THE BLOG

Lessons From the Tea Ladies of Khartoum

07/01/2014 12:59 GMT | Updated 08/03/2014 10:59 GMT

Across the world, across our cultures and varying circumstances we share many of the same daily rituals and sometimes we can be transported into someone else's parallel moment -with luck the experience can change us forever.

This morning, as I sipped my breakfast tea, I read about the women and children from Sudan pouring over their borders to seek safety and I was reminded of an article I read a while back about the tea ladies of Khartoum.

These women working in the dusty city streets hum and sing as they set their fires at dawn and spread the last embers at sunset. These songs are the keepsakes from their villages and farms and the lush green hills of their past, all lost to war in Darfur.They have chosen to stay on in the city often without a partner at their side, threatened by violent and corrupt police, to eke out a few dollars toward their children's education.

One such woman, a 40 year old mother hovers with her last infant still nursing at her breast while she stirs the sugar into her customer's tea. She worries about what will become of her children, unsure how much longer she will be able to work at her age or even how much longer she will live.

As I read this I was sitting in my California kitchen struggling with my postmenopausal battle to accept my aging body, the product of my ever increasing longevity. My journey into this other woman's life jolted me into the realization of how fortunate I am to live to fight this battle of vanity. How fortunate I am to fight it here in my home with its view to the sea.

I pray that the woman in the red shawl with the small children at her side lives long enough and well enough to cross to these years after 50. I know if she does she will live them with so much more gratitude than I do. The grace to accept what we no longer have and what we no longer are and yet to sing or hum in the face of our present difficulty, is one valuable asset that has eluded me in my affluent western life.

If I could squat beside this woman tomorrow morning and sip her sweet tea I would offer her this:

May the sun rise many mornings on your smoky tea fire

May your wares be hidden long before the law arrives

May the can beside your feet fill with coins

And may the valleys and fields of your past welcome you and your grandchildren home some day

Thank you for my morning tea.