hat that sheltered me from the sun, but I was happy to learn later that it is now Mama Jenifra's hat. I bought another just like it, but I had to rub some of the dust of Lui onto it to make it feel right! Those of us who track the dust of Sudan back home are also tracking the blessings of our relationship along with it. We do not shake the dust from our feet, but mingle it with the stuff of our common lives.