Sunday, May 20, 2012

Naked Guys


            One of the more interesting phenomena I’ve witnessed in Juba has been the appearance every so often of naked guys walking around town.  This is Africa and I expected, having grown-up with National Geographic magazine, that I would encounter a higher level of nudity than one experiences back home.  And this has been true, especially when you pass by places like the Nile River where people regularly go to bathe.  Public water is scarce so having places like rivers and streams in which to bathe are important.  I’ve sometimes seen dozens of people, mostly men, bathing at the riverside.   Along the Nile in Terekeka there was a “men’s section” and further downstream a “ladies and children’s” section for washing-up.
            Breast-feeding in public is also much more natural and open than is done back in the US.  But then this corresponds with the general view of breasts here which, unlike in the west where female breasts are viewed as sexual objects and used for advertising everything, here they are considered merely milk delivery devices.  In Sudan, a woman with large breasts is considered no more sexually appealing than another, but she is deemed potentially better able to feed many children, something which is done very openly anytime, anywhere.
            But the phenomenon I’m talking about is the appearance every so often of fully grown men walking around naked or mostly so.  There are about four or five men, all of whom appear to be if not directly related certainly belonging to the same clan or tribe, who wander around different sections of Juba in various states of undress.  They all have a dazed, wild look in their eyes, unkempt hair and since they seem to live on whatever they can scrounge, are on the lean side though in general they appear to be remarkably fit.
            I hadn’t been here long when I spied a young man, looking to be around 18-years old or thereabouts, a wild look in his eyes, nonchalantly walking along a nearby road completely naked.  When I got home I mentioned this to the others I lived with and they all started telling of their encounters with naked guys around town.  I began to notice that I would see this particular fellow around our part of town, and that I would see other naked guys regularly in other parts of town.  It was as if these fellows had divided-up Juba and each decided to occupy a particular section of town.
            The fellow I used to see around here I now see mainly over in Konya Konya, and there’s now a different, slightly younger guy I see near home and who regularly walks past our office, same vacant dazed look on his face and the scraps of clothing he has managed to obtain hanging off his body.  The oldest member of the group I see over in Malakia.  Malakia is an area crammed with retail shops owned mainly by Arab merchants for whom personal modesty is important.  I have no way of knowing but imagine the merchants of the area persuaded this particular fellow to wear shorts, or at least the front section of shorts, which are held-up by a piece of rope and completely open in the back.  I remember driving over to a merchant in the area with one of my housemates who upon observing his bumm (she’s English) opined, “he seems very firm.”  
            I once saw a woman who appeared to be from the same group, having the same general appearance, but she was fully clothed.  It’s an odd phenomenon, nudity.  Where it is appropriate such as in bathing or swimming, it raises not the least interest.  But where it is inappropriate such as in someone walking around town or in any other casual setting it is widely frowned upon.  It’s hard to explain but it makes sense if you appreciate first, how practical people here are; one can hardly wash-up if dressed, can you?  And second, how also generally conservative people here are, a legacy of the decades of Arab occupation which is one reason while in public most people here are fully covered in long sleeves and trousers or skirts.  The lady I encountered was fully clothed because were she not one, she’d be the object of advances and two, it would be considered entirely inappropriate for her to be seen undressed.
            About a month ago my housemate and I were walking home after work.  When we passed by the crosswalk on Unity Avenue in front of St. Joseph’s Catholic School we saw a fellow standing in the crosswalk completely starkers.  The funny thing, well, in addition to his being completely naked, was that he was standing in the crosswalk and in between moments of looking up towards the sky and motioning wildly he was attempting to direct traffic along the busy road.  In this he was actually a little more successful than the crossing guards who occupy the same place in the morning because motorists were certainly slowing down to look at this naked man standing in the middle of the road.  School fortunately had already let out for the day; there were only a handful of students still around who had to witness this spectacle.  This fellow didn’t look anything like the other naked guys around town, well, other than being naked.  But we speculated he might have slipped-out from Juba Hospital located across the street, perhaps ill with some sort of brain fever which deprived him of his senses.  Like the other naked guys, no one seemed to bother him or yell anything at him but just pretended like he wasn’t there.  Never a dull moment in Juba!


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