Smiles and greetings are important in Southern Sudanese culture. Good thing. That’s about as far as my Arabic skills will allow me to go. Interaction is difficult for me here. Very few know English, making it nearly impossible to communicate. And I feel like an idiot with my one word Arabic phrases.

The friends we do have are mainly university students. Although they did all of their schooling in Arabic, they have learned English out of necessity. When South Sudan became a country, leadership declared English the national language. Now the entire school system is switching over to English for instruction.

One such friend is Rita. I never know when to expect her. Some days she pops by early in the afternoon, others not until dinner time for westerners. She is always beautifully dressed in brightly colored wraps and carries her exercise books hidden under one arm. She comes to increase her English but inevitably ends up helping me learn and improve my Arabic as well. Together we pour over one of her exercise books, comparing English to Arabic and laughing a lot. I can’t even imagine the intimidation of attending university in a second language!

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