Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Border Closing Causes Price Increases

Dear Friends,
From China to Khartoum to Malakal I have found that the best way to get around is with my students.

I thank God for giving me students in all of my places of oversea services who are generous with their time. It is also a good way to fellowship and talk in a more relaxed manner.

Today Buay and I ventured by the local taxi into downtown Malakal. The price had gone up from 2 pounds to 3 pounds. That was just the first shock!

My first stop was the bank where we spent an hour. Again I thank God, this time it is for air conditioning. I am also very grateful that my money wires seem to coming through from the United States without a hitch now. In the beginning, it was very, very difficult to get money out of the states by wire through my bank account there. The US government held the first wire my daughter sent me. For some reason the banking system thinks that South Sudan is still a part of Sudan. Even though my bank is the Kenya Commercial Bank and the money goes to Kenya and then is dispersed from there, the destination codes apparently show Sudan. Sudan is under sanctions from the US government and having money wired from a bank is not possible. I can’t remember for sure at this point but I must have been using Western Union exclusively when I lived in Khartoum.

I was doubly grateful for the money wire when I found out today that Western Union in Malakal has not been working for about two months because of equipment compatibility issues. Western Union was my back up plan.

The market was a lesson in economics today. I bought a half a kilo, just over one pound, of potatoes for 10 South Sudanese Pounds. At a 1 to 3 exchange rate that is about $3.30. And we had to hunt for those potatoes too.

I am assuming that it has to do with Sudan, aka the Khartoum government, closing the border with South Sudan again to goods coming south. Prices go up when that happens. One roll of toilet paper was ten pounds today, again about $3.30. Four little tomatoes the same thing, over $1.00 per LITTLE tomato. These were not beefsteak, they were LITTLE. I did not buy any of them.

We had power last night and I was able to things like my cell phone charged. I also ate a pasta dish that i got made quickly in case the electricity got cut. I am hoping we will have power again tonight and then I will quickly fry up the potatoes.

Power is tight here because fuel comes from Khartoum, and the borders are closed. Again I marvel that it took living here in Malakal for me to think about -- where does electricity come from? I believe that this is at least in part because in my hometown area of Seattle we have hydropower, that is, dams. Water supplies our electricity and for many, many years it was very cheap. I have never heard of a an entire town being powered solely by generators. Those were the things that the people who could afford them had for the power outages during our rare Seattle snowstorms. They weren’t for daily use.

Buay and I also went to the tailor to pick up my latest pieces of clothing. I have been hauling fabric from the Philippines that was made in Indonesia all around the world now for about four years! While in China I had one piece designed as a pretty two piece top and skirt that really looks quite African, so that I could come to Africa with at least something that looked local. That outfit was green. Last week I took in the red and purple pieces and today we picked the tops up -- the tailor forgot to put the pockets in the new skirts so I have to wait for a day or two to get them. I cannot figure out why, when everything else in Malakal is so darn expensive, the tailor charges very reasonable prices. Granted at some point I had to buy the cloth, but $10 (30 South Sudanese Pounds) for a top and skirt is a downright bargain in my eyes. I don’t even try to negotiate because I’d feel guilty if he did the work for less.

Well, on to dealing with some other things now, it’s been great sharing with you!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Catching you up....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Malakal is just hot. Probably dusty too but you know at some point I begin to forget everything else because it is so hot that is all that I can focus on!

My new home is increasingly organized and this is a great blessing! I could not believe that the lynchpin of the house seemed to be the overdue and much anticipated bookcase that was finally delivered last week. One of my students kindly accompanied me into Malakal town on Wednesday. We did several errands, including the tailor, and then went to get the bookcase. The carpenter located us a donkey cart whose owner and driver both assured my student that they knew how to find my home.

James and I walked a few blocks and caught a taxi for the taxi system that runs up and down a main road that is very close to my home. We got to my house and James went out to locate the driver and owner and the donkey and the bookcase and bring them to the exact location and I waited...and waited...and waited.

At least two hours later James showed up at my gate. I had decided that I misunderstood him and he must have asked ME to go and wait for the donkey cart since he had not returned earlier. It turned out he had waited at the BAM Pharmacy, a great landmark on my street, He too had waited....and waited....and waited. When the cart didn’t appear after probably half and hour he started walking down the road towards town (this is a different road than the taxi road), thinking he would meet the cart on the way and be able to direct it from where he found it.

He ended up walking all the way back to the shop where the carpenter works. No donkey cart although the carpenter assured James that he knows the people. James told the folks at the shop that when they would see the cart, if it still had the bookcase, to tell them to leave the bookcase at the shop. He wanted a different donkey cart to bring it the second try!

So he came to my gate and relayed all this to me. Then he told me that he would go back to the shop the next morning. I was amazed at this man who was going to make sure that what he had begun with me, getting my bookcase delivered, was going to be completed by George! We figured the cart either got lost, or the folks stole the bookcase, or perhaps they’d been in an accident.

The next day we found out that the cart had been lost. I’ve now had one cart make it to the house while I am and another student took a taxi. One cart where a student accompanied the cart and the other student went with me in the taxi. And another cart that got lost. I think the plan now is to stick closer to the carts....

At any rate, the drama was soon over and the bookcase was in its new home in one of the rooms in my house. And very quickly it was filled with books! Five containers full of books went into the shelves of the new bookcase! And suddenly the room became exceedingly more organized, it was like a miracle as the pieces fell together....I was able to clear out the middle of the room because the boxes were now empty....boxes are around the periphery of the room in an orderly fashion and I feel like the house is becoming a home! The bedroom is organized and really the only thing that would be different in the states is that I would have a chest of drawers (instead things are on a piece of glass with a covering that is resting on two upside down lidless containers) and in three trunks. And I would have a closet...instead the clothes are hung neatly on a clothesline on hangars across the width of the veranda on one end.

With the glass that is covered with a quilt that is covered with jewelry, etc., a smaller table was able to go to the “living room”, aka a veranda....the Katadyn went on that and the wood crate that the Katedyn had been on went over with the clothes on the side of the veranda which has a working electrical outlet. Now I can use something besides a plastic stool to cook on when I have electricity. All in all, a great deal of progress! When Mama is happy, everyone is happy! The more organized the house the more organized the Dissertation Proposal....go figure!

My students have cause for celebration as last week the Administration of the Nile Theological College made the decision to close this semester a month early. I had already planned to leave a month early as I have to get two and a half months of Mission Interpretation done in the United States and still get back to Malakal in time for Winter Semester, 2012 which begins in September. So this is not of advantage to ME, it sure is to the students though! There was a lot of whooping and hollering with joy around the college last week!

I preached this past Sunday and was honored by the congregation giving me three gifts that the women in particular had been involved in making. This was the church that I have been attending. I am saddened by the soon to happen transfer of the woman minister of the church, I had enjoyed very much having a female in charge! I hope that my own continued presence will be an encouragement for the women.

There was an unplanned (at least I hadn’t known about it) lunch at someone’s house after church and I was able to vocalize a concern that I have. I am trying to express to the leader’s of the church here that ordination is gift-based and not gender based.
Why should uneducated men be ordained but women are required to be educated? Make the requirements the same. Either no education required, but if there is education wonderful! Or education required for both and help the women with the additional roadblocks that they face as wives and mothers. There are no women that I have met yet in Malakal who are not wives and mothers.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter in Malakal!

Dear Friends,
Blessings to you on this Gregorian calendar Easter, April 8, 2012.

I attended a Unity Worship service this morning...apparently there were three churches together in the yard at the BAM Center....this is the center which hosts, among others, the Nile Theological College.

As I listened to the drums helping the singers keep rhythm I realized again that there was no keyboard -- and I like not having a keyboard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piano in South Sudan, they are probably too expensive, and certainly I have never seen an organ. Keyboards are rare but present.

I watched the children today especially. I have heard that children have absolute authority over the children who are younger than they are. That appeared to be true. Lots of little kids being carried in the arms of slightly older kids who had to keep shifting the weight of the little kids on their hips, they were probably really a little too heavy to be carrying.

At the end of the service some of the children did a beautiful presentation for the church -- probably some mother’s were involved in doing their best to create costume’s that gave some cohesion to the group. I saw a lot of what looked like the embroidered sheets and pillowcases (incredibly beautiful embroidery in lovely, lovely colors) that were being used as skirts. The idea seemed to be white on the bottom and red on top.
There were three older girls who it appeared had been in charge of the children learning dance movements with their feet and hands as well as the words to the song. They herded their little charges along very well, it really reminded me in some ways of Christmas pageants at home in the states....the director mouthing the words to the kids and the kids bright eyes upon the director and seeking direction out also from one another.

It is humbling to attend a worship service in another country and another tongue. I find myself thinking how it would have been done at “home” in the United States. Sometimes I miss the order and the liturgy, and the bulletin. On the other hand I know that this is for only a season of my life and I try and milk the time for everything it is worth. I know that there are many people in the world who will never be able to worship with another people group in another country on Easter.

It is difficult working on the Doctor of Theology in Missiology here. Right now I have disconnected the computer from its lifeline of the solar generator. I watch the percentage of time left go down and I know that if I write very much on this blog and we don’t have power tonight I will have to wait until tomorrow’s new supply of sunshine to do anything else.

It is very hot here. There really isn’t relief from the heat because I am living in a Nuer (one of the tribes) area and we have not been getting power consistently. I admit that when I decided to move to this house i thought that there would be power every night. It turns out that it is more like two to three times a week. This is not enough for a refrigerator, at least I don’t think so, and doesn’t help in the way of allowing me to use fans, swamp coolers or air conditioning. The water that I drink is hot.

The point of my sharing all of this with you is that i am finding it difficult to work on the Doctor of Theology in this heat. I also have moved into a family neighborhood. This is not a bad thing, it is kind of pleasant to have the sounds of everyday living all around me. It also means however that there are inconsolable crying babies, there are little children’s voices constantly in action, there are shrieks and laughter, and lots of adult conversations that I can’t understand late into the night. Last night the singing for Easter began by 3:30 a.m., maybe before that. Hard to sleep. Without sleep hard to work on the DTH.

There are so many new things that I observe everyday that I am eager to share with you, some of them I remember and others I don’t. What it is like when I go out the gate of my house and see the dirt road. How I get stared at, the people who are dressed differently than me even though I try to dress African. The donkey carts that are hauling water in large cylinders down the road. The groups of little children. They are so often dressed in what looks to be recycled Western clothing. I can’t figure out where it has come from. The culture here has an expectation of very large families and it must be very expensive to try to clothe all of the children who are produced. I consider it a miracle to see as many school uniforms as I do when I venture out around noontime. And I thank God for that miracle!

Tomorrow, God willing, someone from the college will take me to a tailor who works with clergy apparel. I have beautiful green material to be made into a top and a skirt to match the clergy outfit I had made in Ghana almost two years ago. When I am home this summer June - mid September I will be preaching and doing talks and I want to have another African clergy outfit to add to the one I already have. I’m also hoping that the tailor has other fabrics as I’ve realized how nice it would be to have clergy shirts made in the African style, with the special sleeve treatment available here, in many colors....I have a real problem in having only one suit (top and skirt) and one shirt with collar opening here. For instance, today at the Easter service most of the clergy were wearing their clergy collars. If I can have a pink, yellow, blue, green, etc., shirt made in African style then all I need is my jean skirt and I’ll be set to go when I need to look the to speak.

I feel a need to dress as clergy here as often as possible so that the church sees that women clergy are a reality in God’s church, in Jesus’ realm. I was seated in the men’s seating at the service this morning. I didn’t protest because I realized they really wouldn’t know where else to put me. That is another of the things that is so eye opening to me. Families do not sit together, this church (in South Sudan, and possibly Africa in general) continues to be segregated.

It was a lovely service and it is clear that people love singing. The women’s group sings, the youth sings, the little children sing. This is their gift to God and to God’s people. Unfortunately my camera batteries died at the Easter Retreat on Friday that the college had. We have not had power for the past two nights and so I did not have a camera at church today. That was very hard!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Better Together

Dear Friends,
March greetings from Malakal! I do not know exactly what season we are in here but since the weather is into the 100’s (although probably under 110F) I presume it is not winter and probably not spring.

I returned from Ethiopia just under a month ago. It has been a busy month!

Last week I came down with a terrible sore throat and very swollen glands. One of my students took me to a doctor’s clinic and I was prescribed antibiotics which did not surprise me at all considering just how horrible I felt! I realized during the office visit, which was very brief, and then the finger poke for blood (I ended up screaming involuntarily because it hurt!) that diagnosis are done very differently here than in the states or even in China. The doctor asked me my symptoms and took my blood pressure. The rest of the work relied on the blood analysis which did show bacteria and of course explained why I felt so ill.

Based upon the results of the blood analysis the antibiotic was prescribed. So we went and got the antibiotics and then headed home. I was really dragging by then! Thankfully the medication kicked in and within a few days I was up and running again.

Yesterday, with faithful assistance from other students, I brought home a bed frame for my full size mattress that was hauled here by the college (Nile Theological College) from Khartoum. I no longer have to sleep on a mattress on the floor! The zipper on the mosquito net tent has stopped working and will need to be repaired so this new bed was none too soon!

The two rooms and veranda are beginning, bit by bit, to look like home. It is a challenge with no Target, Costco or Ikea nearby to accomplish this. The bed frame was brought home by donkey cart yesterday. Things move a lot more slowly by donkey than by truck.

Not having transportation of one’s own does create challenges here in Malakal. I have now learned that the taxis have specific routes in town. As long as one is going on their route the price is fairly inexpensive, say two (2) South Sudanese Pounds....a little less than $1. each way. However, if a person wants to deviate from the route and go someplace a block or two over, or to another part of town, the sky is the limit on the price and it will often shoot up to 30 or 40 pounds. In China the taxis used a meter and went everywhere, they may have had difficulty finding a place, but if they got lost they would usually reduce the price to compensate for time spent finding the place.

The best thing in the case of transport then is to only frequent places that are a direct route for the taxis, shop light, or expect to spend a lot of money. Clearly then as I furnish this new home I am spending quite a bit of money on transporting items to the house. There is no free delivery with purchase here.

For some reason this semester is longer than most of the semesters have been. I think it has something to do with working around rainy/muddy season. After this semester the seniors will have only two semesters left and, God willing, will graduate in June of 2013. I think that some of them have serious cases of senioritis already. Even in a well developed country with established infrastructure and routines it can be difficult to concentrate on college for four years, or more depending on how many classes one can take per year. Here in South Sudan, and especially with the disruption caused by the move from Khartoum last year of the English Track to Malakal, it becomes much more difficult to focus. Students are worried about their families. They are worried about finances. We have no printers and to make copies in town is very expensive. There is no lighting in the library which makes it hard to study. Some of the students receive only one meal a day to eat, that is the breakfast (around 10:00 a.m.) which the college provides....the students pay a small monthly fee for the meal.

God is faithful and gives us all strength for the journey and for each day. As my student’s often say when I ask how they are doing, “somehow”. Somehow we are all struggling through this together. We are stronger as a group than any of us individually. I think that is probably how Jesus planned it. When two or more are gathered in his name....