just call me debbie

So many things to say.

I was talking to my Dad a couple of weeks ago. We started talking politics (popular subject for my Dad). The discussion moved to conspiracies and Africa and conspiracies in Africa and movies about conspiracies in Africa. He gave us one of these particular movies before I came and asked if we had watched it yet. I replied that, no, we had not watched it and that my mind was about as full as it could get with new Africa trivia. “Yeah”, he said, “Maybe just watch that one when you’re really ready to go down the rabbit hole.” My response, “Dad, I am in the rabbit hole already.”

I have debated on whether I should blog about our daily routine, my thoughts and emotions through all of these transitions, or a history lesson on Sudan and this amazing moment in time we happen to be here for. Hmmm….maybe I’ll try for all. 🙂

Sudan. I have been reading a book called “Emma’s War” since I arrived in mid-December. I am still digesting it. It is a wonderfully written book and it is a very good briefing on the history of Sudan. This country. I was speaking to a man today and asked him, in his opinion what has been the longest period of peace he knows of in Sudanese history. He said he would be hesitant to call it even a decade. Here’s the nutshell. North Sudan, largely Muslim Arabs, have been fighting with certain tribes since the 19th century over grazing lands. The North is largely desert with very few natural resources. The South is green, and rich with oil. The North want control of the oil, as well as a sovereign Islamic state. The South are very tribal, and largely Christian. They want the oil, their freedom to worship and live however they please, and they want complete secession from the North. The North and South fought a major civil war in the from 1955-1979. In 1983, it all started again with the North. Only this time, the South started fighting each other over political differences and tribal differences too. The Central Peace Agreement was signed in 2005 between the North and South, which is a major step toward the South being it’s own nation. There are signs all over about “New Sudan”. But it isn’t over. Every person I have asked is very skeptical that the peace agreement will hold up. Many are convinced the North will do everything in it’s power to keep the South and it’s resources. Some think the North will supply the Democratic Republic of Congo and the LRA with weapons to keep the South in turmoil so they can’t get their act together. What does it mean to get their act together, you ask? Well. The South has NEVER had a census done. No one has any idea what the population is anywhere. Some refugees are coming back, some are not, but if there is any word of danger or unrest for whatever reason, people won’t come back. If there is no census, there is no election. The South has until 2011 to have elections to appoint ALL offices. If none of this is done, there will be a lot of grounds to question whether or not they can stand on their own.

I apologize for the history lesson. Now let’s get personal. EVERY person I am working with at HealthNet TPO is a returning refugee. Some were even born in a refugee camp in the 50’s and 60’s when their parents had to flee, only to flee once again in the 80’s. Their stories are amazing and heart-wrenching. But there is something very interesting I didn’t expect. The ones who were in refugee camps are the ones who got education. Many people fled to Uganda and were able to go to University for one thing or the other. The ones who have really suffered are the ones who did not leave. Many of the staff at TPO lost family members right here in Yei. They have come back because this is where their family was and they want to make a new life now that there is peace.

Last week I got my first opportunity to go into the field with a staff member of TPO. We went to assess some of the greatest needs in a town 50 miles from Yei. I rode on a motorbike for 2 hours and the further we went the more I realized how complicated this country is. As I bounced around on the crappy roads I saw men and women missing limbs, bombed out buildings and once we arrived in the town it didn’t stop. We met people who were epileptic and had been injured so badly they had scars all over their body. The families of those individuals believed it was contagious and had cut off all human contact, even to the point of forcing them to eat alone for fear the food would get contaminated. Leprosy, TB, HIV/AIDS are all very present and still very misunderstood.

So. I feel like a HUGE “Debbie Downer”. I apologize for that. But this is some of the context. Within this context I see happy faces, laughter, hope, peace and I am enjoying it! The people I have met are good-humored and fun to talk to. I just had to get this all out so as we continue to describe this setting, the background is there.

We were out with a colleague of Brian’s last night (fellow Minnesotan) and I asked her what she liked about South Sudan so much. She laughed and said, “It’s the Wild West! These are the beginning days of a crazy country!” I think that describes it well.

Listening to Bob Dylan’s…

…”Honey, Just allow me one more chance”…funny song…explains my disjointed mind right now…

Honey, just allow me one more chance
To ride your aeroplane.
Honey, just allow me one more chance
To ride your passenger train.
Well, I’ve been lookin’ all over
For a gal like you,
I can’t find nobody
So you’ll have to do.”

I have emerged from my cocoon of silence! I am back! I have sprouted wings of words and have shed the skin of solitude! I will flutter my stories into your ears and the beauty of them will captivate you.

Maybe not, but it is good to be back in the game of the blogosphere. My silence has had many stages. It started with Bethany’s arrival, and my not wanting to do anything but be with her. Then, after we had time together, we found it hard to access the internet in Kampala, Uganda (we could have, but that would have taken effort…it was my vacation…effort and vacation go together like a pit latrine and a borehole (do you get it?!))(are double parenthesis allowable?). After that I returned to work…enough said.

I am separated from Bethany now…again. I returned and found out I needed to go to some meetings in other field locations…so we were together 4 weeks…now separated another week. Ha.

(interlude_start)

Coffee.

(interlude_end)

New Years…Bethany and I were alone at the house we were staying at and we suddenly looked at our watches and realized it was midnight (shows what a wild time we were having…). We said HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! and ran to the porch to listen to the celebrations. Instead of joyfully inebriated shouts and screams we were greeted by the normal sounds of the city moving itself around, of people carrying on, of mundane city life. We were confused…it was midnight…wasn’t it? As we observed that there was nothing worth observing we were pleasantly surprised by fireworks over the city…it was 12:05… “That’s funny”, I thought to myself, “they started a little late.” From our vantage point the fireworks were small, fairly insignificant, but still fun. Then, around 12:07 other fireworks started…Bethany and I looked at each other smiling…each realizing that another celebration got midnight wrong. As we communicated with our smiles, our ears perked to the sound of voices shouting “10….9…8…” “No way!” I said aloud, beginning to find humor in the situation…” “3…2…1”… “hahaha” (Bethany and I)… “HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!” It was 12:10.

In true African style everything had started late. Each celebration we saw/heard was timed ‘wrongly’ and started when the crowd wanted it to start. Time is a funny thing here…it doesn’t get much attention, and it certainly isn’t followed. The celebration of a time that comes during the day cannot hope to be respected the way it wants to, let alone the way it gets celebrated in a place like Germany or Switzerland. It came when the people felt they wanted it to come…the New Year Started when they decided it should start…when the party’s leader said “TEN” loud enough for everyone to hear and heed.

So, to show my cultural sensitivity, I have decided to wish you a new years in the same fashion… “THREE … TWO … ONE…HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!”

Brain (this is the way everyone spells my name here)

First Impressions – Slowly, Slowly

Greetings from Sudan! I have been here in South Sudan just over a week but it feels like much longer. I sat down many times this week with the intention of posting a blog, but every time I did all my thoughts jammed up in my brain and I had to quit.

We left Kampala two Wednesdays ago and boarded a 15 passenger plane (only 8 of the seats were used) which was the smallest plane I had ever been on. I watched the propellers spin as we started to move down the runway. I remember feeling that the propellers seemed to be moving slower than I would think necessary to carry a group of people (granted a small number of people) into the air. But sure enough that plane took off and 2 hours later we landed on a dirt runway in Yei, South Sudan. We walked off of the plane only to be confronted by a wall of heat. The sun was beating down on my still pasty-white shoulders and the dirt runway somehow seemed to be reflecting the heat up from the ground. I felt very little relief from the heat in the one room building I went to give my visa. In all reality I signed my name and passport number into a book on the table, got a stamp on my visa and it was official: I was in Sudan! Once we got my luggage together, we climbed into the Land Rover with the ARC sticker on the side. Now let me say this. I have never seen a Land Rover do it’s job like I did only moments later. We turned out of the “airport” and we started driving down another dirt road. As we drove, the driver would accelerate and immediately slow down and maneuver through…what should I call it?… a pot hole isn’t right… he had to maneuver through… a ditch! Right in the middle of the road! Then there was anther ditch. And another. And another. Now when I say ditch I mean that the road will suddenly dip down four feet and  create a little waterless pool for the car to drive through! I really think that if we filled a few with hot water, we could have some good sized hot tubs going. And these “ditches” are in the middle of road where cars have to go every day (this is apparently caused by the amounts of rain they get during the rainy season)! Thus, I felt (and this has been confirmed by the fact that EVERY organization owns one) that Land Rover needs to shoot commercials here! This terrain is what those things are made for!

So anyway. Impression #1: The roads are terrible > Land Rovers are amazing.

We “drove” through the Yei area and I kept blinking trying to physically open my eyes to the fact that after all of the anticipation, I had finally arrived. I started to take note of the types of housing I saw. The tukuls that make up the homes of this area are beautiful. They are mud huts with grass roofs. They are short and from what I can tell an adult has to duck to get in, but can stand fully inside. Each family has multiple tukuls on their land. From what I understand, one tukul is for sleeping, one tukul is for cooking, and one is for cleaning and laundry. Some may have more, some have less. The land is very dry especially now with it being the dry season and the women keep the land very clean and well-swept. I think the thing that is most striking about the tukuls is the way they paint them. Each family will paint the base of the tukul (the mud part) one color like blue or brown, and then they paint shapes over that. For instance, one family’s can be painted blue with brown squares all along the bottom. Or another family’s will be cream with black triangles on each corner. I hope I am describing it well, because it is a beautiful sight to walk along the road and see small, colorful tukuls full of children playing.

Impression #2: Tukuls are sweet.

Speaking of children, I know you all want to hear about the little Sudanese babies. I have had many interactions with little children already, and almost every interaction is exactly the same. I’m sure you are wondering what that is. Let me paint you a little bit of a picture. I have been walking to and from the organization I will be volunteering with all week. As I walk down the dusty roads full of ditches I look up at the different tukuls along the roadside, noticing the shapes and colors each family has chosen. Suddenly I will hear a tiny, itty-bitty voice yelling, “Kawaja! Kawaja!” (this is the word for white person). I turn around to hear who the little voice has come from and there is one tiny person alone smiling and waving at me. Now, as you can imagine, it is impossible not to smile and wave back. As I smile and wave, the tiny person continues to yell, “Kawaja! Kawaja! How ah’ yoo?!”. I laugh and say, “I am fine! How are you?” This often makes this tiny person laugh very hard (I am still unsure why) and then it will continue, “Kawaja! Kawaja! How ah’ yoo?!” By this time that tiny person has been joined by many tiny people. And suddenly there are MANY tiny voices yelling, “Kawaja! Kawaja!” Sometimes when these tiny people feel that there is enough moral support, a few of them will run at me and shake my hand, all the while yelling, you guessed it, “KAWAJA! KAWAJA!” It is very cute, but I have started to feel like this game is going to get old. I already learned the native word for “hello” and I am going to learn the equivalent for “how are you” so I can start yelling back in their native language. They are cute, though.

Impression #3: I am a “Kawaja” and everyone must hear it as I walk by.

This blog is long and I have obviously just scratched the surface of what my new life is like here. I’ll get there. There is a motto here that I have repeated to myself many times already: “slowly, slowly”. So slowly, slowly I will understand what it means to live here and slowly, slowly I will share with you what it’s really like.