Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh Reminds Her of Her Native South Sudan

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh Reminds Her of Her Native South Sudan

Article excerpt

When Kawthar Albe thinks of Pittsburgh, she is reminded of Khartoum, Sudan's capital, where she used to live.

It, too, has a point, where the Blue Nile and the White Nile join to form the Nile. Pittsburgh's hills bring memories of South Sudan, which was so hilly that Kawthar would watch her grandfather seem to bob up and down the landscape as he bicycled toward the family.

When Kawthar immigrated to Pittsburgh around 2005, she got a job cleaning rooms at the Westin Convention Center Hotel and tried hard to learn English. But after eight or nine months, homesickness almost overwhelmed her. She missed the way neighbors, Arab or African, Muslim or Christian, knew when someone had experienced hardship and came to the house to help, even if it were 3 a.m.

"I started feeling I just want to go home," she says. Then something strange happened on a city bus. The driver was a black woman who resembled someone from northern Sudan. Kawthar positioned herself so she could see the driver from her seat. "If she wouldn't think I'm crazy, I would jump on her and hug her," she says.

To Kawthar, the driver's facial features looked like home. "She just made my day. She just changed my mood. You feel like you are home."

Home is South Sudan. "I never thought I would leave my country," Kawthar says.

The oldest of seven children born to a Muslim mother and Christian father, Kawthar gradually came to understand that her future in Sudan was limited. She grew up in what is now the Republic of Sudan, but she was born in what is now the new country of South Sudan.

Before the formation of South Sudan, Sudan was composed of some 600 tribes speaking more than 200 languages. In 1983, Sudan's president declared the country under Islamic law, sparking a civil war that culminated in the majority Christian and animist south declaring independence in 2011.

Living in northern Sudan as a person from the south, Kawthar saw her high school grades of A's and B's fall to C's. …

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