Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July update

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


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A slipping economy.

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Painting Life.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015


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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday (April 15, 2015).

I am in a much bigger city now and I am so very grateful for that.  Malakal was quite small.  I have heard that the weather in Malakal was more pleasant than Juba so I know that I am in for some real heat.

The walk that I have to the bus stop to go into the college, and then back to the apartment when I return from the college is long enough that I feel I have had some serious exercise.  I did have a woman tell me today as we got off the bus (this word is used loosely) at Juba (the name of the bus stop) that there was another bus I could take up to Hai Cinema where I live.  I chose to hoof it. 

The buses are small and densely packed.  On the way to the college I am trying to sit in the front of the buses so that I can see where I need to get off.  This morning that meant getting into an empty bus and waiting for it to fill up.  Getting in is like getting into a truck.  I realize that I need to work on my arm muscles. 

Getting out of the buses is another matter.  In the front it isn't as bad, somewhere I slide off of the side of the bus.  Getting out of the side is a nightmare.  I told the young man who was opening the door as I got back to bus stop Juba today that the buses aren't made for older people.  I usually find someone willing to literally lend me a hand.  Actually jumping brings to mind the thoughts of broken bones....

I am able to do my "grocery shopping" on the way home.  I'm having trouble getting onions this week as I keep missing the vendors that sell them when I get off the bus at the home stretch.  When traffic is errratic and I am dodging motorcycles, cars and buses of different sizes as well as the motorized rickshaws, I can't always get to where I would like.  Although the skill of dodging traffic as I cross streets is coming back to me!  At any rate, I am learning where the stores are that have the yogurt (yes!  there is yogurt, albeit probably whole milk based v nonfat), where there is Halva, margarine, jam, etc.  I stopped at a particular store today for yogurt and asked the male clerk if he could tell if they lady across the street was selling bread.  I told him I like to support her....and then I explained that I think it is nice to give my business to different stores and not put all of it in one place.  He may have caught what I was saying....

She gave me my three rolls for two South Sudanese pounds....in South Sudan people still scoop food with their hands, I am working on "training" the young girls (as are some of the other Mission Co-Workers), the grown ups are a little more difficult. 

Further on the dirt road there were three young girls dancing....they were very cute....if my camera had been handy I would have tried to get a picture.

Speaking of pictures...I am going to try and get a phone here in Juba that has a camera.  I have come to feel the need to take pictures without people seeing that this is what I am doing.  There are so many pictures that I see everyday and feel unable to snap because this is not the safest place in the world.  The garbage piles in the middle of the streets is one of those pictures.

More later....

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Juba. April 2015.

 Sunday the 12th:

This past Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, I went with three other Mission Co-Workers to a Presbyterian Church of South Sudan worship service.  It turns out that the church was/is an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp. 

The church itself is a solid canvas tent with floor, sides and ceiling in one piece and it is double thick.  There is no power, thus no fans, and so the flap doors must stay open for air.  What was very noticeable were the flies. 

There were open piles of garbage in many places, and the disease carrying flies were infesting them.  All through the service people were shooing them away and the little children had them on their eyelids and faces.  While mosquitoes bring the malaria, the flies bring intestinal problems that will result in diarrhea and vomiting. Apparently people have been taking garbage in plastic bags and emptying the bags on the piles instead of putting a closed bag on the pile.

To make matters worse someone (government perhaps?) is trying to get the people to leave the camp and the water has been shut off.  The smell of open and raw sewage permeated the air as we walked to and from the church tent. 

I learned from this experience that this is an "open" camp.  This means that there is no curfew and residents don't have to register so they are free to come and go as they please, or to move if they find something better. 

Monday and Tuesday:

I was reunited with two of my teaching colleagues and other staff at the new location for the Nile Theological College in Juba.  The new building that has been worked on is quite nice and such a vast change from the previous one that I am very happy.  It is going to make teaching much easier.  There is even electricity!

Today, Tuesday, God sent an angel to help me get back to the apartment.  Monday I was assisted in getting to and from the college by a fellow co-worker.  Today I was on my own.  Going there the bus driver remembered me from yesterday and stopped where I needed to go even before I asked!

Upon leaving the college I found the place to stand and wait for the bus.  There was a young South Sudanese man also waiting.  People kept sneaking on the bus in front of me.  It is so difficult here sometimes as I do not want to be rude, and the politeness can make a very long wait.

The young man asked if I wanted to walk to "Juba", the bus stop near the apartment.  I laughed and said no.  So then he hailed what is essentially a motorized rickshaw, I am not remembering the correct name.  Khartoum had many, many of them and I used them often going home from NTC in Khartoum.  The rickshaw brought us back to the bus stop and the young man refused to let me help pay for the ride.  Pure kindness. 

I am so aware of how often God has sent people to light my path.  In Malakal the few times that I actually had to walk in the dreadful and dreaded mud, people came alongside me and held my hand.  In Khartoum when I took buses people would pay my fare because I was a foreigner or would get the bus stopped when I was supposed to get off.  And here in Juba God is still lighting my way through the kindness of strangers, as well as friends.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Wrapping up UN CSW59 from NYC March, 2015.

Finishing up notes from the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in NYC.  March, 2015:

Issues that came up in the workshops (parallel events) that I attended during the course of the week I was there:

*Economic disasters such as crop failures and climate change are eradicating some of the industries in which women have traditionally participated in order to earn a living.  Climate changing is having a devastating impact on industries such as fishing.  In some places there are no longer enough fish to sustain communities, many people are having to migrate to new communities, which in turn has impacts on the host communities. 

These economic realities have a negative impact on women’s abilities to support themselves and their families.  Yet in disaster planning women’s voices are not sought out and included in this very thing that will have long term consequences in their lives.  Often the priority for resources after disasters is given to boys.

*Lack of access to reproductive health services.  There is an enormous need for comprehensive sex education. 

*There is a need for more women to be active in politics in order to advocate for women and women’s involvement in the world processes that impact women.

*Women 20-30 do not know their rights, including their reproductive rights.  There is a need to improve the lives of women living with HIV/AIDS.

*Wives of migrants, prisoners, etc., have HIV/AIDS.  There is stigma and yet educated religious leadership can become a part of the solution by educating the public.

*In Pakistan with religious fundamentalism, because of early marriage young girls are more unprotected (and having sex with much older, experienced husbands), have less economic ability and less rights of land inheritance.  The younger a girl is the less likely to know her sexual and reproductive rights, she is easier to control.

*The United Nations in now calling women’s rights “human rights.”  Everyone benefits when human beings are treated equally and have equal access to education and the decision making levels of government.  This brings us again to the addressing of the issue of having women in politics, especially women who desire to change the lives of other women.  This includes addressing the vital issue of how to prevent violence against women.

*I personally reflected on the mechanisms of power in the United States.  I used to naively believe that anyone born on United States soil could become President.  As I am increasingly exposed to new perspectives on power and life I realize that there are mechanisms in place for creating leaders in the United States and presumably all countries, all systems.

There are, for instance, Ivy League Universities where people are shaped and mentored and learn about power, developing important relationships.  I personally believe that this may be the (or at least a) level where a great deal of decision making and foreign and domestic policy takes place.

*Corruption is a huge factor worldwide.  Where does the money go that is meant to empower and enable women and bring change to the lives of millions, village by village?

*Issues that need to be/and continue to be addressed include:
early marriage
unregistered customary marriages that give no rights to the wife
economic justice structure
reproductive rights of women
breast cancer
violence against women – particularly in rural areas
the stigma of HIV/AIDS, the stigma faced by grandmothers raising the   children of their daughters who have died of HIV/AIDS, the       financial issues faced by these grandmothers

These things (listed above) are hidden and are not publicly discussed. 

*Men find ways to hold onto power – violence can take the form of the militarization of society.  When war ends there is trauma and HIV in women.

Challenging the status quo
Meeting as women to convene power
Building leadership around peace and security
Trying to rebuild women’s bodies

A beautiful truth that I heard:
Women may have no office, no CV, they can use themselves as a role model to give others hope.  They and their lives become their CV.  Women’s narratives become resources. 

HIV is better than Ebola.  HIV gives time, Ebola takes it.

Colonialization took power from women and gave it to men.  I think this is something that Americans, as a colonial power, need to really look at.  This is a legacy.  Not a good legacy, but it is one.

CEDAW, the people who are against it don’t like the portions dealing with women’s reproductive rights.  They don’t want women to have control of their own bodies.  Monitoring and accountability are the teeth that are missing from the CEDAW document.  This reminds me of the current issue with Iran and the nuclear power treaties that in progress.  Men really do not like being held accountable, or to trust others with power.

Finally:  The United States is not good about ratifying international treaties. 

My impressions today, April 11, 2015, as I wrap up this summary of what I heard and learned at the UN CSW in March, 2015:  Women are treading water.  We have a long way to go and just as with many issues in the world, change is very slow.  We can hold hope in knowing that slavery is now illegal, women in many countries have the right to vote and in many Christian denominations women are ordained as clergy and are in leadership positions as heads of church bodies.  We know that change can and will take place.  I grieve for the women that need the change right now, or needed it yesterday. 

At the moment the three issues that seem most urgent to me are:
1.  Women’s participation in the political arena of the world.  This is not merely a woman/women suddenly walking into a board room.  This is girl children being educated through primary and secondary school and going on to University.  This is girl children learning to think critically and understanding their worth as daughters of God.
2.  Addressing violence against women.  This is not merely women being hit or beaten.  This includes child marriage and other ways of violating women and girl children.
3.  Women’s access to knowledge of reproductive rights and services and the ability to obtain those services.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

A picture hanging on a wall.  A poem comes to life...
unsung women
  fetching water
      washing clothes (by hand mind you)
hair, bodies, baby bottoms

making bread
laying table
water running -- or not, as the case may be....

time for thinking
passing wisdom --
weary feet, patting hands.

Rev. Debbie Blane

A musician in the bowels of the NYC subway system....I found myself thinking, "we all have our dreams, don't we?"

He played Bach's Canon 9 for me.



Much of the CSW was framed around CEDAW.  CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.  From a postcard addressed to U.S. Senate Leaders:  “CEDAW is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world. 

Ratifying CEDAW will strengthen the United States as a global leader in standing up for women and girls.  The US. Senate leadership should continue our country’s proud bipartisan tradition of promoting and protecting human rights by making CEDAW a priority and ratifying it now.”

The three highlighted objectives of CEDAW essentially match two of the three critical global issues for World Mission as defined by our International Partners in conjunction with World Mission personnel.  The World Mission critical global issues are:  Education (particularly females), stopping violence against women and girl children (reconciliation) and Evangelism .  The CEDAW goals are:  Stopping violence against women, ensuring educational opportunities and increasing political participation. 

Increasing political participation involves a number of things.  One must be educated in order to access to halls of power.  There must be in a process of reconciliation in order to recognize that there are different ways of leading and that the contributions of 50% of humanity (female) are just as important as the contributions of the other 50% of humanity (male).  

On to the UN CSW59 itself....

CSW59  Preliminary:

Notes that I have from the three orientations that I participated in before the official start of the CSW59 include:
In terms of the slow progress of things like the eradication of violence against women, of educating equal amounts of girl children with boy children, etc., someone made the statement, “maybe we are working on changing the wrong things.” 

Someone else suggested that for me it is just normal to have 88% men and 12% women in parliament.  The world is affirmative action for men; men are competent until proven otherwise.  Women are incompetent until they prove otherwise.

Giving birth should not limit and define a woman’s life.   Patriarchy divides women and leaves some women behind. 

Trying to change within the existing patriarchal paradigm is not permanent change.  Instead we must change the paradigm.  The world must change, not the women.  Change begins at the bottom and transforms the top.

A statement that was very eye opening for me was:  There are thousands of women’s NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations).  What we lack is being in politics where economic power can be challenged and also accessed. 

I, Debbie, would personally also argue that interpretation of Holy Scripture has a huge influence on the lack of forward momentum for women.  Christian Scripture, the Muslim Quran, etc., can hold human beings in cultural prisons.  Women and men who see Holy Scriptures through a liberating lens need to become scholars that can help leadership and grassroots re-interpret and free the Holy Scriptures, whatever the religion.  Scriptures were written by men in specific cultural contexts and are treated as though they are written in stone.  I believe that the stone of culture needs to be shattered so that the life giving revelation of Scripture can be brought forth and renew humankind.  As a Christian I clearly focus on the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament.  I include the Muslim Quran and other literature considered holy by other religions because the United Nations is made up of the global community and this includes other faiths as well as Christianity.

The Louisville beginning of the UN CSW59 adventure....


March 6, 2015

For three days now I have been trying to get from Louisville, KY to NYC for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  I am hoping and praying that the third try is the charm.  So here I am at the Louisville Airport at 4:45 a.m., having been picked up by a taxi at just after 3:30 a.m.  I’ve checked my bag, been through security, bought bottled water and Diet Coke, my cold caffeine.  Now I am sitting in front of a TV screen that is showing CNN and beginning my reflections on the experience I am beginning as I participate in the CSW in NYC.

Debbie Journey Continues.

My attempts began on Wednesday as my first flight was cancelled and I waited at the airport for a late afternoon flight that continued to be bumped back.  I admit that I gave up on that one after the third time change.  It turns out that it did fly, but it appeared to me at the time that it would be cancelled. 

Thursday I actually made it into the plane and we were almost ready to taxi out to the runway when the word came that a Delta flight had gone off the runway at LaGuardia, closing the airport in NYC to incoming traffic.  We were taken back to the gate and in due time the flight was cancelled.  The late afternoon flight was cancelled as well, LaGuardia was said to be closed until 7:00 p.m. at night and conditions were worsening there.

So today I am again at the airport hoping that this very early morning flight takes off.  If it does not I will have to try to catch a later flight today or even go tomorrow.  If this early morning one is not successful I will end up missing some or all of the Presbyterian Orientation that begins today.

Yesterday as I learned that I would not be able to get out of Louisville until the next day, today, I headed out to the cab/taxi coordination booth at the airport.  I was able to quickly get a cab and get home.  Before the cab came I found myself upset because of the condition of the teeth of the coordinator.  He was missing so many of his teeth, at least in the front, that there were only one or two on either side of his mouth.

I have noticed this over time with people who work in low paying service jobs in this country (USA).  I found it distressing that all people in this country are not cared for in the ways that all human beings should be.  The health of the mouth is basic and the mouth is the gateway to the body. 

The taxi driver last night was from Senegal, the one this morning was also from another country, although I did not find out where.  I have noticed that more and more the cab/taxi drivers in the states are men (mostly) from other countries.  What bothers me about this is wondering what occupation they had in their original country.  I have heard that often people who were doctors and teachers, etc., can only find work in the United States that is nothing like what they did before.

Taxi driving is an honorable profession and there are people who love that kind of work.  My bone to pick with it is when there are people who are gifted in other ways and are forced to make a living at something that has nothing to do with the gifts that they should be able to share with the world.  If I had to be a taxi driver somewhere I would be miserable. 

Okay, I am signing off for now and am going to drink my cold water.  Si an ar a. 

A New Song: I have discovered a sermon that can be adapted to different settings and situaitons. This has been joyful just as writing new sermons is.


“Let My People Go”
Exodus 6:1-9
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
Louisville, KY
March 22, 2015
 Rev. Debbie Blane

You know, the thing of it is that we are all held in captivity.   We are captive to something.

Pharaoh goes by many, many names.  Pharaoh is addiction.  Pharaoh is a seeming inability to leave an abusive marriage.  Pharaoh is the belief that God intends men to act as if THEY are God in the lives of their wives and daughters.  Pharaoh is the belief between two men that they have the right to drag an entire country into their private power struggle, as is happening right now in South Sudan.

To be human is to be held captive to something.

Being God, which WE are not, is to desire to free the captives and heal the prisoners. 

In Exodus 6:6-9 God reveals the actions that would free the slaves in Egypt.  They are actions that also would free the slaves now, today and in the future.  Because Exodus speaks to us, you and me, just as much as it did to the Hebrews in Egypt.

God will:
1.  Take us out from under the yoke of captivity. 
2.  Free us from being slaves to the captors.
3.  Redeem us with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
4.  Take us as God’s own people.
5.  GOD will be our God.  GOD will be our God.  The abuser will not be our God.
6.  We will know that God is God, the One who freed us from captivity to the yoke of bondage.  The yoke of bondage to someone, something or someplace.

When God speaks of possessing the lands that were promised to our spiritual ancestors, we can know that this is a promise to us as well.  God will care for our physical and spiritual needs.  We will possess a home that is safe and we will know that we are cared for. 
This does NOT mean that the original land of Israel is the promise.  It is NOT the promise.  But it does mean that God promises to take us from captivity and bring us to a place of love and safety.

Verse 9 tells us that when Moses spoke to God’s people, to the people whose care was given into Moses’ hands, they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.

Imagine what captivity would have been like for the Israelites.  They were in a foreign land.  In the beginning in that land they had been treated with respect and love.  They had been welcomed as a part of the people who already lived in Egypt.
As Pharaohs were born, ruled and died and new ones were born and rose to power the royal memory of the first Israelites that had come to Egypt faded.   A fear developed and grew that the numerous Israelites would swell in number to be greater than that of the indigenous population. 

And so the Pharaoh who was Moses’ adopted grandfather made the Israelite’s slaves.  The Israelites did the heavy lifting.  They made bricks, they built the buildings.  They sweated and heaved and endured harsh labor.  And they cried out to the Lord. 

Do you do someone else’s heavy lifting?  Do you sweat and heave and endure harsh labor?  Are you a victim in your own home, or do you know someone else who is? 

Despite the thousands of years that separate us today, here in Louisville, in the United States, from the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Israelites, despite the differences in cultures and language:  God speaks to us today through this Scripture passage just as God spoke through Moses to the Israelites all of those many, many centuries ago. 

When we are in pain and when we are burdened.  When we are in prison, whether a real prison or a psychological or spiritual prison, when we are held captive to something in our lives that is not GOD, we can cry out to God.  And God will tell that Pharaoh, that slave driver who keeps us in prison to let us go.  God will tell that person to let God’s child go!

It may not happen automatically or quickly.  It may be a process of our healing and being transformed by God into new people, as it was for the Hebrew people of Exodus.   It may be that God will give us a new life and new people in our new life.

But we can know that just as God took the Israelites as God’s own people and brought them out of the yoke of slavery in Egypt, God will bring us out of our own particular slavery, our own particular prisons.

When we despair, when we are frightened and we feel alone, when our burdens are too heavy and threaten to crush us, we can call on God for help.  And God will answer.

God will say to the demons:  LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!  And God will transform us so that the demons will have nothing to hold onto.  They WILL let go. 

The God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah and Rachel is our God too.  We know God through God’s child, Jesus.  Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel knew God in a different way, but they did know God.  And so did Moses. 

And you know what?   SO DO WE!!!!!

We also need to remember that God is not the God only of individual people and families, God is the God of economic systems that display and practice systemic injustice, and of countries where the leadership seeks to possess the power and control over other people that should rightfully belong to God.

I was a Presbyterian Delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in NYC earlier this month.  For a week I had the privilege of sitting with women and men from around the globe, learning about the status of women in many countries. 

I learned that many people are now saying that women’s rights are human rights, because when women are treated with dignity, educated and empowered to be full global citizens, ALL people benefit from the wisdom and strength that women bring to the table.  This movement towards justice and equality, towards the eradication of the Pharoah of patriarchy, is slow and sometimes its pace is broken and then healed.    I heard that the next level that this fight for justice but be taken to is the political level, where the economic power of Pharoah can be challenged and also can be resourced.

I learned about something called CEDAW.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world.  CEDAW is an agreement that Presbyterian Women supports and its hallmarks are:  1.  Stop violence against women; 2.  Ensure educational opportunities; 3.  Increase political participation.  This is not unlike the three global initiatives of World Mission of stopping violence against women and children, educating children and the task of reconciliation in the world that in many ways is what politics should and could be about.

I learned that the United States has not ratified this agreement.  Presbyterian Women suggested that our vote to ratify this agreement, as Americans, is important for the world.  As the global leader of the free world, we must stand up for human rights, we must stand up for women and girls.  Who is our Pharoah?  What false idol must we cry out to the living God to free us from in order to be a part of the global journey to justice?

This week I read on line that 50% of the population of the country of Syria is now on the move; internally displaced from their homes and refugees in other countries as a result of the Pharoah that is holding their country captive to unspeakable violence.   Their President is playing Pharoah, he is unable to let go of power and control and say, no more fighting, killing, raping, bloodletting, do what is right for the well being of my people.

About a year ago in Nigeria the Nigerian government responded ineptly and weakly to the kidnapping of almost 300 young women and girls by a terrorist group which was able to take these females at gunpoint from a boarding school in a remote area of the country.  It was only after the parents somehow made this issue known to the international community that the government began to ask for international help in finding the girls.  Power and control did not want to admit to weakness and was willing to sacrifice these girls and their families on the altar of their desire to play God.    What plan are they going to come up with to educate young women, AND young men, when it is not safe to send them to boarding schools for their education?  The school had guards and that wasn’t enough.
 The terrorist group is known as Boko Haram.  The name literally means, “Western education is forbidden.” 

What can protect human beings from the kind of demonic power that believes that it can do whatever it wants to achieve its own ends and force its beliefs on the world?    Boko Haram has continued to kidnap and destroy and disrupt and cause terror.  

In South Sudan the power mongering of two men has set the entire country on fire with war, displacing over two million people, killing at least 50,000 people, turning male children into child soldiers, and leaving the country on the brink of famine as a civil war has raged for over a year now.

There is Ukraine where the eyes of Russia’s lust for empire have split and divided the ethnic populations one from another, people who have lived together peaceably for generations and years of time. 

The newest incarnation of evil is invading American homes through the television set every day and every night.  It is named ISIS, this particular pharaoh.  This pharaoh burns people alive, beheads innocent journalists and humanitarian workers and appears to hold the global community hostage as it acts out its doctrine of self-righteous justice.

What should our response as Christians be to these atrocities that are being committed, sometimes in the name of Christianity itself?   Our response should be, LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!  Often because of our own Pharaohs, our own captivity to the status quo, our response is to turn a blind eye. 

When we ourselves are healed we can cry LET MY PEOPLE GO on behalf of the people who are still captive and are too weak to be heard by the Pharaohs of this world.  I think that as part of the worldwide Christian community we also need to be considering, besides trying to kill evil with guns, what is the response that Christ would have us make to evil? 
Remember that at the beginning of this sermon I said that in our own individual lives when we cry out to God to free us from our Pharaohs, God will respond.  We will be changed and evil will no longer have a place to grasp us.  And this may take time.

We cannot expect this global evil to be eradicated tomorrow.  At the same time we cannot be defeated by what is happening.  Pharaoh is running loose in the world.  How can we dig up the roots that are the underlying cause for this evil, this Pharaoh, to have a stronghold in God’s world?  How we can be a part of the world being transformed as we ourselves have been transformed?

What does it take for Christians to get at the roots of the poverty and ignorance, or the misplaced understanding that has developed in an educated mind, that cause such evil to multiply and wreak such havoc? 

As an alternative to war, to cleaning out or destroying that may produce more evil instead of eradication, we must be asking Christ, how do we show such love, your love, that this hate, this evil, this Pharaoh will be transformed?

Let my people go, let our people go and thanks be to God for being our, and their, liberator, redeemer and sustainer.
 God opens wide God’s arms of justice and mercy and welcomes us, bids us to enter an embrace that will free us and make us whole.

We just have to cry out and then accept the invitation.
May the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel boldly be your God as well. 
May you find the freedom in your own lives from your own prisons, from your own Pharaohs.  May the God who promises redemption fulfil that promise in your own life and in the lives of those who you love, and in the lives of the neighbors who surround you and in the life of our global community.

May God bless you and be with you as you embark on, or continue, your own journey to wholeness.  You know the saying, walk don’t run?  Well in this case, out of prison into God’s arms….run, do not walk! 

And our God says:  LET MY PEOPLE GO!  And it is so.