Monday, September 10, 2012

Here and there, but NOT everywhere....

July 7, 2012

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the skies over Washington State headed for California!

Early run to the airport this morning. I realized once there, and once again, how much we take for granted in this country.

There were stacks of white boxes on an attractive wagon at the security point. So different from South Sudan where the machines aren’t working any longer and all of the luggage has to be hand searched for contraband.

The ladies’ bathroom was clean. Toilet paper, soap, running water, towels. When you use a bathroom at an American airport please try to remember the countries that offer only traditional toilets and have nowhere to put ones purse or backpack or rolling bags.

When you take a drink from a water fountain at an airport in the US remember the countries where a person cannot safely take a drink of water anywhere.

July 9, 2010

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the independence of the Republic of South Sudan from Sudan. May the country make it to a second anniversary.

I am reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Road to Freedom. One of the things that he talks about in the book is how the Afrikanner (white) government tried to bring disharmony between the tribes in South Africa in order to weaken the blacks and make it easier to maintain control of them. This rings a bell for me because I have inquired of my students before about the tribal markings that many of them have. Some tribes have “life lines”, also known as scarification, deep lines cut into their foreheads which can be seen after death on their bones. Some tribes have bumps created on their foreheads, or dots which form different patterns.

My students told me that these markings began at the suggestion of the

British colonizers as a way to sow disharmony among the tribes in Sudan. Before the markings one tribe could not differentiate other tribes and everyone lived in peace. With the markings came “the other”; dissention, resentment, jealousy and competition. This of course was the intention of the colonizers. Divide and conquer takes on new meaning when related to colonial rule.

As I am reading this book by Nelson Mandela I am reminded that it is not only South Africa that has seen oppression. The State of Israel continues to illegally occupy the Palestinian Territories. Sudan oppressed the south of Sudan to the point where the Southern Sudanese voted to become a country of their own. There are many places of contention in the world where the desire for power by one party tramples upon the rights of another party.

As I read the book I realize that some of NM’s experience, to me, mirror what Myanmar/Burma’s Suii Ki lived through. Her times of house arrest, of being cut off from the outside world were perhaps experienced somewhat differently by NM, but there was a general belief again that divide and conquer would silence.

July 11, 2012

I really love Southern California. It is so very different from the East Coast. It is somehow more earthy and raw. It is big and vast. The East is more refined, perhaps because the folks that populated the East (the ones that originally colonized the “empty” space and the native population) were from Europe. The people who populated the West Coast were made of different stuff. Not that it didn’t take courage and guts to come from Europe to the New World, it did. It took something different to come from the colonies and New England and the South to California. Go West Young Man (and Woman)!

Friday, September 7, 2012

My time in the states is over and I am now in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In two hours I’ll be going to the airport to begin the third leg of a journey that took me from Seattle to Dubai (United Arab Emirites) to Addis Ababa. From here I will go to Juba, South Sudan and from Juba I will make my way “home” to Malakal.

I understand that water is not flowing to the homes in Malakal. How does one live without water? I am walking into an unknown situation once again and I don’t know how long it will take to find solutions. I am essentially camping in Malakal. I have never been one to enjoy camping and so I am having to try and perceive the experience in new ways.

On the airplane sometime early Wednesday morning we flew over the North Pole. I took note of it because when I looked out the window I realized that what I was seeing was a frozen landscape. That was when I realized that it was a polar landscape.

I move into and out of so many cultures as I traverse God’s claim on my life. I seem to be particularly sensitive to the cultures where I sense a male arrogance towards women. After being in the United States for four months this can be a particularly heightened experience. Most men who are third or fourth or uncountable generation American, at least of those that I encounter, understand the worth and the value of women. When I encounter the alien (to me) attitude that women are objects and our value lies in our usefulness to making life comfortable for men, it is a painful encounter for me.

September 9, 2012: Juba

I had a great if brief talk with a young woman from the UK (she is English) this morning over our hot coffee and bread that is considered breakfast here and in some parts of Europe where I have traveled before.

I could not sleep last night as I am probably still on US time and so I had lots of time to think and reflect. Some of my thoughts were about the differences between missionaries, or Mission Co-Workers as we are now known in the PC(USA), and short term mission workers or even NGO workers. NGO’s are Non-Governmental Organizations, technically the PC(USA) is one of these as are other church mission sending organizations. Usually NGO is associated with, for instance, World Vision or the United Nations.

Missionaries are usually alone in their posts, or if married, alone as a couple. Whereas short term mission trips, perhaps sent by a particular church, are normally made in teams. Missionaries are aware that we are going to be in a said situation for a lengthy period of time and pray for the grace to be able to survive that time. Short term mission trips have the luxury of knowing that shortly they will be leaving the country and any difficult circumstances, like four hours of power a night. That sounds like so much now having come from Malakal where we had power only one night a week!

It can be enlightening to reflect on different lifestyles and the minimal existence of most missionaries. The NGO’s whose facilities I have had occasion to visit in Malakal have been like islands from another world in a sea of heat, humidity and lack of water and electricity. I feel so normal upon entering NGO buildings and slowly it occurs to me that it is because there are lights during the day and air conditioning is running. While a wonderful occasional perk it can also be quite devastating to have to return to my own particular reality after visiting such a paradise, in part because I have been made aware that even in a poverty stricken third world country ravaged by 50 years of civil war, a different reality is not only possible but actually exists.

On my travels through the United States this past summer I remember that in Detroit I realized that there were parts of that city that I would term dead. Boarded up, crumbling, deserted. Even so there had been an infrastructure at some point on those dead streets. There had been utilities, water and electric and probably garbage pick up as well. Maybe that is one way to look at Malakal, or one way to look at Detroit. Even at its deadest, Detroit is more alive than much of Malakal. People have moved on from Detroit. In Malakal there are people who are not able to move on. The present lack of life, lack of services, lack of opportunity or hope for change is their reality. My reality is that I have the ability to leave Malakal every so often and thereby keep my sanity intact. For many of the locals in Malakal, their reality is that now and always.

Living on a compound with other missionaries, or Mission Co-Workers, would probably be easier. The problem with compounds is that they are insular. The people inside them are “protected” from the local people and their crumbling, less than beautiful lives. It may be possible to do a more productive job while living in a condition more like one’s native country. On the other, God’s hand touches the eyesore differently when a person lives in its midst.

There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument, or the thought. When I was in China I spent most of my time with my students. I began to lose vocabulary and my spelling skills diminished. I needed to have more time with other westerners. I am finding a similar situation in Malakal, in part because there are so few other westerners. I need more balance. I need not to leave all of the comforts of home, of the west, behind and this means that I am not going to be able to live at the level that most of the folks in Malakal live. I am possibly just not capable of that. I live more like them because I am not short term. And I can’t live like them or I won’t be able to be long term.

September 10, 2012

There are some shows on television, which shall remain unnamed, that make unreality appear perfectly normal. There are times here in South Sudan where I find myself thinking how amazing is it that situations that cannot possibly be real or true or what is actually happening are indeed real, true and what is actually happening.

The airport here in Juba is one of those things. It is chaotic and dysfunctional with several flights of people from places such as Uganda, Eygpt, Ethiopia and Kenya all hunting for luggage in the same small space. Yesterday I think we nearly saw a passenger rebellion. Luggage is lost or misplaced, throwing lives into disarray as people must rearrange schedules to compensate for the lack of organization on the part of the airlines. The only comfort in all of it is that most of the people who come from the outside see it for the zoo that it is. Perhaps because of the civil wars when the north and the south were simply Sudan, one large country, the locals are not as aware of how disrespectful the process of retrieving luggage is. My hope is that as time goes on their demands for order will grow and they will accept less and less situations which suck the life out of everyone else. Perhaps it is a sign of health when previously acceptable situations begin to suck the life out of a person and they come to recognize that it is not life giving.