Monday, February 24, 2014

More Lusaka Reflections....

February 24, 2014

I walked into a bookstore today at one of the malls here in Lusaka.  While books may be expensive in the United States they are many times more expensive overseas.  I am always grateful for when I go into bookstores anywhere.

I realized today that as much as I love books, and I do, I can’t books right now because I don’t know where I am going next and I don’t have a home anywhere to take anything to, let alone books.  I also realized that it is possible that my entire library of two bookcases full of books in Malakal may be gone when I return.  I am not willing to invest money in books at a moment in time when I may have lost a library. 

Saturday I went with friends (they drove me) to a once a month cultural market.  It is sponsored by the Dutch Reformed Church.  There is a similar once a month event in Addis Ababa, the NGO Bazaar.  The one in Addis is definitely a fundraiser and the one here in Lusaka is not so much.  The one on this Saturday felt much more touristy as well.  However, I was able to replace several pairs of earrings that I had originally purchased in Nairobi, Kenya.  One of the sellers at this market in Lusaka had many pairs of earrings from artists in Nairobi.  As she said, they have been doing this for a long time and they know what they are doing.  I found some joy in replacing a couple of things that may be lost in Malakal. 

After the market we went back out to the street.  There was a young boy who was limping and following us.  He said, “I’m hungry.”  My friend gave him a bagel, carefully explaining that it was not sweet.  He came up against the van that we were in and when I saw him peering into the van at the family my heart broke.  I had to fight an extremely strong desire to take him home with me.  He was looking in at something he doesn’t have, a family.  And he was cared for by something he doesn’t have, a mother.  That was what I realized, this child needs a mother.  I want to take him home. 

Poverty is dreadful.  Little children should not have to be begging for food.  We don’t have to beg for crumbs from Jesus (although that was done in order that we don’t have to do it) and these little children should not have to be begging for crumbs.  I had a thought today.   I wonder if the powers and the principalities manifest in unjust systems on earth?  That little boy, and the millions of other children like him in the world, should not have to be paying the price for an unjust global system.
In Christ,

Monday, February 17, 2014


February 17, 2014

I’ve been here in Lusaka now for two weeks.  I am deep into lesson planning for the Missiology I course that I will be teaching starting next week.  I have found out that I can get cable tv for a reasonable price and hopefully starting tomorrow I will have that. 

I have lists of things to reflect on for this blog….I need to move on and so I need to take the time right now to do some of the reflecting!

I am pretty convinced by now in my travels of the world that English is a secondary language in whatever country in which it is spoken.  Even in America it is a secondary language because the first languages are the native languages, such as Dakota.  The dominant culture in the United States has succeeded in minimizing the original languages spoken in what is now known as the United States of America to the point where most people think (or at least I did for many years) that English has always been spoken there.  Not so.

I actually don’t know if there are any countries, or cultures, in the world where English is the first language.  Obviously English started somewhere and spread, probably through colonialization and global conquest.  Even in the UK there are first original languages, Irish in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales.  English is secondary.

The point I actually wanted to make in this blog entry is that languages put (most) Americans to shame.  Here I am in Lusaka and listening to the accented English of the Zambians and realizing day after day that English is not their first language.  When groups get up to sing in chapel on Friday mornings here at the Theological University College they often speak in their “mother” tongue, the tongue of their original people group. 

I first realized in Khartoum, Sudan, that all of my students knew at least two languages, English and their original mother tongue from their people group.  Many of them also knew Arabic and many of them knew several people group languages.  Then I was told how many languages Sudan had, it numbered in the hundreds.  I was, and am, in awe.

As a country we Americans need to find a way to make learning secondary languages more accessible and possible.  Language learning gives us a common ground with so much of the rest of the world.  I know a little bit of a few languages, so at least I can say, “I know a little bit of German, or Spanish, or Chinese, or Arabic.”  But I don’t have them mastered the way that most people in most countries have their secondary languages mastered.  And it is most people.  The colonizers, the ones who originally brought English into most of the countries around the world, are usually in a minority.  The minority language becomes the official language and thus becomes spoken by the majority as well.  Often the minority population that brought the official language does not learn the language(s) of the majority but the majority must learn the minority group language in order to access government services, medical care, education, etc.

I hope this has been a useful reflection.  More soon…

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ruminations in Lusaka.

February 6, 2014

I’ve been here in Zambia for a few days now.  I am going to share with you some of the observations I am making as I learn more about the world and also about the African continent.

It is fairly clear to me that most people do not know what goes on in the world beyond their daily bubble.  It is also fairly clear that this is because most people are absorbed in the goings on in their daily bubbles.  I am not sure where this absorption comes from.  Why are there some people who want to know what is going on in the bigger world?  Why are there some people who seek out knowledge by reading or watching television or by finding other people to talk with, dialogue with, learn with and learn from?  I have noticed from my childhood that there are people who want their bubbles to remain closed and tight and others who almost seem to be called by God to strip the bubbles away and seek out a larger world that stretches and transforms them.

In seminary I learned about the local, the national and the global.  There are at least three different contexts that affect each person in the world.  In some places in the world, such as currently in South Sudan, the daily and the local require constant attention in order to just survive.  In more developed and peaceful places in the world, such as Zambia, the same could perhaps be true except that it has to do with making sure that the bubble isn’t threatened.  People who live in a peaceful world must keep it that way by paying attention and making sure that threats don’t enter into the prosperity.

(I just found out that there is no recycling here in Lusaka.  What a pity.)

If we look at the life of Jesus we can see our model for bursting the bubble and living a life outside of our comfort zone.  We can also see the results, after all, he ended up dead on a cross.  Even before Jesus in the Old Testament (the Hebrew Testament) we see people who burst the bubble and lived outside their comfort zone, after all we have the witness of the Prophets.  Scary, scary to be a prophet.  Most of them ended up dead too.  Granted we will all end up dead in the end, but isn’t the fantasy to die peacefully in one’s sleep?  Not at the end of a gun or a missile?
My first day here someone told me that southern Africa (this includes Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc.) is in a different world from East Central Africa.  I take this to mean that they are in a prosperous bubble, although someone else told me that within the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, where I am currently residing as a resident alien, the poverty rate is 20%.  Outside of Lusaka, in the rest of Zambia, the poverty rate is 80%.  Maybe the bubble isn’t quite as thick where the prosperity isn’t shared quite as much.

So I have now figured out that East Central Africa is probably where South Sudan is located.  While south Africa has benefitted from the progressive West,  East Central Africa has adopted things like wearing men’s suits in 110 degree weather, but does not have the marks of prosperity like huge modern sterile shopping centers. 

East Central Africa must include as well countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad, etc.  I say this based on the fact that I continue to read that the countries surrounding South Sudan are concerned not only for the people of South Sudan but also about the possibility of regional unrest.  I take this to mean that the domino affect could come into play.  One country’s government falls, perhaps the next country’s government falls, etc.  So that the African Union becomes involved to shore up the falling/failing/frailing infrastructure that is barely holding South Sudan together in order that the entire region does not fall into disarray.

I am not a politician so I am sorting this out from my own perspective as someone whose bubble has been burst many years ago and tries to understand the world from the perspective of the wounded people on the ground. 

The term the West is another interesting phenomena.  The West somewhat implies looking to the West on a world map.  However, Europe is also “progressive” and Europe is really to the North of Africa.  Pretty much right above it on the world maps that I look at.  There is another term for the upper part of the globe that I cannot think of at this moment, and that term takes into account both the global North and the global West.  Why is it that the global South has been so gypped?  And are they really gypped or is that just by European and American standards that we see those areas of the globe in that way?
Back to the beginning of today’s ruminating.  I am experiencing a bubble here in south Africa, in Zambia.  I am not comfortable with this bubble.  While I used to think that I was more comfortable with the prosperity of the Western world, and the places where colonization has brought that prosperity, I don’t think this is the case any longer.  I am beginning to think that perhaps I am not comfortable anywhere anymore.

I have liked Nairobi because the marks of colonization are very evident there.  It is HUGE, GIGANTIC, the outskirts of the mega city seem to go on for miles.  The shopping centers are western meccas of wealth and the enormous variety of products that makes me almost nauseus after so long away from them.  I find myself being overwhelmed and thinking that perhaps the little country stores in the United States that are attached to gas stations are more manageable for me now.

I have not so much liked Addis Ababa in Ethiopia because it has seemed too foreign to me.  Ethiopia is the only country that was not colonized.  This is said of Liberia as well but it isn’t true.  Former African slaves from the United States colonized Liberia and made the indigenous Africans who lived there into their slaves. 

Ethiopia has seemed too foreign to me and I have not been totally comfortable there.  But now I am beginning to think that it is more comfortable than south Africa. 

South Sudan is another story altogether.  Juba, the capital of South Sudan, is not huge and gigantic (yet) like Addis Ababa or Nairobi or Lusaka.  It is however huge and gigantic compared to Malakal, or at least what Malakal was like when I last saw it on December 7th, 2013.  I think it has changed since having a war played out over its streets the last two months. 

Malakal is the capital of the Upper Nile States.  This is one of the oil producing states and Malakal is very close to the border with Sudan.  I had heard from people that Malakal was of strategic importance because it was a major garrison town during the civil war when South Sudan was part of Sudan and the north and south were at war.  Now I understand more what this really meant.  Malakal is on the Nile River and Malakal also has a paved airstrip at its airport.  These two things make it accessible and desirable for warring parties to possess.

Malakal also has been neglected.  Life there is very difficult which may be why one daydreams about the other cities in Africa.  But the reality of real life is not the same as daydreams.  I don’t like bubbles.  I don’t do well with people who don’t want to see beyond the safe walls that they have built around their prosperity and their little tiny local worlds. 

So where do I belong?  I suspect that the answer is back in Malakal, South Sudan.  Because I can actually make a difference there.  And without making a difference, what point is there in living?

I must add a caveat here.  These thoughts are about me, myself and I and do not reflect on other people who ARE making a difference here in Lusaka.  I am just realizing that I have a different calling, that is all.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lusaka, Zambia

February 2, 2014

I arrived yesterday, February 1, 2014, in Lusaka Zambia.  Between December 13th and February 1st I was in Addis Ababa.

I had planned to leave Addis Ababa on January 6th and fly back to Juba, then fly from Juba to Malakal on January 7th.  I would then have had until February 10th for working on my UNISA degree program, sorting through my things and packing for my move to another house on the church compound in Malakal and doing final preparations for the Theology II class which I was to teach for the Concentrated Course at the Nile Theological College.

Instead violence broke out in Juba on December 15th and by December 16th my own world began to change.  The worlds of many other thousands of people in South Sudan were changing at the same time as my own.  Thousands of people lost their lives, their earthly worlds abruptly came to an end.  Thousands of people became internally displaced within South Sudan itself, fleeing to and taking shelter at United Nations Compounds in places such as Juba and Malakal.  Thousands of people became refugees in other countries such as Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.

On a personal basis this has been a difficult time for myself.  I have had little news on the fate of many colleagues and students.  I know that a handful of each are safe and alive.  The compound where I live in Malakal has been sheltering 2,000 people and the compound at the BAM Center where the Nile Theological College has been located has been sheltering 4,000 people. 

Since I left Malakal for only four weeks (one week in Juba working on and obtaining a six month visa with the help of a local pastor there and then three weeks in Addis Ababa) I left with limited supplies, including clothing and medicine.  I had also packed very few summer clothing items as I was in Juba for only a week and then was going to a cool climate in Addis Ababa where I had stored clothes made for me by a local group of disabled women who have wonderful tailoring abilities.  Now I am in Lusaka and it is warm here.  I will have to sacrifice myself and find a way to get clothes made for yet another climate:)

This also means that the lion’s share of my belongings are in Malakal and I do not know whether they have been safe from looting or if I will find them stolen or destroyed upon my return.  This includes my two bookcases of books.  It also includes a wonderful collection of colorful African dresses made for me by tailors in Sudan and South Sudan as well as in Ghana. 

Just in a few hours in Lusaka I have realized more things about Africa and why it is a continent that is hard for Americans to truly comprehend.  There are well over 50 languages spoken here in Zambia.  It occurred to me yesterday that if all of the original languages of all the people groups in the United States were spoken today that we too would have many, many languages spoken.  This would, I assume, begin with the Native American languages.  It would expand to include all of the Asian, African, European and Latin American languages of all of our people groups who make up America.  Instead somehow at least I always seem to think of America as a homogenous group of people with only one language, English.  Upon deeper thought, this simply is not so.

I am also acutely aware that Ethiopia is the only African nation that was never colonized.  This is said about Liberia as well but the truth, in my eyes, is that Liberia was colonized by former African slaves from the United States.  Those former slaves became the oppressors of Liberia and turned the native Liberians into slaves, as happens in so many places in the world.  Israel was created because of the oppression of the Jews and now the Jews oppress the Palestinians, etc. 

So far Ethiopia is the African country in which I am least comfortable.  Having examined myself in this I believe it is because it is not the least bit European in character and I find my comfort zone in the countries that bear the marks of, say, the United Kingdom.  I have heard it said that Ethiopia believes it not like the rest of Africa.  It is true.  It was not colonized by other nations and therefore does not bear the marks of that intrusion.  And for myself it is the marks of that intrusion that makes other countries perhaps more international and more familiar to me.  I am not saying that this is a good thing on my part.  I am just acknowledging that reality of what I recognize in myself. 

It is rainy season here in Lusaka.  I am enjoying the sound of the rain on the roof and the windows of the house.  I suspect that when I walk outside I will not be threated by the kind of mud that clay ground creates when it is wet.  In Malakal the ground is apparently clay and clay does not absorb water, instead it becomes a mud that a person sinks into.  The time I fell in the mud in Malakal my boots had stayed in one place and I had continued to move forward and so my body was not able to stay upright.  Boom!  I don’t think that this is going to happen in Lusaka.  And for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sermon on South Sudan preached in Addis Ababa on December 29, 2013.

“The Creation of a New Creation”
Leviticus 26:3-22
Revelation 21:1-8
Anuak Worship
December 29, 2013
Rev. Debbie Blane

The message from these lectionary readings has been clear to me since I first read them on Monday of last week.  I knew that the sermon was to be about South Sudan.  I just wasn’t sure about preaching a sermon about South Sudan in Ethiopia.  During the week I received different signs of confirmation that this would be appropriate.  In a sense, as the river that flows between South Sudan and Gambella,  the Baro River  on the Ethiopian side and the Sobat River on the South Sudanese side, is a fluid boundary between South Sudan and Gambella in Ethiopia, the troubles of the one country are the troubles of the other country.  In addition to that, this sermon is about something much more universal.  It is about human sin and the impact that this sin has on people who are innocent civilian bystanders.

I do not believe that our God visits evil upon God’s people.  I do believe though that God takes what is meant for evil and uses it for good.

Looking at our first Scripture reading for this morning in Leviticus, we go back to ancient Biblical times in our search for answers for today.  In Leviticus chapter 26:3-12 we have a picture of what God wanted for the Israelites.    Verse 12 says, “I am the Lord your God , who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” 

In using the principle of applying Scripture to our own lives in the here and the now this could be God speaking to South Sudan.  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Sudan so that you would no longer be slaves to the people of Sudan; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.

The hopes that God has for God’s people include abundant crops and peace in the land; still very relevant for today’s world.

When we read on to Leviticus 26:13-22 we see what happens when God’s people ignore God and do whatever they want to one another and to the land.  I have come to understand that God does not do horrible things to us, WE do horrible things to ourselves when we ignore the good ways that God has provided for us to live with one another. 

South Sudan received the gift of independence from the oppressive yoke of the Sudanese government in Khartoum.  The problem is that the many ethnic groups of South Sudan are no longer focused on a common enemy as they were for decades focused on Sudan.  Now that they no longer have a common enemy they are turning in upon themselves and one ethnic group is fighting another ethnic group.  They have not yet become South Sudanese, they are Dinka and Nuer and Anuak and Shilluck, etc., etc. 

I am going to refer briefly here to Genesis 1 and 2 and the beautiful garden that God created for humanity.  When we look at those Scripture passages we can see that God’s intentions for human beings are always positive, creative and uplifting.  It is when we, as God’s creation, turn away from our Creator,  that our lives morally disintegrate and descend into chaos.

So we know that God’s good intentions for us are for peace and abundance.  And we know that when we as human beings turn away from God’s good intentions for us we descend into chaos and do unspeakable things to one another.  We behead people, we rape women and little children, we murder men on the basis of their scarification marks or the language that comes from their mouths when they speak.  These are not the ways that our God has taught us in Jesus Christ to be with one another.

When we turn to our reading of Revelation 21:1-8 we see what the future will hold for the people of God.  We see the creation of a new creation.   We see that what was originally intended as a peaceful garden for two people has now been transformed into a healing city for the world. 

The original intention, the original creation, was destroyed by human beings.  In its place is a new creation, a new vision, a new way for human beings to relate to one another.    And, just as in the garden at the beginning of time in Genesis, God is in the midst of it all.

If we apply this vision of a new thing, a new creation to the country of South Sudan that is currently disintegrating into chaos and human made disaster, we may begin to see and acknowledge that sometimes the chaos that exists must be destroyed in order to make way for the new thing that God is creating. 

While God did not call forth the fighting, the butchering of human life and disregard for property and creation, it is possible that God will work through this sinfulness to purge South Sudan of the elements that are preventing the country from becoming a unified country that desires peace above tribalism, factionalism and self-centered power plays. 

As the garden with two people was destroyed by sin and will be re-created and transformed into a peaceful and healing city for a world full of people, perhaps the spectre in South Sudan of two little boys with loaded guns holding a country hostage behind the bars of a horrible yoke, will be re-created and transformed into a peaceful and healing country known for the unity of its people that are called South Sudanese; instead of for division and tribalism.

Let us pray that the transformative power of the Holy Spirit through the Scripture can bring the country of South Sudan into the will of our God for a people that are living in peace with one another and with the rest of the world.   Let us pray for a country that contributes to the world instead of needing the world to contribute to it on a chronic basis. 

Let us pray for the healing of the sin sickness of South Sudan and at the same time pray for the healing of the sin sickness of so many other places in the world such as Syria and Turkey and Egypt.

When there are grown men holding guns to the heads of one another and the citizens of their countries we really are looking at the brutality of little boys playing with loaded pistols.  It is only God we can call upon to help those little boys heal and mature into useful and God fearing citizens of their countries and the world.  Or God may choose to remove those children from power and put into positions of governance servant leaders who already understand what it means to love and serve the Lord and the Lord’s people. 

This is not only a message for South Sudan, it is a message for the world.  Our sinfulness causes pain to ourselves and other people.  It also causes pain to our God because our God had a garden and has a city ready for us.  Our God had a garden and a city ready for us for a different purpose.  God wants us to lay down our guns, to stop fighting and shedding blood and hurting one another.  Our God wants to wipe every tear from our eyes so that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  For our God wants the old order of things to pass away.  Revelation 21:5a says, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”    Revelation 21:6 says, “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

Our God has such good plans for us!  Let us pray that we as human beings can let go of our selfish, self centered ways and ask for Jesus to heal us and transform us into the mature servants that the Holy Spirit envisions for us.  Let us pray that we can put away our guns and stop hurting one another.  Let us pray that we are able to walk away from the bars of our yokes when God breaks those bars and sets us free.  Help us Oh God not to remain prisoners even when we are healed, but to walk with our heads held high and leave those bars behind.  Let us prayer to take on the servant yoke of Jesus.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

September to December, 2013 posts....

December 8, 2013

I’m in Juba now.  It is amazing what some rest in a cooler (a/c) environment can do for the body.

Two of the things that I think are worth addressing in this blog before I post it to help bring you all into conversation with things that folks in the developing world face are:  the monotony of survival food and the issue of water.

Digging around in old emails the other day I ran across one which dealt with a SNAP challenge.  SNAP is the Food Stamp Program in the United States, although I admit that I do not know what the acronym stands for.

This was a challenge that a number of Presbyterians undertook; to live on the amount of money a Food Stamp recipient receives, for a week.  One of the comments apprising the challenge was the monotony of the food required to be eaten when living on such a small sum.

This is a daily fact of life in Malakal.  According to the United Nations, food security means having at least one meal a day.  Food insecurity means a meal every two or three days.  Breast feeding mothers who do not receive enough calories are not going to be able to sustain their babies.  Some marriages in South Sudan assume that the labor of the wife will provide two meals of porridge per day for her husband.  This includes grinding the grain and cooking it into the porridge.  Morning and evening.

I did not understand until I landed in Khartoum in 2009 that the “basic four food groups” were an invention of the developed world.  I had trouble comprehending that some people were not eating vegetables and fruits not because they didn’t like them, but because they had no access to them.  They may have been available but they were not within the family food budget. 

I remember the first Easter Retreat that I went on with the college.  There were very spare meals and no “snacks” available in between those meals.  When I asked where the snacks were someone politely pointed out to me that it is only rich organizations that can afford to make food, or bottled water, available to people between meal times.  That was a wake up call for me.  The people in Malakal, many, many of them, eat the same thing everyday.  They purchase a bag of say sorghum (which by the way in its raw form is a grain with many colors) and hopefully cooking oil to give it a better taste and they eat this day after day after day.  It sustains life, barely. 

Water is hauled from the Nile River in jerry cans on the heads of women.  I am fortunate because I can afford to buy Nile River water and clean water (somehow treated and better for the going through my Katedyn water filter system) that is brought to me by men on bicycles.  People who can afford to buy water also sometimes receive it through metal cylinders that are hauled by donkeys, the donkey cart. 

I know that my relationship with water has changed.  I watched something the other day, probably a movie on my computer, that showed people watering lawns.  I was appalled.  I realized that I was having trouble watching such an abundance of water being used to keep GRASS green when women have to haul water on their heads in jerry cans from the Nile River here in South Sudan.

For the three months that I have been back in Malakal I have longed for running water.  Now in the hotel I have it.  There is water in the facuet in the bathroom sink, there is a shower with water coming out of it.  There is a toilet that flushes without my having to pour a jerry can of water down it.  Today I emptied my travel kettle water leftover from my morning coffee down the sink and realized I shouldn’t have done that, it was a waste of water. 

I can once again properly rinse out my toothbrush.  I have discovered that is very difficult to rinse a toothbrush out one handedly, holding a pitcher in one hand and the toothbrush in the other and trying to get any excess paste out of it.  It never comes clean.  I supposed part of the lesson in this is that I have begun to use less toothpaste than I used to. 

I am concerned about what is going to happen when I return to the United States to begin a new life there.  I know that I am going to have to start from scratch finding a new home, a new community, friends, creating new rhythms of life and cooking in new and different ways.  I also know that I will have to endure re-entry shock and I know that it will not be easy.  I know this because going from a country where the majority of the people have not benefitted from “foreign aid”, where there is hunger and where water is a scarce commodity and where women die from the complications of child birth, where easily preventable diseases are flourishing and going to a country where the majority of people are not suffering from lack of but instead from an abundance of, is just plain going to be a difficult spiritual journey.

Someone told me that a person had taken a picture of the mud in Malakal a few months ago during the height of rainy season.  That person posted the picture to the internet and was soon thereafter arrested.

Recently there was a situation where people washed their hands with soap and water in a basin and then that water was used to wash dishes.  People defecate and urinate in the Nile River and yet it is a primary source of drinking water for the people here.  And it is drunk direct from the source, there are no water treatment plants for the water that the majority of the people drink. 

Malaria and typhoid are everywhere.  If people urinate and defecate in an open field one could assume that eventually those materials make it into the ground water so that if someone is using a well as a source of water they are being exposed to waterborne diseases, such as typhoid.

There are many others things of which I could speak but I will stop here.  For the people with whom I will be in conversation I would ask that you remember to have patience with me.  I have seen things and experienced things that many people in the United States will never see or experience.  I am changed, I am different.  My adjustment will be difficult and I need to be met with patience and love. 

December 1, 2013

I’ll be going to Juba in five days and will be able to “file” this blog so I want to catch up a little….

One of things we take for granted in the developed world is birth certificates, and with that the knowledge of the exact date and time of our entry into the world.  There are many, many people in the world who have no idea when they were born.  Some tribal chiefs can identify people by who their parents are, the chiefs know the entire lineage of the tribe or clan.   Sometimes they can help identify a year, or near to the year by way of a major marker; such as, I was born in the year of the great flood, and then finding out when the great flood took place. 

Many of my students list January 1 as their birthday because they have absolutely no idea when the real birthday is.  I was contemplating yesterday that perhaps the Western notion of celebrating birthdays seems odd to people here as so many of them have probably never considered doing something like that.  It is enough that the mother survived and the baby survived.  Or perhaps just the baby survived.  Because often enough in this world neither survives.

I am having challenges beyond the normal challenges is doing the doctoral work upon which I have embarked.  These challenges, which include lack of cooling devices in hot weather, lack of light inside dark rooms that makes it difficult to study, and lack of a diet of healthy food with a good variety.  There is also endless singing and drumming due to the location of the house on the church compound.  So lack of quiet in which to undertake the work.

This is making me contemplate American life.  I know people who undertake graduate and postgraduate study in the states while continuing their regular lives, versus people who are able to take a period of time away from Monday through Friday responsibilities.  This is a difficult way to earn a degree.  In the United States we do have the week-ends, or at least most of us do, and yet they are often eaten by all of the things left undone during the week. 

We have occasional holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And then there is paid vacation time if a person is extremely fortunate.  This usually does not exceed 30 days. 

Our lives in the United States are geared towards retirement.  The 40 years or so between high school or college graduation and retirement can be like flavorless wafers….we are working machines geared towards elevating the GDP and eventually retiring so that we can pursue other interests in what time we have left on this earth.

I wish that there was something between the two extremes of South Sudanese barrenness and American meaninglessness.  I believe that this is where prayer for fruitful change and transformation comes into the picture. 


October 26, 2013

Bats, bats, bats, everywhere bats.  And their poop.

We have now discovered in our little house one of the legacies of the civil war when South Sudan was a part of Sudan.  No one had the time to think of the bats and thus the bats were left in peace to multiply by the thousands.  I have now learned from the locals here that they are extremely tenacious.  I am hopeful that there is a way to actually get rid of them that does not involve tearing the house down and rebuilding it, because I doubt that that will happen. 

I believe that as with other species of wildlife bats do not have bones as they are able to become flat and do feats that put magicians to shame, such as entering rooms through the spaces beneath the doors.  I am quite sure that Hudeini never accomplished something like that.

They both walk and extend their wings and fly.  Kind of like an amphibious vehicle that can both be a boat and a car.  If they weren’t so awful and didn’t leave their poop everywhere they would be rather a marvel of nature I suppose.  But no, I do not appreciate them.

October 17, 2013

I have realized today how hard up I am for good, critical news.  The man at the little store where I bought toilet paper today was wrapping it up with a piece of newspaper.  A story on another piece caught my eye and I asked if I could take that piece.  They are very good pieces of journalism.  I didn’t realize we could get papers from the Gulf States, for instance.  Then came the haha! Moment….distinct from an ah hah moment…..I looked at the date on the scraps and it is Tuesday, November 20, 2012…..haha!  Jokes on me!  Still good writing and very interesting….not the up-to-date commentary that my soul was seeking out……

Bits and pieces….the other day someone cut some of the grass here at the house with a scythe….a metal instrument with a blade.  I wonder if I will be able to adjust to “lawn mowers”?  I realized after he had cut just a little bit that I haven’t smelled the scent of fresh cut lawn in a very, very long time.

I also realized the other day that I have never seen anyone here wearing blue jeans, or jeans of any hue for that matter.

October 8, 2013

Hard won lesson on bat removal.  When the holes are all plugged up bats are still going to be in the house.  They will no longer be able to go out at night through their familiar routes.  No bats can get back into the house but the bats that are already there are then going to begin flying around the interior of the house.  Until they are all killed they will continue to fly around inside at night.

October 5, 2013

Oddest thing.  I have started to re-watch The Flame Trees of Thika on DVD.  I realized tonight while watching it that the British folks who are shown bringing their “refined” ways of life into turn of the 20th century Kenya are representative of one way that colonialization took place.  The Kenyan locals, the indigenous people, found themselves working for these foreign whites.  The whites became the rich and powerful within Kenya, as within most colonized countries that experienced folks coming in from other countries to maintain their way of life in a new setting.

I also realized tonight that school for children is a way of socializing children into the expectations of society.  If a child is going to be prepared to enter into the advanced educational system of their own native land they must be brought up in a primary and secondary system that prepares them for that.  And, again, teaches them how to integrate within their own culture.

October 4, 2013

It is interesting to observe myself getting very excited over a mirror.  I find it is hard to properly maintain dental hygiene without a mirror.

I also find that brushing teeth has an intimate feeling to it and I prefer not to brush my teeth when there are men in the same area of the house that I am – namely, by the sink.

A couple of days ago a conversation with someone triggered an entirely new train of thought.  The newest visitor to the guesthouse came through Juba first, as most people do.  He told me that he had observed that this year more Arabic was being spoken.  Last year people were struggling to speak English.  This year here in Malakal the mosque is sounding the call to prayers, apparently last year it was not doing so. 

I have heard that there are second thoughts about making English the official language as, for instance, so many current government officials went through school in Khartoum, in Arabic.  I found myself hoping that the country would not go back to Arabic because Arabic brings a culture with it and it would be an “easy” way for the new country to get sucked back into the Arabic/Islamic culture of North Africa.  Better to move forward into something new.

Then I realized that I think of English as the language of the free world.  It is the language that is spoken in places where democracy governs.  And then, even later in this thinking process, I thought:  I suppose that English brings a culture of its own and I am just blind to that because I am a part of it.

Just as with Arabic, English is the language of oppression.  English is also a language of access.  Mostly only the educated in a country where it is not the native, or first, tongue, know English.  As in the Philippines, it is the language of the educated, the language to get access to government services and medical care, the language to move out of poverty. 

I suppose also that English is the language of colonization.  Now granted the Arabs that swept out of the Arabian Penninsula in the 7th century, bringing Islam, the Arabic language and a new culture to North Africa, were colonizers as well as brutal participants in the slave trade and brutal slave masters of the black Africans.  When I think of colonization I guess that I think of America and then, even higher on the list, the British and the British Empire.  Although when I was in Great Britain in 2006 I admit that I was stunned to find out that for many people English was not the first language….Irish, Gaelic and Welsh were (or would have been centuries ago) the first language for many.  Of course then this would also bring us round to the issue of language….from whence did English first originate in the first place?  How many lands that speak English now began with English?  Even in the United States English was an imported language….the European colonizers brought it with them.  The people that populated North America before they were brutally subdued and forced into small reservations did not originally speak English, each people group had their own language. 

When I think of the British Empire and I consider places like Australia and New Zealand then I recognize that even though English is spoken there and I have always considered them British, the people who originally inhabited those lands were simply not white Europeans. 

Ethiopia was never colonized.  The country fought a brutal war with the Italians for five years, and the Italians lost.  I wonder if that is why Ethiopians feel that they are not African.  They have, I suppose, been influenced and shaped by other cultures like all of us have, through trade and exposure to missionaries and dealings with foreign governments.  But they have never been ruled by a foreign power and had their lives formed into something that is alien.  Their native languages are the languages spoken in the country.  Because Ethiopia has become the home country for the African Union pressure was put on them to adapt in some ways to what has become the received African culture and now there are some street signs, etc., that use English as well as the majority language of Amharic that is native to Ethiopia. 

I found that I preferred Nairobi to either Khartoum or Addis Ababa when I was living in Khartoum.  In the final analysis this makes sense to me.  Khartoum is Arabic and Addis Ababa has not been colonized.  Whereas Nairobi is fairly European.  I guess this says more about me and my own comfort zone.
Blessings, Debbie

September 15, 2013

The internet situation here in Malakal is proving challenging.  When I got back to town the modem that I had recently purchased from a departing teacher would not get any kind of a signal.  It had worked perfectly before I had left and I had assumed I was all set up for resuming internet connections upon my return.

Turns out that the government in Khartoum shut those modems down.  Nada.  So, after a week of trying everything I could think of, including new SIM cards, two folks took me to a shop in Malakal where I purchased a supposedly unlocked modem (we’ll see, says the skeptic) and the SIM card that was used before and that had worked before was  inserted. 

Surprise, surprise.  There is a signal, an indication that internet is available, but no connection.  I took the computer somewhere else after church today.  Turns out that no one is able to use the modems on their computers, the only things that work here are iphones and ipads, neither of which I currently have. 

A kind soul got me into the local hotel and using the wireless internet there.  I don’t know how often that will be available to me, but it was sheer relief to spend a couple of hours on line going through gmails and deleting all of the things that had piled up that there is simply no time to look at, or that is just plain junk.

September 9, 2013

Well, well, well.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse here I showed up at the Nile Theological College and the heavens opened and began pouring rain.  My students and I could not hear each other for the pounding and we could not see anything for the darkness.  This lasted for the first one and a half hours of class.  After our one hour “breakfast” break the rain subsided and we could hear and see to varying degrees.

My guard was late this morning.  The driver didn’t show up.  The student that lives at the compound where I reside helped me get to the taxi station and we took a taxi to the college.  I told my students that I need them to be on time because we must have some order in the chaos that is Malakal.  Okay, the truth is that I must have some order in this, the chaos of Malakal.

There are still no roads that would improve the lives of the citizens here.  There is money and the already rich are eating it.  I was told that if anyone says anything they may be killed.  The church is complicit because the church has become the government and no longer speaks up for the people and the needs of the people.  Beware, it is in this kind of time that God calls up prophets. 

Oh Malakal, oh land of South Sudan, beware.  It is in these times like the times of the Judges of old, when everyone is doing what they want to do, that God calls up prophets.  When human beings are deaf, blind and dumb and do what is best for themselves and not their neighbors, then God calls up prophets.  Beware.

September 8, 2013

I am out of internet contact for the moment and don’t know when I will be able to post my blog entries for the time being, probably not until Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in December.

I have some random thoughts and observations.  I begin with the number of children that I see in Africa who are fending for themselves.  I saw this in South Africa and in Addis Ababa and I see it too in Malakal.  People who say that in the continent of Africa there are no street children because of the community ethos (everyone takes care of the children) are misinformed.  If there is no food at home, for a variety of reasons, there is no reason to stay at home.  It is heart breaking to have little boys and little girls making the universal gesture for food outside of cars in traffic, or on the side of roads.  It is one hand with all the fingers put together (extended, not in a fist) and thrust towards the mouth.

Someone has dropped the ball on these kids.  Someone is not living up to their responsibility for them.  A child is not supposed to have to be responsible for him or herself.  In Addis Ababa last week someone told me that the two little girls who came up to our car had come to the city  from the village.  They put up their bare feet to ask for shoes and their hands to ask for food.  Their smiles were very engaging.  All I could feel was anger at the parents who had deserted them.  If they are orphans then it is for the country that has deserted them.

I have seen this in other countries as well, in other forms.   I have a vivid memory of being outside of Petra, in Jordan.  There the children were carrying handfuls, strings of beads and such things as perhaps the traders once tried to entice the American Indians with upon invading the land that became the United States.  Cheap trinkets that they hound tourists to purchase.   Perhaps even so it is a form of begging and it certainly isn’t what they should be doing.  They should be in school.  When these hordes of children appear everywhere that there is tourism, hounding, badgering, annoying, it is the sign of not only a sick economy but a stricken family life and civil society. 

This is not to excuse or minimize the neglect that many, many children in the United States experience on a daily basis.  I am sharing what I have seen in other countries, not in the United States.  But I don’t want to give anyone the excuse of, “Oh see what is like everywhere else, we aren’t so bad….”  Yes we are.  Neglect of children is the neglect of children.  And it is caused by sin and poor choices.   I suspect that I should clarify that statement as well.  When I say sin this could be the sin that is visited upon someone by someone else.  Say the sin of the spouse in a domestic violence situation where a parent is rendered emotionally unable to care for the children.  Hopefully you get a glimpse of what I am saying.

The sermon this morning was interesting.  I realize now that there are at least three ways to do a sermon.  Topically, where a preacher picks a subject and jumps all over Scripture to prove the point.  Exegetically, pulling the meaning out of the Scripture.  And then there is looking at the Scripture and applying today to the Scripture.  Instead of the Scripture to today, today to the Scripture.  I may have done that once myself.

One of the sermon points was that the women are leaving the villages.  The villages are left without the resources that the women bring to it.  What can we do?  the preacher asked.  I thought, give the women Theological Education.  Give them something meaningful to live for.  Praise the resources that they are taking away from the village.  Are they ever appreciated?  If they aren’t, why not leave?

The second point that I particularly noticed was the discussion about leadership qualities.  This included bravery.  I made a comment to the man sitting next to me who was translating for me and he asked me in all seriousness, “are women brave?”  The point was that a leader must be brave and bravery is measured by male standards, by the MEN who decide what it is to be brave.  I told the man of course we are.  An incomplete answer is that women alone face childbirth, would a man have the courage to do that?  Of course not!  It is an incomplete answer of course because not all women endure childbirth, but in my opinion, all women are brave.

I thought to myself during the sermon that all of the qualities that so-called .leaders are supposed to have are found in women as well.  Why don’t the men bother to contemplate what it means to be a mother?  She feeds her children, she protects them, hopefully she encourages them and advises them.  A family is a miniature village.  But men are looking for the biggest muscles and the most kills, be it human or animal.  They are not looking for who stayed up all night with a sick child or spouse.  They are not looking for who does without so that the rest have enough.  Or who has to put up with the cultural humiliation of being fed last even though she is the one that prepared the food.

My suspicion is that the reason the man asked that question is that all of the women he knows have been socialized into believing that they are not brave, and everyone around them has been socialized into believing that with them.  When the normal “brave” looks one way to the people who happen to BE brave in that way, it is going to be a process of growth and transformation to come to the recognition and acknowledgement that BRAVE can look differently and act differently in different people.  Brave, or any other characteristic, does not come in one-size-fits-all.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


September 3, 2013

I want to explain further why food is so expensive in South Sudan.  It is an issue of food insecurity and a lack of infrastructure.

People do not want to grow crops because chances are that someone will come along and steal the fruits of their labor.  This includes the military and police forces because they still need to come to an understanding that their function is to protect people and not to benefit from people. 

There are also very few miles of road in South Sudan and during the rainy season most of those miles are impassable because of the muddy road conditions.  Therefore crops that are grown, if there is excess that might have gone to market to help feed other people, rot where they are.

Food must be imported from Kenya, Ethiopia or Uganda.  It is brought up the Nile River or, sometimes, flown into Malakal.  This makes is very expensive. 

I am seeing the imprint of what has become known as Toxic Charity on Africa.  One manifestation of that in Ethiopia is that local Ethiopian people literally beg from white people school tuition fees for their children.  The school system in Ethiopia, as in most African countries, is very poor.  People want to send their children to private schools in order to obtain a good education for them and launch them into their lives with the ability to make a good living.  One of the problems I see with education being financed by foreigners in this way is that the Ethiopian, or the South Sudanese, or the South African, people are not rising up and demanding that the governments provide a good education within the public schooling system. 

Well meaning people are helping to keep a broken system in place.

September 2, 2013

I sat with a Chinese man at the South Sudan Embassy office last week when we were both applying for visas into South Sudan.  We were going into the country for very different reasons and at the same time we had a very enjoyable conversation.  His English was excellent and I have lived in Nanjing so there was a good basis for that conversation.

One of the many things that we discussed was colonialization.  He felt that first the Dutch, then the English and then the United States had conquered the world.  Both of us agreed with the assessment that many of the world’s problems can be laid at the doorstep of the British. 

He said something from his unique Chinese perspective that I found intriguing.  I also admired him for saying it as in my time in China, Chinese people are very rarely critical of their own history or their country.  He said that in two thousand years that his own people had been a part of the blood thirst and murdering that comes with colonialization.  Chinese civilization began as a very small area of land and over the course of that two thousand years people groups were conquered and absorbed and China grew into the country that it is today.

Moving on from that particular conversation one of the things I gave thought to this week was the costs of imported goods.  I had found cheap and sweet, ripe Golden Delicious apples in Pretoria.  I found GD apples here in Addis Ababa for about twice the cost.  I was told that they are imported and that accounts for the cost.  That gave rise to the realization that apples must be grown in South Africa and although I was told that Ethiopia does grow some apples, the particular ones that I was eyeing were apparently not home grown. 

Now, I thought about the fact that we have imported food in the United States.  I know that this is true because say in the Seattle area, we will have food that is “out of season”.  Often times these foods will come from a Latin America country and what I have noticed is that usually they are fairly cheap.  This gave rise to the thought that probably the difference in the costs of the imported goods in Africa and in the United States has to do with treaties.  I have often heard it said in social justice circles that Fair Trade agreements are not so fair to the people who are pawns in the government games of tariffs and subsidized food goods, etc.,  going across international borders.  I am also aware that most food in South Sudan is imported and it is very, very expensive.

There is also the problem of foods that are subsidized by governments that can be sold very cheaply going into countries where the indigenous people are trying to earn a living by selling their home grown crops.  When they cannot compete with the prices of the cheap imports there is another initiative towards independence that is thwarted.