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.
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.