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.