Dinner. The green Heineken bottle looks very small in his hand. The hotel restaurant is on the second floor and has a view of the Indiana state capitol. There is little traffic on the street. Veterans Day.
"When they banned liquor, they threw it all in the river," he says. "What do you think happened?" He pauses, then insists, "The crocodiles got drunk. The fish got drunk. The crocodiles just went crazy. Isn't that stupid? You can't have a beer."
The tales of his country seem to come from far, far away. He is eating the prime rib, the Black Angus Prime Rib Special, $14.95. Medium. He does not look tall when he is sitting down because most of his height is in his legs.
"The government wants to make the country an Islam country," Manute says. "That is not right. That is what the fighting is about. I am not against Islam. I just think you should be free. Everybody should be free. Like here. The country should have the things that are here. You go to Egypt, they have everything. They have Kentucky Fried Chicken. They have Wimpy's. Nothing in Sudan. Not even much television."
A civil war has been in progress for seven years in Sudan. The fighting is in the south, where Manute was raised in the town of Gogrial. He has not been back to his hometown since he left in 1983. He says it would be too dangerous to go there. He has returned to the capital city of Khartoum, in the north, a few times, but last year was told that even that was too dangerous. He is well-known and is considered by some Sudanese to be antigovernment.
"That is what happens." he says. "You are against the government and you find yourself in jail. Or even worse."
The country has layers of problems, Manute says. There is drought. There is famine. The food that is sent from other countries does not reach the neediest people, he says, because the government uses food as a weapon. Food is given only to government supporters. There are few cows left now in the south, because of the fighting, and there are fewer and fewer people. Khartoum has become a city with more than 1.5 million refugees. There are not enough jobs for this number of people. There is not enough food. The situation is a mess.
Manute says he follows the news from home as well as possible, but the process is hard. He says he has been trying for three months to call stepbrothers and stepsisters, without luck. He gets some news by calling the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association. He gets bits from watching CNN. He talks with other expatriates from Sudan who show up at his games across the country. There is a strong feeling of frustration.
"What can I do?" he says. "I used to go to Khartoum with basketball shoes for the kids. I would get all the shoes I could find. When I started playing basketball I did not have shoes. There were no size 16's in Sudan. I would like to bring back more. I have asked Charles to give me 24 pairs of shoes. I would like to bring things, but I cannot go. I would like to give money, but how can I do that if I do not think it will help?"
The rest of life is fine. Better than fine. Beautiful. Impossible. He tells his friends in Egypt about the American life, about the stores and stuff, about the money. More than impossible. They all think he is some sort of captain-of-industry millionaire, far richer than he really is. He tells his teammates on this side about the other life in Africa...also impossible. More than impossible. He had to pay cows to his wife's parents for her hand in marriage. Cows?