Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

“The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real…

No sympathy for the devil – keep that in mind- Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

-Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

If anyone has seen the movie, they know what depths of insanity this quote comes from. If you haven’t seen the movie, but know who Hunter S. Thompson (writer) or Terry Gilliam (director) are, then you can formulate an idea of what is going on in this quote.

I have always loved this quote. The way Depp’s character delivers the line is absolutely brilliant…the line itself is loaded with a tormented soul seeing the depths of insanity he is falling into while remaining sane enough to realize that he himself walked the path to arrive at this state. This, my friends, was me 2 weeks ago.

As some of you know, my organization has been facing a fairly rampant amount of turnover in the last couple of months. This attrition has been natural…nothing abnormal about it. The lifetime of people working in such a hard environment is short, and people have completed their 1-2 year cycles and are moving on. Unfortunately this departure of colleagues has all taken place in a relatively short amount of time, with the result being an added burden to many of us that will be staying! 2 weeks ago the burden had reached its crest for me…I was carrying more weight and doing more work than I have ever, EVER done in my life! I was not only doing my job (as described in previous posts) but also working with/overseeing 3 other sectors of activity that we are working in within my area of coordination. Furthermore, I was also working on an important project in an area that I don’t directly work in. All this to say, I was being stretched.

It was hard in the middle of it, but as the quote says, buy the ticket, take the ride. This is what I signed up for. NGOs are understaffed, overworked, and underfunded. We do our best to get the work done with as much quality as possible, but our resources often reduce our efforts. I have been doing my best to make our resources and personnel reach our goals, and at the busiest time 2 weeks ago when it was sucking the life out of me I had to suck it up and just make it through. I am through the worst of it now (for the time being) and I feel deflated in many ways. I just worry about what the future looks like, and I sincerely hope that we get good staff to fill the holes soon.

It is important to say that in the midst of all the exhaustion and concern, I am grateful for what this period has granted me. I have had to learn A LOT about programming, reporting, finances, and management that I didn’t know before. I have clearly seen the limits of my abilities and have been encouraged by the results of some of my efforts in areas I didn’t expect to perform well in.

The end of my stressful period was closed out by a party here in Yei, put on by another NGO down the road. This NGO has lots of money, and the Frenchman in charge took it upon himself to develop a social life in this town. He understands the fact that working in this atmosphere is hard, and, given the tasks at hand, should be dealt with earnestly. However, he also understands that we will all burn out and fail at our jobs if we don’t relax from time to time (something some of the more serious/somber/boring people don’t seem to think is necessary). So, in his effort to help the expatriate population of Yei relax, he built the Yeah Viking Bar. It is a small bar with, no joke, a sound system (with great dance music), cold drinks, strobe lights, laser machines AND….drum roll…a fog machine!!! So, after many hard weeks, Bethany, my peers and I all converged upon the dancefloor for a night of loud music, bright lights, and cold drinks…it was exactly what we needed.

Anyways, I am back in the saddle, counting down the days till my next R&R. Bethany and I are hanging in there, and are learning a lot about each other. It is hard sometimes to focus on what our marriage needs in this environment, but we have to do it so we don’t end up like the majority of people that split in this line of work. We try to avoid thinking of the future much and what it will entail, but it seems to come up often. We don’t know what we want…we have individual ideas, but making them mesh is the hard part. Furthermore, if we decide to stay in this line of work for a longer period of time, we have to figure out how to stay together, especially since the difficulty of finding a good situation for the both of us with my current employer will be difficult. These are just the things that run though my mind…we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but like I said, the future is always a question.

I just got a shipment of music from friends in the states…for those of you that know me, my music tastes are not replicated by anyone that I have been friends with since college…furthermore, they have evolved to a state where I know no one that likes the music I thrive on. In terms of bands people might know,I have been listening to early 70’s Black Sabbath and early 80’s punk rock (Black Flag, Minor Threat) and wondering what it would be like to be alive in those scenes where a style of music that would influence the future of rock was actually born. Why am I putting this down? Because its my blog. And because Music is one of the few things in my environment that I get complete control over (thank you Ipod) and I like talking about it. Needless to say, Bethany hates everything I listen to, so the majority of my musical enjoyment takes place with headphones on while her music pours through speakers (her music is more “socially acceptable” and doesn’t scare people).

Finally, Bethany and I have experienced the most severe disappointment in life we have ever faced. I bought a bootlegged version of the first season of Lost (bootlegs are all we can buy here…get off my case) and we have been watching it religiously over the last weeks. We just got to the final two episodes of the season only to have the DVD stop working. WE CANT FINISH THE SEASON! To make matters worse, my coworker just sent out season 2…so now it is sitting in our room, mocking us, laughing at our misery…and we cry.

Take care everyone…we miss and love you…




Hello, Friends!

This is Bethany writing again. I have been trying to get Brian to write a post, but his schedule has been insane ever since we arrived in Yei and he has had little time for anything but work…more on that later.

After giving a brief history of this area I thought I would write about the new vocabulary I have had to learn since moving here, and I don’t mean the local language: Acronyms. This world of relief and development is a strange one in many ways, but if you don’t know the lingo, it’s impossible to understand. So I thought it would be useful for you, our friends and family, to learn a bit if it along with me. It also gives some insight into the way things are structured here. Here it goes:

“NGO”- Non-government Organization – Brian’s organization, the American Refugee Committee, is an NGO. The organization I work for, HealthNet TPO, is an NGO. There are faith-based NGO’s like Samaritan’s Purse, but not all faith-based organizations are NGOs. Basically, from what I understand, it comes down to funding. A missionary group who is funded largely by churches would not fall under the category of an NGO, while an organization like HealthNet TPO is funded by ECHO (European Commission of Humanitarian Aid). Here is a list of some more NGO’s in Yei:

– GTZ (German something…), DRC (Danish Refugee Comission), JRS (Jesuit Relief Services), …that’s all I can think of for now.

“VCT Center” – Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center – For Brian’s organization, ARC, they are very well known for their VCT sites. These sites are where people can come and get tested for HIV/AIDS. These sites are usually next door to a primary health care site. ARC has VCT counselors who are trained to bring people through the process of testing and the results. After the results, the individuals are referred to home-based care, which is also provided by ARC.
“Ex-pat” – Ex-patriot – A person who leaves their home country to work in another country. So between “NGO” and “EX-pat”, you have half a conversation! For instance, we went to a party on Saturday night, and the invitation was for “Ex-pat, NGO employees only”. Luckily, that meant Brian and I could go. I am sure Brian will want to blog about that party later, so I will leave that to him.

“Compound” – A section of land for NGO offices, as well as ex-pat living quarters.

“Kawaja” – White person. I am still amazed at what a novelty it is here.

“IDP” – Internally Displaced Person/People – A person or group of people who have been displaced by conflict or crisis, but does not cross country borders. The international benefits for an IDP is far less than the international benefits of a refugee.

“Refugee” – A person who has crossed country borders as a result of conflict or crisis. As soon as a person crosses country borders, international law gives that person a right to basic necessities like shelter, food, education, etc.

Note: While refugees have extremely traumatic experiences, IDP’s are often the ones who have the worst situations or experiences

“Returnee” – A person who is returning to their country, town, or village. Every person I work with at TPO is a returnee.

All the “UN” organizations – I won’t even try to list all of the factions of the UN with their acronyms explained, but here are as many as I can think of: UNHCR, UNDP, UNOCHA, UN police, UN. They are everywhere.

“Capacity Building” – More than anything, this is a buzz word. Every NGO worker I have spoken with has used this phrase at least once. This refers to the amount of time that is needed to educate and equip Sudanese people with the skills and ability to be independent. From what I am learning, observing and experiencing, this is the most important aspect of working here, but it is what makes working here difficult. Let me explain. The South Sudanese people have been in survival mode for decades. If you weren’t living in a refugee camp, you were literally dodging bullets and bombs, not to mention struggling to eat and stay healthy. You can imagine what this lifestyle does to the mind of an individual, much less an entire generation of these patterns. So with people coming back home after all these years, every NGO worker’s job description (whether it is written or not) includes trying to empower each individual they are in contact with skills to do these jobs themselves. For instance Leo, my boss at TPO, sat the entire staff (all 35 of them) and said, “You are now the management of this program. You clean up after yourselves, you problem-solve, you make decisions about what to do next, YOU are now in charge of yourselves.” Now, Leo has been here for almost two years and has done A LOT of leg-work to get to the point where he can say these things and have the staff actually feel a sense of empowerment. It is not that there is an IQ issue AT ALL. It is simply that these mental “muscles” have never been used. As Leo says, these people have been kept small and we want them to feel how big they can be.

“TPO” – Maybe this is a good time to tell you more about the organization I am working for. Funny thing is, I don’t know what “TPO” stands for. Ha! It is a Dutch organization, and the “TPO” part is, I think, something Dutch. TPO is a psychosocial organization. Their goal is to train local, Sudanese staff as psychosocial workers to go into their communities and help heal and empower others. Their catch phrase is, “Enabling people to help themselves.” There are 35 Sudanese employees, most of them are psychosocial workers (PSW). Each PSW is assigned a “zone” within Yei county. Each day after a brief meeting outside under large bamboo shoots, the PSWs hop on their motorbikes and fly off to their zones. Each zone has an office where clients can come to visit to talk about any issues they have. The PSW’s also go out into their zonal communities to see how people are doing. The staff helps counsel people who are affected by alcoholism, gender-based violence, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, family disputes, conflicts in the community, and as I mentioned in the previous post, epilepsy. The PSW’s conduct awareness workshops on life skills, conflict resolution, as well as on the specific topics I listed above. So. When I started there, I was really curious about what I was going to do. First of all, I am not Sudanese, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to be a PSW… so then what? Well, I am now the Forum Theater/Recreational Sports Officer. I team with two other Sudanese employees to meet with young people all over Yei county and give them activities to do. Apparently “idleness” is a huge issue for young people. They don’t have television, or music, or even city parks to play in. So TPO wants to teach/equip young people with activities like soccer (which they of course love) and dramas. So far I have met with almost 20 groups of young people. We are starting distribution of soccers and volleyballs next month and already I have started training 3 groups on drama techniques. It’s been so fun to hear both girls and boys laughing, playing all the silly games we played growing up in youth group at church.

So. That’s a little of what I do. I said I would write more about Brian… As I type this, Brian is attending a dinner at UNHCR with the donors that fund most of ARC’s programs in South Sudan as well as many other NGOs’ projects. He has spent the first half of this week preparing for their visit. He took them to VCT centers, home based care operations, and many other sites. This NGO world is strange for many reasons, but it is a powerful tool in post-conflict areas like Yei. Between the services the NGOs provide along with the jobs they provide for local staff, they are well-known and well-appreciated.

So here ends our relief and development vocabulary lesson for today… any questions?

I almost forgot! We have a flickr account where you can see pictures of our lives here! To see them, click here and enjoy.