Sunday, December 3, 2017


December. Decembers have been milestones in my life twice. The first time was my college journey to Israel/Palestine in 1996. We were there for two profound weeks. The second was December of 2013. I left Malakal, South Sudan on December 6th (after finishing teaching, grading and submitting grades for the college.) I spent a week in Juba, South Sudan getting a six month in and out visa, with the help of South Sudanese colleagues. I believe it was December 13th that I flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Christmas. The 14th I went to the international Christmas Bazaar there, had a wonderful time meeting friends and purchasing special things from Africa. That night we began hearing reports about fighting breaking out in South Sudan. I was never able to return to Malakal. In the Spring of 2015 I returned to South Sudan, going to Juba. The college (The Nile Theological College) where I taught had relocated to the Capital and that is where I was called. By September I had to return to the United States for a hip replacement. I never went back. The trajectory of my life had/has changed, beginning with that December of 2013. Well, really beginning long before that, it kept getting corrected as my call in ministry became increasingly clear. But doors closed in December of 2013. When you can't get back into a town, or a country, because of Civil War, things change.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For today.

I am now in the midst of unpacking and finding places for things and deciding what must go -- to other homes and other people.  I am also experiencing, again, the difference between the vision and what it takes to get to the end of the vision.  Meaning, I can/could see this wonderful cozy home and new life; and now I have to do the work to get to that vision.

I no longer belong in either world, expat or repat.  Or, I belong with a foot in both.  Life will always be a bit strange here now; one of the ways that I experience this is in my vocabulary.  Trying to remember a word, or an idiom, to express what I am wanting to share with someone.  A recent confusion was paper clips, no, clothes pins....both things that hold things together....not being sure if clothes pin was the correct word for what I was searching for.  Dish towels and cloths.  The English language is complex and once I have left behind some of the holding everything taunt, sometimes the meaning or the nuance escapes me.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dear Friends,
Well, goodness, I did not realize that it has been more than a year since I last blogged!  And what a year it has been.

I am hoping that by dipping my "pen" back into this blog I will find myself coming again and again and sharing more fully my Debbie's Journey Continues with you.  Somedays it is all I can do to very briefly journal, let alone to blog and write a more substantial accounting of my day and my life.

I will be back.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July update

July 14, 2015
My head is swirling with a number of issues I wish to share with you, my readers.  I am going to begin to write and as I remember something, it will be added.
Yesterday I saw a puppy out by the bus stop, headed for the garbage pile.  It was cute, and I am not a dog lover.  However, for the millionth time it went through my head that the dogs in Juba, and in all of South Sudan, do not know what it is to be a beloved pet in a home.  They do not know what it is to be fed, played with, groomed, given medical care, seen as “man’s best friend”…..instead, because veterinary services like sterilization are not available (there are no vets at all that I am aware of), the dogs continue to produce litters and they are neglected, beaten and chased.  They are also public health nuisances.  I keep in mind when I see a gang of dogs that were I to be bitten I would have to somehow get the last in the series of rabies shots that I began in Louisville, Kentucky.  I don’t think that rabies shots are available in Juba. 
The older I am the more difficult it is to use the buses here in Juba, or anywhere in South Sudan.  Having to hoist myself up to a seat, having to get off and on the bus every time anyone else must exit,   not always having a proper grip as the bus lurches forward or around corners, is physically challenging.  In a land that currently has many people with a lack of access to water, hygiene is an issue as well.  Washing hands after a toilet visit is a learned behaviour, as well as other hygienic habits.
I have come to understand why there is so many small “doo cons”, Arabic for little store.  These little stores would be equivalent I believe to neighbourhood mom and pop stores in the U.S. except that they are usually even smaller than that.  They may have pasta and yogurt, pop, bread, Nutella, a variety of canned goods, toilet paper, cookies, etc.  They do not have vegetables or fruits, those are find in outdoor markets in various locations. 
It is primarily the elite who have vehicles for driving from place to place.  Most of the locals, and the PCUSA missionaries, do not have vehicles.  For me to go even to a “foreign” store (and there are at least a couple of them here in Juba) would require a taxi ride.  It is much easier, and more practical, to shop close to home on my way home from the college, or to venture out on a Saturday to do my shopping across the street from my apartment.  Perhaps the original mom and pop stores in the United States succeeded for this very reason.  They were close to home for many people who may not have transportation or rely on buses.  It is also, of course, a good way to do business and earn wages.  With the increasing cost of groceries and the lack of rises in wages here in South Sudan it is dubious how much those wages help.  But the little stores do provide employment.
This morning I had access to an English language newspaper.  I read an article on water availability in South Sudan that was devastating for me as I read it.  Because the government is spending so much money on the civil war here attention is not being paid to access to clean, affordable water.  The key word seems to be affordable.  Clean water is not a priority, nor are medical services or education, and many people simply cannot afford it.  People who cannot afford clean water either cut their consumption of water to a dangerously low level, or they get their water from the polluted Nile River.  The Nile River water exposes them to dangerous diseases like cholera. 
We take so much for granted in the United States.  Even the water that we wash clothes in and flush toilets with is clean enough to safely drink.  Here in South Sudan most people cannot afford and do not have access to clean water even for drinking.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A slipping economy.

May 19, 2015
Having just walked to three different stores I now have a new report to make. While clearly nothing like the lines that I have read about happening in places in Eastern Europe in the past (and I am sure are somewhere in the world right now), I did get a sense of how it could take a day to find food to feed a family; every day. Yogurt is gone even at the store that I had heard had some. Okay, they had two little tiny containers and then two of the larger containers of plain. However, the refrigerated compartments were not cold and there was no air, not even fans, in the store. This is because of a lack of fuel and/or the cost of fuel.  I decided not to take my chances with refrigerated items.   Oh yes, I saw two women buying the last of the big bottles of water in one store.
Both of the items that I did end up purchasing had jumped by ten South Sudanese pounds in the last week. I paid 12 SSP for a bar of soap. Having not bought it here before I can only assume that is expensive. I picked up rice and beans take home at the local outdoor eatery. The woman said business is not good because everything is so expensive. If it is bad here in Juba, with prices and empty shelves, how much worse in the rural areas?
Several days ago when on my way to the bus stop I saw, as usual, the women who carry the trays of practical toiletries on their heads.  Suddenly “give us this day our daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer came to life for me.  Every day they must sell enough to be able to eat their daily bread.  God, please send them the people to buy their products so that they can eat.  Every day.

Last week after garbage day I saw something that once again gave me reason to rejoice that I am a vegetarian.  Just where the garbage had been, and where of course there were still traces, were now sheep; standing and gleefully ingesting any and all leftovers that they could find.

Finally for today, I have been trying to understand that economics of what is going on here in South Sudan that is causing prices to skyrocket.  One of the things that could be explored is the concept that even when goods like produce are brought into Juba and then shipped out or flown to other places, they are changed at dollar rates even if local money was used to purchase them.  They need to be charged at the rate that was used for purchase.  If an economist, or at least someone who knows more about this than I do, could explain this to me in more detail I would be grateful.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Painting Life.

May 6, 2015,
I’ve just been cooking my dinner.  In the past month that I’ve been here in Juba I’ve done more cooking than in the whole year before.  When I get off my bus on my return trip from the college I am able to buy my vegetables from the vendors lining the street on both sides.  I walk home with them in my backpack and put them to soak in faucet water with bleach.  After a fair amount of time I remove them and put them on a plate or a towel and they are ready for use. 
Thankfully I also pass a little outdoor restaurant that I have referenced before in this blog.  I often buy chapatti with egg or rice and beans from them and have that for lunch.  I found out today that they also have fried bananas (I was given a taste and it was good, although I thought it was more like potatoes!) and potatoes….so I may vary my purchases more. 
Today I have taken a carrot and tomatoes and onion and put that in a pot with clean water, oil and lentils that I rinsed in a very primitive manner.  I forgot to bring a colander with me, it is on my shopping list!  The pot is now on the stove for cooking.  I do hope that it will be better than my last attempt!  And unfortunately my cabbage went bad, I apparently should have refrigerated it and not left it out on the counter (covered of course).
I have been keeping a list of things (found below with comments) that I wanted to share with you, my readers, and I will tackle them now:
With the earthquake in Nepal I realized that so many times the countries that have earthquakes are poor and both desperately need international help and also have infrastructures that are often not able to deal with that help as it comes into the small airports.  Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier for the world to proactively update airports to make them more accessible ahead of disasters. 
Corruption (continuous loans)
Living in Africa I am getting a different vantage point on corruption.  If a country is almost broke there is a habit of reaching out to borrow money, again and again, to meet payroll for instance.  There is never money for education, medical upgrades, investment in infrastructure such as roads, etc.  And corruption often takes the money before it even hits the payroll.  Sometimes I think that by continuously feeding the cycle of loan taking if the world is not contributing to the problem.  I suspect that some of the fear is that we do not want to be responsible for famine and starvation.  On the other hand I am not at all sure that the money that the world gives in some countries translates into practical help with starving people. 
If it was just the leaders it would be easier to cut things off.  When it is innocent civilians that are suffering that is a totally other matter. 
Making coins for less than a pound
I read in a paper here in Juba that there is a call for minting coins once again.  Since the country was born almost four years ago there have only been bills in various denominations.  While this may be convenient for some it does mean that we can never purchase bread (for instance) at 2 pieces for one South Sudanese pound (as we did in Khartoum).  Now the bread is at least one pound per piece.  Everything is more expensive because of not having coins valued at less than one pound, and it is the poor that suffer because of this.
Teeming with life/different clothes
I still plan to obtain a cell phone with a camera.  I had one several phones ago and didn’t realize what a wonderful thing I had.  I also didn’t know at that point how to get the pictures off the phone!  It is the bus stop that I go to in the morning and return to after being at the college where I wish that I had either a cell phone with a camera, or better yet, a video camera!
The stop teems with life that does not stop….pun intended….it is where I buy my vegetables and where I talk with the young women that carry the beauty products for other women on their heads or in the hands in a basket or box.  There are selling areas on all sides of the road.  Many people use an umbrella to protect against the sun.  The sellers are primarily women, with a sprinkling of men.  The sellers put out piles of their goods, maybe five small tomatoes for five pounds, or scrubby looking onions for five and better looking ones for ten pounds.  “Beekum” is Arabic for “how much?”  After greeting the seller I will ask how much the piles cost.  When I’ve made my decision, the purchase goes into a small plastic bag and is handed to me.  After I have all my bags, I get them into my back pack.
There is a lot of color at the bus stop.  Many of the women continue to wear beautiful traditional African clothing.  It makes me miss my own African dresses.  Africa is nothing if not colorful.  Women wear bright color combinations with patterns that I have seen nowhere but in Africa.  Today at the bank I saw a woman with an orange skirt and a streak of orange in her hair!  I hope to get pictures for you, my readers,  once I have a cell phone camera.  For now I would be too obvious. 
South Africa schools demanding documentation that is not required by law.
In reading the local paper recently, in the days after the rioting in South Africa, I learned about some of the issues that face immigrants to South Africa.  It can be difficult for immigrants, many of whom are laborers, the poor of other African countries, to even enrol their children in the local schools.  The schools are demanding different documents that the government of South Africa does not require.  These documents make it impossible for immigrants to enrol their children in school and the schools will not listen to the protests of the parents.  It is a sad story and sounds like stories that I hear from around the world, including the United States.
Finding bananas
It is challenging to find bananas here.  One day I had already headed towards home from buying vegetables at the bus stop and I spotted a woman carrying bananas on a tray on her head.  Talk about shopping on the go!  We went to the side of the road and I was able to get bananas at long last! 
I have discovered here in Juba that why I may still be the only white person that I see for days, many more people here speak some amount of English than did in Malakal.  I will say a few words in Arabic and someone will look at me and speak in English! 
A couple of days ago there was a little girl at the college who began to cry when she saw a white person (me)….I am not around babies as much now as I was in Malakal where they often were frightened by me, sometimes touching my hand to see if their own hand would become white.  I’ve learned to just sit back and smile, not going to them, so that hopefully they will realize I am not going to hurt them!

Monday, April 27, 2015


April 27, 2017
One week ago today I went to the college by bus and my stomach lurched strangely as I got off the bus at an awkward angle.  I had not been feeling well since the Friday before but things were to get worse.
As I went home by bus I had stories in my head that I wanted to share on this blog.  I got home, made a lovely vegetarian soup, had some of that, refrigerated the rest of it, and a couple of hours later my stomach virus made its move.
By Thursday of this past week I was so hungry that I finally gave in and took immodium.  I have learned that apparently once everything is out of my system it is okay to take the immodium.  I just don’t want to prevent the problems from getting out.
Saturday I was able to go out briefly and buy a few supplies at the very close, local stores.  Today I went by bus into the college, came back by bus to the bus stop that has vegetable and fruit vendors and was able to get the ingredients so I can replace my good soup that had to be thrown out.  Not because it was what made me sick but that it took too long for me to be well enough to eat it and by then I was nervous about how fresh it was or was not.
I did more “grocery shopping” as I left the fruit and vegetable area and headed back to Hai Cinema where the apartment building is that I live in.  I stopped for Diet Coke which turned out to be Diet Pepsi, sigh.  Then yogurt.  Then I bought a chapatis and egg for lunch at a local vendor….the food is cooked so it should be okay.  Then bread from the local bread lady who sits by the side of the road next to the informal restaurant where I buy the egg and chapatis.  Then home.
As I have been riding the bus and walking I have had some time to put together cohesive thoughts of how I can begin to paint for you what life is like here, and some of the ways I see the differences between Juba and the United States.
The first thing that I want to share if how much easier the transition has been this time to being in this culture.  Granted this is Juba and not Malakal and this has definitely made things easier.  My living conditions are making an enormous difference in my ability to cope here, even when sick.  I have running water and power.  I have a flush toilet of my own here in an en-suite bathroom of my own.  Every time I flushed the toilet I thought of the times I was sick in very different conditions. 
The buses here are for the most part low roofed and tightly crammed with people.  It can be difficult to step up into or down out of the buses, although today both going and coming I was blessed to get buses that were not so far off the ground and it was simpler.  The thing that makes the buses easier here than in the states is that there are not schedules that are strictly adhered to, and most of the population is using the buses.  What does this look like?  I walk down the dirt road to the bus stop and there the buses are in a line.  Once a person knows which line has the buses that are going to where I want to go, then I know exactly where to go to get to my destination. 
In the morning I head to Gudele.  Going home I go to Hai Juba bus stop and from make my way to the apartment in Hai Cinema.  When I leave Hai Juba headed for Gudele, as the buses fill up and depart, the next bus in line pulls up to the point of departure and when it is full it departs,  Etc.  Sometimes, especially perhaps on Sundays, it can take a long time to fill a bus and therefore a person can be late to where one is going.  On busy days, like week days, it usually isn’t a very long wait.  
Coming home from Gudele I have to cross a street and keep a watch out for buses that are coming, as they have already gone from Hai Juba to their final destination (probably the airport) and are going the opposite way now, back to Hai Juba.  I have to flag a bus down and hope that there are seats available.  As today, several buses passed me by as I waited because they were full.  Eventually one came along that let people off and then had room.It is just much simpler in my way of thinking than having to deal with bus schedules and if I miss a bus, I may be out of luck for several hours.   And most everyone else in Juba is going by the same transport, so it doesn’t feel isolating.
The second thing that I observed that struck me so much because I’ve been sick and because it is different from what I myself usually see in the states has to do with food.  Garbage is dumped on streets, sometimes in a central pile, but always plastic bags and other things litter the streets in spite of the main area.  While I was buying cabbage and tomatoes from one woman and then potatoes from another, I was aware of how many flies were swarming around me and around the food.  I thought to myself, this is why I must so carefully wash all of the produce in diluted bleach. 
Pictures in my head flashed of the sanitary, almost sterile, supermarkets in the United States where so many millions of people buy produce in nice packages, far away from flies and garbage piles.  But ya know, I do not really know what that produce goes through before it ends up in those nice sanitary packages.  What kind of pesticides are used in the field, how many hands handle the produce as it goes from harvest to warehouse to supermarket shelf?  Perhaps I should be paying more attention to what I eat and how I care for it on the way to my stomach when I am home in the states.
It did remind me of one of the multitude of reasons that I am a vegetarian.  Believe me you, when I travel in Africa or the Middle East or Asia I am so thankful for being a vegetarian!  Meat is cut up on tables in the streets and hung up on outside hooks….but in the states most of us don’t see that part of things.  There are the sterile cellophane wrapped packages at the meat counter in the stores.  There is really no connection with the animals whose lives have been given for a person to eat their flesh.  It is so clean.  So neat.  Not in other parts of the world.  It is real.  The connection is very real.
At the college we are having morning devotionals, the four of us who are here at this point.  I am finding this a very encouraging time.  Hearing a reading of the Scripture, a short interpretation, a short song, prayer requests and then prayer.  As long as it needs to be.  God is patient.