SAMPLE ISSUES SUMMARY
Jeda is a 17-year-old Sudanese girl living in the refugee camps in eastern Chad. She is the center of three stories:
Jeda is captain of the girls’ volleyball team.
Jeda is in a student-led play entitled “Why girls should be allowed to go to school”.
Jeda is in one of the three girls the highest school grade in the camp.
Jeda was filmed in all of these activities, as well as doing chores at home, learning to use a video camera, shopping in the market, and hanging out with her friends. She was extensively interviewed with her mother.
Here are the principal points of interest for each of those stories.
In traditional Sudanese Muslim society, girls are not encouraged to play sports or to stand up in front of any kind of an audience. For Jeda to have the courage to play on a team is extraordinary. This is in large part due to her parents, who allowed it in the first place. They also allowed Jeda’s older sister to become a midwife and leave home with strangers. Her mother clearly understands the value of education – though she is illiterate, she did commerce in her native village and was one of the wealthier villagers.
When asked why it is important that her daughter play, the mother answers, “We want her to support us” (by bringing home money from her playing). This speaks strongly to the role of children in Sudanese society – they are an asset, a form of social security. If Jeda becomes a professional volleyball player then all of her income would go to her parents (as long as she was single).
This is the highest class in the camp and the best teacher and it is still being taught at a 1-2nd grade level. Jeda wants to become a doctor or a teacher. What are her chances?
Notice how few girls are in the class (three, and one of those came late) compared to boys. How hard is it for a girl to go to class, to reach this level, and to get away from the chores at home?
How do the teacher’s comments reflect their society: if you pass an animal that has died, you can breathe the air and get sick. If you cannot work you cannot produce… cannot satisfy your needs (no social security or safety net).
Note how intently the students pay attention in the class – this is not just because someone is filming them. They desperately want the teacher to pick them. How still they sit on the floor. They seem both to value the education they are receiving and have great respect for the teacher.
The entire play is only 12 minutes long. Students were ad libbing and doing a terrific job. Before the play started several men took a microphone and walked around the camp, loudly publicizing the event (no phones, no electricity, no billboards…). Hundreds of kids and adults gathered around the open mat to watch.
The storyline is very straightforward. A father – Haroum - refuses to allow his daughter to go to school, despite his wife’s nagging and appeals from his daughter, his mother, and his friend (another man who also has a daughter). Haroum is also clearly not a good provider for the family. Eventually Haroum’s friend returns - dressed in good clothes – and announces that HIS daughter has finished school, gotten a job and is now taking her dad to Italy. Haroum’s wife leaves him to go live with her mother. Thoroughly chastened, Haroum breaks into wails of self-recrimination as he contemplates his mistake and his fate.
The most important point in this play is the argument used to convince the father to let his daughter go to school - She would be useful to the family. This is the only reason ever given for education and it is repeated over and over. The implications are profound – schooling is seen as an investment by the parents so that the children will take care of them once they are earning money. Children are the family portfolio - girls are married off to get dowry to pay for wives for the sons, and children in general are the only form of social security that parents have. This is one reason that daughters are valued less and less likely to be sent to school – once they are married then any income they get or work they do goes to their husbands and his family (this is also stressed in the play).
Some other points that comes out in the play:
In a social society, neighbors and friends are extremely important.
Everyone greets everyone else, no matter how angry they are at each other.
The subtext – education is tearing up the fabric of the family.
The comment about wine – this is a Muslim society so drinking alcohol is against the religion and strongly frowned upon. Most areas are legally dry but there’s a lot of drinking still going on.
The family problems are alluded to – the father doesn’t have a job. He drinks. He doesn’t fulfill his responsibility and bring home food or money. And in the end, the wife leaves her husband (not divorce, but as close as they get in this society). And,not least, the husband lost his friend (social society again).
This storyline strongly reflects the obstacles that Jeda herself faces in trying to get an education.
Interview with Jeda and her mother.
Jeda barely speaks a few words of English, though she has been learning it in school for a couple of years. This is because the English teacher in the camp speaks no more than 30 words of English.
Jeda is 17 and not yet married. Most girls get married at around 13 in rural Sudanese society. During the past year four men have visited Jeda’s father and asked for Jeda’s hand in marriage, and all have been refused because her parents think she should finish her education. Jeda wants this as well, and wants to work when she is done.
I don’t know how crucial the comment is about Jeda’s best friend. Generosity and reciprocity are hugely important values in Sudanese society.
Jeda’s comments about why she likes to play volleyball culminate in an interesting statement – “it is only me playing.” In a society where women are treated like human donkeys, where they have no voice and are not allowed to stand up in front of men and speak, this is an enormous statement. It is reflected in the footage of her playing – she is confident, strong, and proud.
Jeda wanting four children may sound like a lot, but every Sudanese woman knows that she could have 18 kids in her fertile life if she is lucky and none of them died, so four is a very low number. Still, she wants three of them to be the more valuable kind – boys.
And she wants an educated husband – one who has a profession. This is in part because it means he will have a good income, but it is already a significant step that she wants an educated man, not just one who will bring home a lot of money.
Jeda is also something of a role model – not just because she will stand up in the drama or at volleyball practice in front of the men but because she would advise younger girls to continue learning, to follow their dreams. In rural Sudan girls don’t really have dreams. They do as their parents tell them.
Both Jeda and her mother get very excited and homesick when they describe their village. The mother in particular lights up. The mother has lost a lot of her drive since arriving at the camp – she used to have a lot of village wealth, family, her own store to run – and now she has nothing. She is essentially in a holding pattern while waiting to go back to her old life. Jeda, on the other hand, has taken to camp life and is making the most of the opportunities. This division between old and young is often the case in the camp and can lead to tension within the family.
The mother’s speech about what she would say to Bashir is not that important except for the final sentence. We will take our rights for us. Here is a hint about why Jeda is allowed to play volleyball and go to school – her mother is strong in her beliefs and willing to stand up for herself.
Note that all of Jeda’s good sides as described by her mother are social – how she interacts with other people. Sudan is a social society – your ability to get along with others is far more important than how smart you are, how beautiful you are, or even how hard you work.
Note also what her mother says about Jeda’s bad side (though she later retracts it) – that Jeda gets angry when someone does something bad to her or destroys her things. As a woman, Jeda should just take it when she is mistreated. Getting angry is also a serious offense – particularly for women – in social societies. You are supposed to turn the other cheek and forgive. A “good” traditional woman would allow herself to be mistreated. Then her mother reverses herself and says it is good for Jeda to stand up for herself.
In the end Jeda’s mother says there is nothing bad about Jeda. Here is another hint –most Sudanese mothers love their children but would be quick to point out their failings. Jeda’s mom is unusually supportive and positive.
The description of America is interesting but hard to fit into anything else.
Their description of Sudan is a land that has lots of resources but no way to develop them. We would only see a barren desert.
Yet another hint about Jeda’s mom: she sees schools as Sudan’s first priority. And after that her list is very logical. Also that she doesn’t just want houses and riches for herself and her family – a response I often got to this question.
The comment about Jeda’s heart being “fixed” needs some explanation (and a better translation). Jeda is under a lot of pressure to get married – at 17 she is on the verge of becoming an old maid. And yet her heart is set against this because she wants to continue her education. The moment she marries she has to drop out of school (she would get pregnant almost immediately anyway). She would also probably not be allowed to work and everyone’s investment in her would go to waste. Her parents support her in getting her education and not getting married because once she starts working then she can support them.
Jeda’s mother says the most important thing for a Sudanese man is to have an education. This is a very unusual and sophisticated statement. Most women would want a man who has money. She has made the leap to understand that only an educated man would value education for his children, and only a professional has the ability to continue to earn money even if they lose their wealth.
“I am not afraid of anything.” – coming from a 17-year-old Sudanese girl?
Jeda has also come to understand that education is important, and that after marrying it is a priority to educate her children.