Just a Glimpse into the Life of a Nubian in Yida

As the days go by and work challenges takes up most of the days, time seem to pass by very quickly. So far, I can remember names of about 75 percent of the staff from the various sections.

As the days go by and work challenges takes up most of the days, time seem to pass by very quickly. So far, I can remember names of about 75 percent of the staff from the various sections. It has been especially easy to put a name to the face because of our interactions outside the hospital and expat compound.

I try to ask each person something different about their life and that is how I remember the face. We have an upcoming football game with International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has provided plenty of chance for meaningful interaction. Given the fact that I have never participated in any competitive sport, I find myself playing football with the boys.

Most of the players are our national staff but also other football-enthusiastic youths. I’m not so sure if it’s because I’m the only female player and so I don’t get attacked easily or if I’m actually a good player, but I find myself scoring goals . . . ! While I nurse my two sprained fingers and big toe, we bond over conversations and my curiosity gets the best of me.

Below are a few of the topics we’ve discussed, presented generally. The Nuba Mountains area is quite vast, with over 90 different tribes, each with a culture slightly different from the others but similar overall.


Marriage arrangement is a family affair. Each family looks for another family with a good reputation and makes arrangements. Once negotiations are completed and an agreement is reached regarding the number of cows and goats to be exchanged, both parties proceed to present the bride and groom. As one of my Nuba friends said: “We marry to have many children because of the war.” I asked, “What about love?” and there was laughter from the group. One person said “Love…? Not a priority . . . !”

So, it’s very normal for a young man (17 years old or younger) to marry, have babies, and then go out to hustle, maybe in the big cities or another neighboring country. The wife and children stay behind until he gets back. Since the infant mortality rate is high here, one can easily see the rationale.

I have been lucky to meet some of the young couples living here in the camp. They struggle to have a normal family life with all the instability. This got me thinking about the struggles we all have in life, some visible and others invisible. Author Stuart Perrin put this clearly when he wrote that “we struggle to eat properly, to stop drinking alcohol, to stop smoking, to clean up polluted cities, to make money, to have relationships.” (A Lotus Flower in Muddy Waters, pg. 195). Almost everything in life is a struggle.


There are some primary and secondary schools in Nuba, even here in Yida, but the majority of our national staff studied in Juba, Kenya, or other African countries, hence they are fluent in English. The larger population has a limited understanding of English, including some of the staff. Last week, as I ran into the outpatient section of the hospital, the security guard asked me if I’m also an English teacher. I breathlessly answered “No,” and asked him where the class was and he pointed to the left and said “go right.”  Class was already in session and I quietly sat behind to observe, which is what I came to do.

During lunch, in the course of conversing, I found out that one of my colleagues was tutoring an English class once a week every Saturday afternoon. The class was for the auxiliary staff who wanted to learn English. I was simply moved by the zeal and determination that I saw in the faces of these beautiful grown-up students J. Their thirst for the written and spoken word was admirable, and right there I knew I wanted to be part of this beautiful transformation.

The lessons were very basic. The first part of the lesson was on how to introduce yourself and greetings. Then the alphabet, which was my favorite lesson because I could see the different levels of the participants. Now, these are folks that have mostly spoken and probably read and written Arabic their entire lives and are now beginning to learn a new language. It was exciting for them to pronounce some of the sounds/words.

Photo: Mirabelle Adamu-Zeh

English Class.


There are no banks here, so most of the traders and farmers from the Nuba Mountains who come down here to sell goods usually buy cows and take them back home. You don’t want to mess with anyone’s cow because cows are money, and so are very important here. It was explained to me that this is actually good for the people because the cow can produce milk (interest) until the family need for money arises, at which point the cow will then be sold.

Child Naming Ceremony

In one of the Nuba tribes, the first-born child is usually given a temporary name until the community comes together and agrees on a permanent name. During this naming ceremony, family and friends of the parents gather in the host compound for a festive day of food, drink, and dance.

If both parents have agreed on a name, then that is what the child will be called. But if there is disagreement on a chosen name, each parent writes down the name that they wish for the child. A neutral person is then called upon to randomly pick one of the papers, and whichever name is picked will thus be the name of the child. I found this to be a simple way of resolving the problem… :-)

Photo: Mirabelle Adamu-Zeh

A child-naming ceremony—I chose the name!

Home (Yida)

Each family has a tukul (hut), which usually takes about to two to three days to build. After they arrive in Yida, they are registered and a plot is assigned to each family where they proceed to build. As seen above, the tukul is a single room, which can have either one or two beds depending on family size. Usually the bed is the only furniture in the room.


Everyone speaks Arabic, however, their religious beliefs depend on which part of Nuba they are from. For example, the northern Nubians are most likely Muslims, while those from the south are Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Evangelical, et cetera). The majority of the population in Yida is Christian, followed by Muslims. I have not met any Baha’i, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, or Zoroastrians.