It’s Time

It’s time to speak. I left South Sudan in November of 2010 for reasons I couldn’t have imagined when I wrote that last post. Just over six years later, I can’t believe what we are seeing occur across our globe, and within the United States.

South Sudan has struggled to stabilize since its independence became official in July of 2011. Yei, the village we lived in during our first year in Sudan, has been decimated as a result of rising tribal and political violence, and by all accounts is unrecognizable as the lush town it once was.

In June of 2014, we learned about the atrocities happening in Iraqi Kurdistan – in the area we lived and worked – at the hands of extremist groups.

As the world has spun, it has seemed to spin further and further into chaos.

I carry with me a load of guilt for leaving Sudan. I know it’s irrational. I know that I would not make one lick of difference in a situation that links back to deep-seated tribal and political issues. I know that my presence there does very little on a macro level.

In the years since I left, I have become quiet about my time in North and South Sudan and Iraq. When I bring my experiences up with friends and family, the mood tends to shift. The topic either makes people uncomfortable, bored, or defensive (if they feel they should have done/should do something in the humanitarian aid field), or it is romanticized as an exotic way to live. I have also seen others react by telling me that I don’t “look” like someone who worked in humanitarian aid, or that “three years isn’t that long” and therefore I shouldn’t be so affected by the experiences. In the end, I have found that bringing up the specifics of the days and nights I spent in these countries leaves me feeling isolated from the people around me and, therefore, I have largely avoided getting into details other than providing small palatable sound bites for easy consumption.

On January 27, 2017 our newly elected president, Donald J. Trump, signed an executive order to stop accepting refugees into the United States.

I sat stunned in my office in D.C., staring at the words on the screen. I looked at the map and saw big blocks of countries identified with a bold red color indicating the countries from which refugees will not be accepted. Sudan and Iraq were among those countries.

It has taken time for me to develop actual words for some of the emotions I am feeling, but I know I must start to use words – detailed words – to start to speak about parts of the world in which I have had the privilege of seeing the sun rise and set. In those places I have watched women, children, and men laugh, cry, learn, love, and struggle through life.

We need to begin to act like we share this planet with 7 billion people.

We need to use our privilege and our resources to reach out to those in need, not shut our doors to them.

We need to be humbled by our weaknesses, learn from humanity’s mistakes, and engage with each other to find a way forward.

I can’t stay quiet anymore. If this executive order is blocked and ultimately unsuccessful, I will still speak up and stand up against fear, hate, isolation, and withdrawal.

– Bethany