I’m sorry that it’s been way too long since the last blog entry! Since the last one, I’ve finished a rotation, had an R&R with my family in Kenya (great!!!), and now I’m 2 weeks away from the third R&R to Nigeria to attend a friend’s wedding! Below are a few significant events and descriptions of my experiences in the last few months. Photos are posted here, if the links don’t work.
A previous project I worked on in May was hygiene promotion in cattle camps. The people of the cattle camps live in very remote areas, far from the main road, and thus live mostly off of the land and their cows. This cow is growing horns to be a warrior cow – its right horn is the sword held high and the left horn is the shield ready to protect from an attack. The man is showing that this is his cow, which gives him high status and makes him a desirable bachelor. His pose is used in dance to show his wealth by the kind of cow he has. The right side shows strength whereas the left side is weakness. The people wear a length of fabric wrapped under one arm and tied in a knot over the shoulder. The men wear the knot on the right shoulder because he is strong. The women wear the knot on the left shoulder because they are weak. Young girls wear this fabric with nothing underneath until they are married or promised to marriage, around the age of puberty. The prized cow wears a huge bell on its neck and leads the herd. Most young men are seen carrying a weapon – a large wide knife or a spear, which is to protect their cattle from raids by other tribes or wild animals.
In the morning, cows are taken to the river to drink and fields to graze. On hands and knees, younger boys and sometimes girls spread out the dung made in the night, to dry in the sun. They walk around with dried cow feces caked on their skin. Around mid day, the female cows come back to the camp for milking. In the evening, the dried dung is gathered into a pile by hand and smoulders all night. The cows are all roped to pegs in a circle around the fire. The smoke keeps the cows calm throughout the night.
Oddly enough, many of the cow’s “products” are used in daily life, but they do not slaughter the cow to eat. The only time they eat the cow meat is when the cow dies naturally. Cow urine is stored and used to clean containers. Internet research shows that it is a natural disinfectant. It is sometimes added to the milk for consumption of essential salts. Boys can often be seen wearing a plastic bag on his head to keep cow urine on his hair in the sun in order to bleach his hair. A colleague reported seeing children rushing to the cow when it was urinating so they could wash their faces in it. I saw a boy with severe cleft palate drinking the milk directly from the cow teat. This image of a perversion of life is burned into my mind. “This isn’t how the world was meant to be,” is all I can think. Risks of drinking raw milk are tetanus, tuberculosis, and brucellosis infections. The teat can also be contaminated by diarrhea-causing bacteria. I had the privilege to try milking a cow – it was a disaster! No one told me the teat had to be aimed! And I was only able to squeeze out a little piddle at a time. We brought fresh milk back to the base and boiled it to drink. I didn’t like it at all. It tasted like dirty cow…not surprisingly. The ash of the dung is spread over the arms, legs, and face to protect them from mosquitoes and flies.
The people of the cattle camps are artisans and craftspeople, making their own tools, weapons, and materials, such as leather rope, knives, spears, smoking pipes, chairs, and games. They play mancala in cups made in the ground and with seeds/nuts. The boys also play a fighting game using sticks lodged into limes to make a V shape. They throw the soldiers at each other trying to get the two Vs to catch each other.
Scarification is a common ritual among the people of the cattle camps. They have the scarring on their foreheads to distinguish their tribe. The females scar other parts of the body such as the chest, abdomen, and back with beautiful patterns to make her more attractive. Scarring is also used by the traditional healers. The traditional healers also use the cupping technique. These methods seem to be related to the body humours practice of medicine.
Can you understand what a challenge it was to share hygiene messages and what a challenge it would be to see significant behaviour change?
Our faithful driver and I have developed a very good relationship. He teaches me about the culture in a very insightful way. He speaks English well and seems to have the insider and outsider perspective. I really appreciate his work, his company, and our conversations. I asked him, “What makes a woman attractive in the Dinka culture?” He told me that it is attractive for a woman to be tall and thick, with black gums, small, perky breasts, and straight teeth. I asked further about the teeth issue, because most people have teeth that stick out, making it difficult for them to annunciate. He said that those are the attractive teeth – straight ones. I laughed so hard because he meant that they should stick “straight” OUT, not as we think of straight teeth being straight DOWN and aligned. The way the teeth get that way supposedly has to do with the cultural practice of pulling teeth. The front 4 bottom teeth are pulled as adult teeth, so most of them do not have bottom teeth. The top front four teeth are pulled as baby teeth. The way they do it is by sticking a tool between the gum and the tooth and leveraging it out! Painful! This apparently damages the tooth socket so that when the adult teeth grow in, they stick out. The Dinka brush their teeth very well with a local plant twig and most of them have very white teeth. In this conversation about what makes a female attractive and as I’ve been told otherwise, I have thick calves and small, perky breasts, BUT I’m too short, and my gums are so pink! and my skin is weird and pink, and I have too many teeth and they are the wrong angle, and my hair looks like sheep hair, and I like raw vegetable like a wild animal. I am quite the ugly oddity in this culture. It doesn’t do well for my dignity.
In June, I have been working on Hygiene Promotion in Primary Schools. This has involved reading a lot of material, putting together a manual for the CLOs to follow, providing a 2-day training for teachers in 2 of our 1-year project sites, and hygiene campaigns with the students. In one state, we trained 19 teachers from 7 primary schools; and in the other state, we trained 15 teachers from 7 primary schools. Topics of the training include the hygiene messages and how to teach them using teaching aids (cloth flipchart and laminated illustrations), the life skills-based teaching methodology for practical topics (such as hygiene), how to create a lesson plan about hygiene using the life skills-based approach, incorporating handwashing, good defecation habits, and drinking clean water into the school’s daily activities, and making an action plan for improving the hygiene status of their school. The training in the first location went beautifully! The teachers were engaged, interested, respectful, dedicated, and a good mix of male and female teachers. Being in the north part of South Sudan, many of the teachers were trained in north Sudan. The training in the second location last week was rough. The teachers, all male, seemed to be unmotivated, have low capacity and analytical skills, mostly interested in trying to get more incentives from us and/or finishing the training as soon as possible, don’t seem to care for the students, and quite disrespectful. The culture here is rather disrespectful to women, who are seen more as a household resource than as people. I was really feeling the effects of this as I was putting myself in a trainer position over these men who must have felt threatened and several times put me down, criticized the training activities as I was teaching, taunted me as a group, and many other more discreet things. I was co-training with the CLO, a male, who picked up on this as well. I think he didn’t know how to intervene, and probably saw me trying to fight for myself well enough. I told them directly at the end of the first day that I felt disrespected. They denied it, and continued. I really wanted to respect them, but when it came down to doing some of the activities like make the lesson plan, they were incapable of applying the information we had shared. In the action planning, they were incapable of creating action points, listing materials needed, making one person in the group responsible to ensure its completion, and setting a due date. For example, after suggesting an action point to one group, I asked them when did they expect to have it finished, pointing to the “due date” column on the paper. The scribe wrote down “May 10”. I reminded him that this is June 29, today so did he mean July 10? He said, “No, May 10; we are just assuming.” After trying to figure out what he meant, I reminded him that these are REAL action points that I expect them to share with the school headmaster and actually complete. He didn’t get it. He kept saying, “We are assuming.” Incredibly frustrating. There was, of course a language difficulty, but their comprehension of the activity itself was poor and inexplicable.
Throughout the 2 days, I had many ugly thoughts. As I was cut down, I held my tongue to tell them things like how many places in the world I’d been to, and that I have a master’s degree, and that I have a better understanding of the universe than they do, and that I’ve had more diverse experiences, etc. Shame on me! What right do I have to exalt myself over them? These things don’t make me better or worse, or more meaningful, or more valuable, or more of an authority than they are. Are these things even at the essence of my being? These are the world’s standards of exultation. My identity is in Christ, and so is theirs. Each one is a beautifully created image of Christ, with a high calling and important purpose to serve on this earth. Each one is more valuable than pearls and gems or education level, or experiences, or travel. They carry something special, somehow reflecting the Kingdom of God, no matter how distorted. I am just as fallen as they. I am just as saved by Christ. Coincidentally, the devotion shared the morning of the second day was on humility. And the next chapter of the book I’m reading (which I picked up the evening of the second day) is on humility. I got the message and I thank God for His correction and guidance on how to bring the kingdom of God to earth, how to truly love and to love truly. I am still learning to love.
Also in June, Medair South Sudan had our annual WASH conference, strategy conference, and our second quarterly meetings, all in a row. It was intense and difficult!!! There was a guest lecturer who shared a lot of daunting and depressing information about where the UN thinks South Sudan economy is headed. The government is running out of money. One of the things that he shared was that due to the economy, essential items, like bread, are getting very expensive for the majority. The government’s response is to make rules and regulations for standardizing the size and ingredients of all bread made for sale. I’ll leave it at that.
Last time I was at one of our 1-year project sites, in upper Upper Nile State, the team’s security was compromised in a laughable situation (retrospectively). Sudan is across the river where there is an army base. On either side of our base are army barracks for the south. One fine Sunday when I was in the office planning to have a picnic lunch outside, we heard gunshots. Actually, I was oblivious, but luckily my colleague heard it and knew what it was. He walked outside to find out what was going on and I stayed inside the concrete building thinking, “He’s crazy to go out there. I will just stay right here and keep working in the protection of these lovely concrete walls.” After what seemed like a long time, I walked towards the door and peeked outside to see our ENTIRE team in a line along the fence at the back of the compound, facing Sudan across the river. Apparently, they weren’t concerned, or they were completely oblivious to how dangerous they were being. I went into the kitchen (still very protected) to get my food, lamenting that I would not get to have my picnic outside in the nice weather. The others trickled in and also got their lunch. Then POP POP POP from the other side of the compound and much closer than the first ones. I quickly took my food into the storage room, which is our safe room and hunkered down, continuing to eat my lunch. Others on the team loaded our evacuation supplies into a vehicle. Soon enough, the news came that soldiers from our side had crossed the river into ANOTHER COUNTRY WITH WHICH THEY ARE NEARLY AT WAR, stolen some goats to eat and brought them back while being shot at. The second round was our side shooting back as they were increasing their numbers on the shore of the Nile for intimidation. All this movement, action, and stress was over a few soldiers having the audacity to steal goats from the enemy because they were HUNGRY. Again, “This isn’t how the world was meant to be!” Still, we had to remain alert in case of escalation, so we each got our own essential personal belongings together (including our quick run bag) and continued working. After a few hours, we sent 2 of our team to communicate with the local authorities for advice on the situation and if we should evacuate or not. In the end, we didn’t. A very eventful day!
Lastly, I will tell you The Phone Saga. While in Kenya, my phone was lost/stolen at one of the lodges that my family and I were staying in. After my family left for the states and I was in Nairobi, I considered purchasing a phone at the Nakumatt (the Kenyan Wal-Mart), but I didn’t feel like going to the mall. And I asked one of our logisticians in Juba how much a simple phone costs there. He said it was 30 South Sudanese Pounds (SSP), which is about 10 bucks – a good deal. Once I arrived in Juba and gave him the money with a description of what I needed, he shared that he thought I meant a phone battery, not a new phone (even though I didn’t say anything about a battery). A phone would actually cost 100SSP (about 30 bucks). Fine. I gave him the money. The next day, I was happy to receive a new phone and charger. I charged it until it said it was full and then went out with a driver and Medair vehicle to get a visa for Nigeria for my next R&R. After we finally found the place, the driver had another errand to run and left me standing in front of the gate on the street. I quickly found out that no one was in the office, even though it was 10am. The guard said he couldn’t do anything about it, but I should wait because the person I need to see is “coming” and “on his way”. I decided that wasn’t good enough and took out my phone to call the driver to come back, but somehow, the battery was already dead!!! Now I was stranded somewhere in Juba without a working phone! (We all carry a printed contact list.) I asked the guard if there was a phone charging station nearby, and he walked me to the closest one, around the corner. These are small kiosks with lots of electrical plugs and they charge a nominal amount to charge the phone. I waited ‘til it had a decent charge and called the driver. The driver came just as someone appeared from inside the gate, somewhat surprisingly…why hadn’t the guard told me there was someone inside to attend to me??? This person said he would call “the big guy”, who was supposed to be on his way. My driver is now impatiently waiting for me. The big guy was around the corner and came quickly. We did our greetings and then I found out that the man I had spoken to on my previous visit did not give me a complete list of the required documents, so I would have to return yet a third time…
Back to The Phone Saga: I brought the phone to the logs guy, who informed me that it is common practice for the phone seller to remove the original battery and replace it with a short-life battery before selling it. It is apparently normal. I asked how much a better battery would cost? 30SSP. I shelled out the money to finish this off, just to have a working phone! I went to the field with my short life battery, new phone, and charger. In a freak accident, a laptop fell off of a desk and severed the cord of my new charger. I borrowed a charger from a colleague and sent a request for a new charger. I would send the money back to Juba with a colleague. The reply informed me that the new battery would actually be 40SSP, not 30, and the new charger is 10 more SSP. I sent the money. Before I returned to Juba, the phone stopped charging and stopped turning on. “Maybe its just the crap battery. It will be fine with the new one.”
Upon return to Juba, I very happily got the new battery and charger. It still wasn’t turning on. The logs guy I had been communicating with went on leave for 3 weeks, so I had to bring all this drama to another guy who said this was a personal matter that he didn’t want to deal with. Apparently, he still gave it all to a driver/logs guy to sort out and the conclusion is that the phone is mysteriously broken. My manager is kindly lending me a phone right now, but the phone saga continues. And continues to annoy and frustrate me.