What we are, what we are not.

For those that remember, Bethany has mentioned the passing of time in its seemingly anomalous fashion here in our daily lives in Sudan. I cannot begin writing without a (personal) reflection on the speed at which time has traversed…

It has been 8 months and I cannot help but reflect on lessons learned, successes had, and failures performed. At previously unknown speeds I have sped into the future with a brain full of knowledge and a mouth full of rice/beans/repeat. Yet with all of these experiences I still cannot help but feel like a speck in the ocean of humanity just trying to get by…the same as the New York business man, the same as the Delhi lentil salesman…

Today I will call it melancholy because of the news stories all over CNN and BBC about child molestation by UN Peacekeepers and Humanitarian Aid workers across the globe. Sigh. I think people want to believe that humanitarian workers are like saints and find it more appalling when those in this field do bad things than when people in their own backyard do. Its probably fair to judge Western aid workers in such a light…I think the people responsible for such actions should have to face the consequences for their actions, be it locally or back in their homes. The horrible thing, besides the irreparable and unrecognized damage done to the innocent children, (can I even qualify this next thought as horrible after speaking of the abuse of the innocent?) is the reflection some of us out here may feel as a result…I think there is an automatic, unexplainable, defensiveness to stories like this…after all, out here who else do we have then these strangers we see everyday and automatically assume a bond with that we call Humanitarians?

Work is good. We are working on wrapping up many of our projects over the next three months as our current funding starts to end. We work with grants, which typically last one year for us, and we have a list of objectives to be met in the year. So we have to take a chunk of money, maybe 1 million USD (in reality more), and plan how to finish a bunch of different projects while spending the money down to the last penny on the last day of the grant. Not easy…you don’t want to return money b/c then you cant use it and it will just be recycled into another project (you always have to assume the project will be less worthwhile then yours!) and you don’t want to overspend because then it has to come from somewhere, and we all know that something from nothing is very difficult (and ontologically puzzling (more whimsical melancholy at work in my brain—how easily I digress!)). You also cant go on a spending frenzy in the last week buying spare vehicle parts and other necessary materials…it has to be even…spread out…but you cant spend it down too fast or else what happens when the fence to your compound falls down (happened)…or a vehicle gets stuck in crazy border town 4 hours away (happened)…or you need money in your safe in case of crazy homicidal armed groups running around (happened)?

At any rate, we want to finish well, even though many of these programs wont be funded again next year due to donor constraints…not a lot of money pouring into South Sudan (broken record…see earlier postings). Part of what is really difficult to judge out here is the actual impact we have on anything. How do you measure learning/behavior change in a fairly non-literate, ethnically/linguistically diverse area where transport between villages and homesteads is difficult, slow, and sometimes impossible? There are methods for this measuring, but the planning has to be there, which it often is not because of time, money, and personnel. Much of what we do is quantitative (number of buildings, numbers of boreholes drilled/repaired, etc.) but there is a lot that should be more qualitative even though it is sometimes still measure quantitatively (community hygiene trainings, HIV trainings, etc.). Finding out if what we are doing matters is hard at times…well, probably always. I imagine it is probably what my mom was wondering for 18 years as she raised me… “Am I doing this right…what about this? Damn, I screwed that up…” — Please find no allusions to parenting and children in the work I am doing, as that is not my point…rather I am simply saying that seeing results takes time, and we will know if our efforts matter in about 10 years or so — Please also understand that I don’t want to be condescending in what I am saying…the people I work with are doing a fantastic job in what they do and I don’t want to give the impression that it is actually ME doing anything. ****Restated: I guess WE all have to wait 10 years to see if what WE have done will matter.

But there is happiness in trying. And we do have successes…for example, our Home Based Care program is providing nutritious food to families whose primary food earner is debilitated by HIV and other major diseases. One guy that I met and talked to for a while was an older man with leprosy (I shook his hand before knowing…would I have if I had known? I have every time since, but that doesn’t change whether or not I would have originally) whose wife left him b/c of his illness. He was a refugee that returned to Sudan from life in the Congo for 15 years…he has a teenage son. His fingers are gone, his toes are gone, his skin is cracking…he cannot work, cannot farm, cannot. His boy is young and growing…they are thankful for the food we give, but gratitude should never be expected from those that are the worst off, because once one need is met, the next, which is worse than any we will ever face, comes up to be addressed. You can tell if your heart is good (it fluctuates daily) by the grace with which you meet a somber request for more after helping provide for the first need…especially when there was no “thank you”.

Finally, at the end of this babbling trail, I have a quote…a book I just finished by my favorite author, of the moment, Thomas Pynchon…it doesn’t necessarily match the text per se, but it matches the mood with which I approach many of the above topics these days… “Who claims the Truth, Truth abandons.”

Blue-Eyed Parade

Hello, everyone! Brian is fully recovered from his malaria. He’s really thin and is enjoying wearing my pajama pants and t-shirts but other than that he’s fully back to normal. 🙂 So thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers.

So I’ve started running. I found that I have a lot of nervous energy and running has proved to be a perfect way for me to blow off steam (I already emailed Jaron and asked him for running tips). A friend who works just down the road at Samaritan’s Purse showed me a three mile loop that winds on a path through little tukuls and tall grass. It’s a beautiful loop. It goes uphill in the beginning, so the sky slowly expands above me revealing that classic “huge sky” you hear so much about in Africa. I have watched storms coming and going and just a few days ago I got caught in the rain. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a special love affair with rain, so I wasn’t about to stop under a tree – I kept running. Now you can imagine that the sight of a white girl running red-faced through a residential area gets a lot of looks, but a red-faced white girl running through the rain is a whole different sight. I laughed out loud at some of the looks I got from people, but as soon as I laughed the gaukers felt the freedom to laugh “with” me. So that was good.

As people are getting used to me running by their homes I get more and more children running with me. I feel a bit like a girl version of Forrest Gump… in Africa. But two days ago I got the best running partner EVER. I was passing a group of people on the path, three women with jerry cans full of water on their heads, one man, and one old woman. I always notice the old women. So many of the elder generation have eyes that are clear blue due to cataracts and sun damage. It is a striking contrast – the deep lines of age in black skin with light blue eyes, highlighted by a magnificent, jagged smile. I noticed this woman standing with the others and greeted her. They were laughing at me as I passed and as I continued I saw a flash of color in my peripheral vision. I looked to my right and this old woman was running with me! I looked at her and laughed and her face cracked into hundreds of wrinkles as she revealed her broken smile. I studied her in disbelief. She looked to me to be around 70 years old but she was obviously in pretty good shape! Her colorful mis-matched fabrics on her body bounced with her movements and I noticed a plastic rosary jumping around her neck – red, green and yellow (the Jamaican influence here is still surprising to me). We laughed and laughed together. Minutes went by with this woman running by my side. As we passed little tukuls she and I waved at the families while they all roared with laughter, jumping and waving at her. It was like a parade without the candy. At the climax of our parade I turned and laughed with her again at what a sight this must be. As our blue eyes met she suddenly lifted her hand to her face and to my surprise took a HUGE drag from her cigarette! I definitely hadn’t noticed the cigarette before. This 70 year old woman with a multi-colored rosary around her neck was running with me while she smoked! She left the cigarette there, bouncing between her thin lips, smoke puffing out with every breath. Before I could really react she said “Collase, Ques!”. Meaning “I’m finished, it was nice though!” and she continued to run through some tall grass in the direction of a family who were beside themselves with laughter.

And that was it – the end of our parade. I’ll never forget it, though.

Happy Cinco de Mayo… or Cinco de Mostache for those who celebrate this sacred day.

Bethany