Back to Juba and Final Thoughts on South Sudan
Woke up in the middle of the night and was surprised to see the stars above me. For a brief moment I forgot where I was. The crescent moon shone brightly in a corner. The cat came meowing for food, in the middle of the night she had jumped onto the table and found herself an open can of tuna fish. I dished her some remnants of pasta with a piece of goat meat but she showed no interest so I picked her up and that was what she wanted, some cuddling and petting. Her purring soon dominated the cool morning air.
My run took me away from the center of town this morning, not much more to be seen, stretches of dusty flat lands with isolated tukuls and buildings with the slight breeze carrying whiffs of the smell of human wastes. Only about 7% of the people here have any kind of sanitary facilities.
There was no breakfast today, Johnson went into town and bought us each a big bottle of cold mango juice.
We were to leave for Juba in the morning but the flight had been delayed to the late afternoon because of heavy rainstorms in Juba. We had time for a quick lunch and drove to the airport which was essentially a fenced-in dirt patch with no airport building facility to speak of. The waiting area was just a big truck tire parked under an acacia tree where many ex-pats had been gathering while their land cruisers waited for them. Johnson and Robson had other things to do in Pairang, north of Bentiu, and they left us there by the tree. So we waited with the rest of the people from WFP, MSF, UNHCR…seeking whatever shades we could find. Security was provided by the UN soldiers with their blue helmets. I wonder what would happen during the rainy season, the lonely acacia tree or the three-foot tall palm tree in one corner could not shield anyone from the elements. The sun seemed to get hotter, many ex-pats ran out of water, an enterprising South Sudanese would have made a small fortune selling cold water at this "airport lounge". Our plane was delayed for an hour but it was a blessing that it came and the storm in Juba ceased giving us a window to fly in and land.
The Nuers are a very friendly tribe and they make a point to say “Marlay” and shake your hands when they meet you. Some Nuer men have their foreheads cut with six horizontal lines with a sharp knife when they are about fifteen to initiate them into manhood and if they cry at all it will be a sign of weakness and it will bring shame to their families. Cows are slaughtered to celebrate the occasion. While Westerners have Botox to reduce wrinkles, the Nuers induce more wrinkles earlier on in their lives. Women do not have such ceremonies but some do have their faces scarified but no cows are slaughtered. Most of the Nuers display a gap between their front teeth and women and men alike spit through the gap with practiced ease, the spittle arcs on its way in the air before it hits the dirt. Their skill of spitting through the gap between their front teeth must be the envy of many of our baseball players in the US.
Our time here in Koch County in Unity State has come to a very quick end. As I mull over my experience, the human issues and needs of South Sudan are vast and innumerable. Many of the Nuers here are born into abject poverty with little to call their own. They are destined to repeat many manual and mundane chores and do not enjoy much respite from them. Their recreation is to thump on the Gerry can rhythmically in the evening as they gather around the open cooking fire to share their evening meal. They have scant belongings and little food and the children probably wear their filthy rags every day. For those who suffer much on earth it is only fitting that a piece of heaven awaits them. We who are given many blessings on this earth now should give back much more during our lifetime. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” Luke 12:48 King James Version The dependence on oil for their sole source of revenue could be the Achilles’ heel of South Sudan. The vast distances between villages and the nearest health care center are mind boggling and this will be made even more inaccessible with the rains and floods. WR is working on improving the public health situation in Koch County with potential funding from US, Canada, UK and Germany. The proposals are in the works and they are for a period of three years with possible extensions. It will surely need more long years to even improve the situation here ever so slightly, a very sobering thought indeed!