No trick-or-treating for me tonight. I tried explaining Halloween to one of my Sudanese coworkers today…not sure it really set in. I think he got lost somewhere between the dressing like someone/something/etc. else and knocking on people’s doors to get candy. So after the awkward silence following my explanation/confusion I asked him what Sudanese holidays are coming up. He excitedly told me about the big celebrations for World AIDS Day…that made me feel great…I was excited for kids pretending to be someone else so that they can develop cavities with free candy, and he was excited for the celebrations that focus on spreading the awareness of the largest pandemic in the world…worlds collide, yet I am still undaunted…I WILL enjoy Halloween…here are some of the best costumes I have seen in a while…

King Leonidas from the movie “300” (Notice the likeness in the background…pretty impressive)

“Miss Teen South Carolina” (if you dont know about this one, look her up on You Tube…embarrassing)

Bethany’s favorite, Tobias from “Arrested Development”

And here are Luke and Ali’s dogs (the one on the right is their neighbor’s dog)…

And finally, my Halloween costume from 2006 (many of you have never seen this side of me, so be prepared (sorry mom))…

Yes…Winnie the Pooh…yes that his a Hunny jar…yes I am half naked (I was wearing yellow boxer shorts)…

And with that, I hope you all have a Happy Halloween…



Participatory Videos and Amazing Pictures (a serious blog)

One of the things that I really love about the organization I work for is that we have a major focus on Gender Based Violence prevention and education (GBV). This means that we employ people to work with local communities to educate them on the causes and consequences of GBV in their own local context. Oftentimes these communities have many cases of GBV (spouse abuse, rape, etc.)within their population, so the issue is poignant, yet it is also very sensitive. In many cases my coworkers have to start their GBV education through working directly with women in support groups or education roles. Eventually the work can spread to educating the men of a village, and hopefully the message is understood and embraced by the local community leaders.

One obstacle to the work really impacting communities comes from the fact that oftentimes these issues are sensitive because they touch on cultural boundaries that outsiders must tread very lightly on. What chief or community leader in a male dominated society wants to listen to a 20/30 something white female educate him on the consequences of his actions? Why should he listen? One amazing solution that my organization has really pioneered is the use of participatory videos. These videos use local people doing both role plays of GBV acts (in order to demonstrate exactly what they are refering to) and interviews and stories about real acts of GBV in local communities. By having real local people demonstrate and tell their stories there is a bridge built that makes GBV easier to understand. By videotaping it and bringing a little generator and a TV for the local communities to watch, you are attracting a crowd that will watch anything put in front of them!

To me the idea of using participatory videos for the aforementioned reasons in this context demonstrates a truth about dealing with the problems that we face as individuals, as families, and as broader communities. When we face adversity of any kind it is important to see what the foundation is; to see what continues and contributes to the spiral. When we identify this root, we must turn towards this center head on, not blindly running and swinging, but with insight, intelligence, and, most importantly, Creativity. The truth about problems is that they need to be handled with creativity. Creativity is not the blunt tool of conflict and war that we so often throw at our problems. Rather, it is the tool of finesse and practice that we deftly maneuver to stitch what stands in the way. A lack of creativity is the recycling of old methods that no longer fit. It is the forcing of the block into the round hole: if you push hard enough it will fit, but it will splinter and hurt your fist as you pound the block.

So, Creativity. I’m not sure I have it, but I am learning that to do anything worthwhile I will need it, or, at the very least, learn to respect it when it comes from others.


Speaking of Creativity, these pictures come from an assortment of people who obviously had the gift.


“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” —MLK Jr.

Another nugget of pure gold from our nation’s safety net, FEMA

For those of you that dont remember, FEMA is the US government agency that responded to the Hurricane Katrina disaster so masterfully that the people of New Orleans came together and started wearing shirts that said (front) “FEMA Evacuation Plan…” (back) “…Run Motherf***er, Run!” (Thanks to Anthony I, my old co-worker that spent some time in N.O. for that tidpit). They single-handedly botched their efforts to the point of no control with the end of the spiral being the continued existence of FEMA IDP camps! (google it, the results are a bit shocking….).

Anyways, we all acknowledge the bang-up job they did in New Orleans, so now lets focus on the great job they are doing for the current American disaster in California…

FEMA sorry for ‘fake’ conference

The US Federal Emergency Management Administration has apologised for having its employees pose as reporters at a hastily arranged news conference.

No actual reporters were able to attend Fema’s televised briefing on the fires in California on Tuesday…Instead, [the supposed] press officers asked questions many described as soft and gratuitous…

Six questions were posed by the Fema officials and Mr Johnson even used the typical practice of calling for a “last question”…”I’m very happy with Fema’s response,” Mr Johnson said in reply to one query from an employee.

So, just to clarify, this is the part of the federal government that is supposed to come rescue you in case of natural disaster, terrorist attack, etc. Anyone else overwhelmingly impressed with their track-record? I mean, honestly, if these guys knocked on my door because a volcano erupted in my backyard I think I would feel better trying to find safety by riding the lava on a surfboard than I would in any option they offered me.

I guess every negative does have a silver lining though. However, this positive deals only we me and, eventually, with Bethany. When I look at the track record of the Sudanese for surviving 20 years of civil war, I am impressed. I am guessing that if extensive flooding hit South Sudan and Minnesota at the same time, the Sudanese would make better life rafts out of rocks and mud then FEMA could produce with existing boats. So, sorry America, if disaster strikes you are stuck with FEMA.



Things I am Afraid of…

So, anyone that has ever delved deep into my psyche and has spent a looot of time with me knows that there are a couple of things I am afraid of, or at least have an eerie feeling about.

One of those is a fear of being alone in the outdoors. I watched too many horror movies growing up, ya know? Its like Jason just preyed on people that were alone in the woods, the texas chainsaw massacre happened in a rural/barren area, Hellraiser just happened anywhere, etc. Well, I have definitely had to work through my fears over the last years, and I feel pretty good about this one, which is good considering I am in Rural Africa on a compound by myself every night. So in a way, that fear is conquered…however, I am alone for another 2 weeks and all of the TV channels I get on Satellite TV have horror movie marathons the next couple of days in preparation for halloween…we shall see how that goes.

Another thing I am afraid of is dogs. I hate dogs that I dont know. I hate german shepherds with everything in my heard that is capable of hatred. I hate people who look at you and giggle just seconds after their dog lunges at you, as though it is something funny or forgivable…YOUR DOG JUST TRIED TO BITE ME!!! DONT LAUGH, PUT IT TO SLEEP! Well, tonight I conquered a bit of my fears about dogs. You see, on our compound we have 2 dogs…mutts….absolute african mutts. They were brought into the compound a while ago and treated like human children by my predecessor. So, when I come on and dont give them the time of day they get a little testy. They bark at me, they follow me snarling, etc. Well, tonight, I heard them barking all the way across the compound. They seriously would not shut up. Something in me told me that it was me they were barking at…I just knew it! I mean, here I am, sitting in my little place, not bugging anyone, and they are barking at me b/c they dont like me and b/c I am in their old hangout (my predecessor would let them stay here). Well, after 30 minutes of barking, i lost it. I stood up, walked out, slammed my door and charged the dogs. They were barking like crazy, but Iwalked straight up to them, clapped my hands, and yelled “SHUT UP” (some other words may have come out as well)…and they did….they cowered…layed down and just stared at me…then I stuck my hands out and they slowly crept up and smelled me…now they are quiet…So help me though, if they keep this up, they are going straight into the streets and all the money we waste on them will feed some kid that really needs the food. Or I could buy some speakers for my Ipod.

Finally, I have a fear of rotten fruit. I am really paranoid about biting into a bruised portion of any fruit and it actually keeps me from eating fruit when it is offered. No one probably knew that because as I was racking my brain to think of a third fear, it just popped into my head…Bethany didnt even know that one!

So, this post has nothing to do with Africa, or what I am doing, but I didnt feel like talking about that stuff tonight…I hope you are all doing well and that you too can face your fears as well as I do…


Plane Ticket and Rose Colored Glasses

So I’m new at the whole blog thing and I have to say that I’m quite intimidated! I’m a big journal person so I am a little nervous that once I get on a roll I’ll start spilling out deep, dark secrets that nobody wants to hear! Breathe. Focus. Update.

Ok. So. I am still in Minneapolis hanging out, working at B-town, eating good food, spending time with friends and family, drinking cold beverages, basically doing anything I can’t do once I’m in Sudan.

As many of you know, I’ve been looking for a volunteer position in Yei. The first lead I had on a position was with the Mennonite Central Committee (our church is affiliated with the Mennonite denomination… and, no, I don’t have to wear a head covering to be Mennonite… I mean I could if I wanted…). I got a hold of a wonderful woman who moved, with her husband, to South Sudan with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the 1980’s. When things really heated up they moved to Nairobi, Kenya, had three children and stayed there, praying and working for peace in South Sudan. She is now living in Roseville MN so her youngest can finish high school, while her husband is staying in South Sudan to finish their term with the MCC. She and her husband KNOW that area and know the needs in the field very well. She gave me some good leads on possible volunteer positions and basically told me just to go as soon as I could. It was actually pretty funny because she kept saying things like, “It’s so good to talk to someone else who is separated from their husband for this cause.” I finally said to her, “Look, I’m 25 and not that far into this marriage. If you think it’s good for YOU to talk to somebody, you have no idea how encouraging it is for me!” She just laughed at me.

She was very confident that if I just bought a plane ticket and showed up, there would be plenty of things for me to do. She was sooo very encouraging. At one point during our hour-long conversation I told her that sometimes I feel like Brian and I are too idealistic and just young and naive. Her response, “Well, then I’m OLD and naive!”

So we bought the plane ticket! Departure date: December 13th. Merry Christmas!

After I dropped Brian off at the airport to MOVE to Sudan, I drove to my parents’ house. I was listening to Jolie Holland and thinking about what the heck we were doing. I was looking at the incredible landscape in front of me and I was moved by the amazing colors of the sky against the tree-line! I was so moved, in fact, that I pulled over on County Road 15 to take a few pictures. I got out of the car and went to the spot I was most inspired by. I snapped a few shots and examined them…hmmm… Didn’t really capture it. I tried some more. Same result. Just didn’t translate. Oh well, I thought. I got back into the car and removed my sunglasses to itch my allergy-ridden eyes. I looked up and suddenly realized: I was literally wearing rose colored glasses! I pulled my sunglasses off and on again a few times. The world was so much more vibrant through my rose colored glasses! I sat for a moment, laughed at myself, and debated. Is it better to embrace the true nature of the landscape and deny my senses the beauty those glasses provide? Or do I willingly put my glasses on, understanding the reality on the other side, and enjoy the view? I put my glasses on and drove on home.

How’s that for a metaphor? 🙂


The Problem With African Blogs

Nights in Africa can be boring. Tonight, for instance, is a bit boring. It is not yet 9 and I am contemplating bed…and when I say “contemplating” I mean to say that I am actually getting ready for bed.

Anyways, in my bored/time killing mood I started poking around the internet and checking out the blogs of other people living in Africa/Asia/destitute-destitute-country-trying-to-rebuild. As I read the blogs of others I discovered the disturbing trend of always being a downer. Almost all of them focused on (a) the plight of the people they worked with, (b) their plight in working with the people they work with, (c) the history of the plight they are working to rectify, (d) the plight of humanity, (e) a mixture of (a) through (d). I got the impression that some of the people need to lighten up a bit.

Now, hold on…dont get me wrong here! There is a lot of bad stuff all over that needs to be talked about and I assure you, Bethany and I will talk about bad stuff on this page. The difference will be, however, that we will make a concentrated effort to tell jokes and funny stories that are both self deprecating and ethnocentric (thats right…not only are we not going to focus on the somber side of everything, we also wont be PC!).

So, with that said, here is my first joke…(clears throat)…

The Arch-Angel Gabriel is talking to God about where they are going to take their vacation this year and God is being really indecisive. Gabriel first suggests Jupiter, but God is like “no way man, that place is too cold and too small for us…pick somewhere else”. Gabriel, slightly annoyed with God’s negative attitude says “What about the moon?” and God instantly responds “no atmosphere, too dusty.” Even more annoyed, Gabriel says, “What about Earth?” to which God chuckled and smirked and said “I tell ya what, I visited that place 2000 years ago and met a very nice woman named Mary and they are STILL talking about it!”

Get it? Hmmm…

Anyways, one very funny thing about Africa when you are white is that there are certain names for white folk…Kawaja, Muzungo, Mulungo, etc. are some of the ones I have heard in my time. Here in S. Sudan it is Kawaja. When you are driving down the road through villages at 40 miles per hour you just hear these little voices screaming “Kawaja, Kawaja, Kawaja” like you are some kind of amazing creature. Even funnier is when you walk down the street and grownups address you as “Kawaja”. I mean, it is like someone coming up to you and saying, “Hello white guy, how are you?”

Ok, now to end it with something sad…depressing…Sudan has the highest Maternal mortality rate in the world. That means more women die giving birth here than anywhere else in the world.

Now to end it on an upswing…how about Notre Dame this year?

I hope you have been enkurbaged by this post.


Finally in Yei!

After a couple of weeks I have finally arrived in my compound in Yei. The drive from Juba to Yei is about 100 miles and took us 6 hours…in other words we averaged less than 17 miles/hour. The biggest problem with getting anywhere here is the roads. They are all dirt and are horribly damaged, flooded, destroyed, etc. For our journey to Yei, there was a bigger problem though…shown below.


So, one truck got stuck, one tried to pass and got stuck…a third…tried…stuck. The road was completely blocked…the center truck was a full 3-4 feet buried in mud. The one on the right…its cargo is literally going to spill any second now. The funniest part about this photo is that it was taken 48 hours ago and one of our drivers got stuck trying to pass b/c all 3 are still there! Ultimately we had to have a driver come from the other side to pick us up here and we had to walk through the vehicles with my luggage to get there.

Before leaving though, we had a BBQ (click the link for a slideshow).

Here are some pictures of a Public Health Clinic we built for the County to begin using soon…

Finally, and most importantly, here are the pictures of where Bethany and I will be living for the next period in our lives…

I hope you enjoy all the photos!