Gary Smith, SJ, on Sudanese refugee mothers:
“I have known and wept with and consoled the Sudanese refugee woman, particularly as she is a mother. When you know her as a mother, you understand how she can age so quickly. The Sudanese refugee mother is poor and frequently has a baby strapped to her back or nursing at her breast. She is always working—sweeping, cooking, cleaning, carrying huge loads on her head—and is often pregnant; most likely, she has had children who have died of malaria. She is friendly and long-suffering, loves to talk and joke with her sisters, is close to her tribe and clan, most often cannot read or write, and is born into and suffers from a rigid male-dominated culture. She dies young. Often she is old before her time, but she possesses an interior beauty that endures until she dies. She would die in an eye blink for her family.
“I have buried her after childbirth. I have anointed her as she was dying of some tropical disease. I have given her alms when she has extended her hand, fingers lost to leprosy. I have raced my car over impossible roads to get her to a clinic where she can deliver her baby. I have been with her when she is dying of the shock of a breech birth, a little foot sticking out of her body. I have helped her younger daughters continue with their studies in the face of a cultural attitude that educating a girl child is not necessary—an attitude she has faced firsthand. I have fallen in love with the African mother, whose goodness and beauty have left me shaking.
“One day, such a mother, Mary Kenyi, came to me. Her old body was covered in a threadbare dress. She often came by, asking for a few beans or some grain and sometimes for a blanket. She has nothing, not even a son or daughter to care for her in her old age. All of her children were killed in the Sudan civil war, along with her husband. I saw her, a long walking stick in hand, coming toward me as I was conversing with a staff member outside our compound. I thought to myself, perhaps with an edge of irritation, I wonder what she will be asking for today? She carried a small plastic bag and handed it to me, giving me a smile that would capture the heart of the most heartless.
“In the bag was a gift for me.