“Just twelve deaths”

One evening while I was still in Narus. I went walking with Fr. Emmanuel and Fr. Tommy Gilooley. We walked further from the village than I had been before and I was surprised to learn that about 30 minutes walk from St. Bakhita Girls Primary School, there was another school that I had not heard of before. It was in a place called Nachepo.

I knew that people lived in that direction. I often met the women dressed in the traditional dress with charcoal or wood on their heads walking towards Narus to trade in the market there. They carried jerry cans full of milk on their return the jerrycans were full of aragi.

We came to a school seemingly in the middle of no where. The fences were broken down, the roof was damaged, there was no one to be seen and it looked as though there hadn’t been anyone here for a long time. The cement floors of the classrooms had cracked and in places turned to dust. There were very few benches and the unlocked classrooms were occupied only by hornets and termites. 

It felt as though nature was claiming that piece of land back for itself.

I asked if children still came here. The answer came….”they come when there is food”.

This wasn’t an unusual response. I know that food is a large part of the reason parents send their children to school here. The rations provided by the school, sometimes with the help of the World Food Programme, are a huge part of the reason that children are sent to school here. It is not unusual that the only food a child will eat is the food provided in the school.

But what I can’t say is why on that day and in that place, I was so struck and so upset by the answer. The people here are hungry. I will say that the suffering here is nothing when compared to what is happening further north in the areas worst hit by the war.

The Sudan Tribune reported yesterday that there had been a sort of mini-famine in a town a short distance from here. Just twelve deaths were attributed to hunger.

“Just twelve deaths”…lets just let that sink in for a second.

If twelve people died of hunger in my home town of Abbeyfeale in Co. Limerick or in even in London where I live, what would happen? People would care, right? There would be public outcry and an investigation into how our society could have let this happen.

So why is it that here, in a country that has been ravaged by war for decades, there is no outcry? And not just here, but in so many other places across the globe. 

Have we too become sensitised to hardship and suffering? We watch the news every evening and we hear about refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, civilians being executed for practising their faiths, war breaking out here, violent clashes there. I’ve grown up through the 80s and 90s with talk of the famines in Kenya, Darfur and Ethopia. Band Aid made us all aware. We were outraged. Where is the outrage now?

During this trip, I have been deeply troubled by the fact that there are children in this world who wake up in the morning and will not eat that day. There are places in this world that we live in where hunger is normal, where the people almost accept the lack of food as a fact of life.

This is the same world where we as Europeans have experienced beef and milk mountains, where supermarkets and restaurants disgard huge amounts of food every day, where we are overweight, where we carry mobile phones which cost almost an entire year of wages for a trained school teacher in somewhere like South Sudan. 

I’m sorry that this turned into a loathsome rant. It wasn’t intended. I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks now. I haven’t quite been able to get my feelings out in any intelligable sense. I haven’t been able to make sense of my unexpected outrage or the fact that I’m so troubled by it now more than ever before.

A lady what lunches in Kapoeta

I’m hopelessly behind with my posts but I’m going to make an effort to rectify that over the next few days. For now though, let me tell you about our day at the market in Kapoeta last Saturday. 

Fuel is a rare commodity here now. There is no diesel and we have heard that a permit is now needed to move fuel outside of the capital.  

We had heard that there might be fuel in Kapoeta that morning so Fr. Matthew and I went to see if we might be one of the lucky ones who managed to fill the tanks that day. Of course, once wind of the word got out that a car was going to Kapoeta…it was full! We had some teachers from both the primary and secondary schools, all of whom had business to do in the town that day. Tim was busy here working on accounts and making things ready for his trip to Narus this week. 

We set off after breakfast. It was already hotter than hell even at 9:30am in the morning. The drive is about an hour and as we crossed the dry river bed we met many villagers who were on their way to the market. Mainly women carrying jerrycans of milk or waragi (the illicit local brew), charcoal or firewood on their heads. The men of course were busy sitting under the trees playing dominoes.

When we arrived, we deposited our passengers and drove out to “the junction” to see about diesel. We were out of luck I’m afraid. The truck had been stopped leaving Juba. I daren’t presume what might have happened to the fuel.

Having failed in our mission to fill the tanks, we decided to have a soda at the bar across the street from the fuel station. One beer for Fr. Matthew and I was more excited that one probably should be about the prospect of a nice cold Coca Cola. The girl brough the drinks and I didn’t notice at first but soon realised that the syrup I was given was not Coca Cola but Juba Cola! To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. 

Because the South Sudanese Pound is now almost worthless, it is very expensive to import from Kenya. Furthermore, the customs officials at the borders seem to operate a set of rules that change weekly. For example, it is possible to move metal across the border but not wood. It is not unusual for a lorry to be held at the border for weeks. For that reason, some clever entrepreneurs in Juba have started bottling something that looks vaguely like Coca Cola but tastes like the nastiest own brand cola one can buy. Devastating!!

Afterwards we had some errands to run at the market. We went to the bakery where we picked up some bread and then to the veg market where we were again unlucky. No fruit and no eggs. Try again next week they said.

The market is also where currency exchange happens. I had Kenyan Shillings but very few South Sudanese  Pounds. Tim had told me that I should expect about 130 SSP for 1000 KSH. In all honesty, the rate is a little higher than this but I wasn’t about to argue. These traders are providing a service and if they cream a little comission off the top then thats more than fair. I wanted to share around a little bit so I asked  5 different traders to change 5000 shillings for me. I expect each trader made about 20SSP from the transaction. I do love a little honest capitalism!

Once our business was done, it was time for lunch. Well, I have no idea what it was but it was delicious! I think it is called angeli which is an Ethopian dish. The restaurant came highly recommended by Tim but I was rather nervous on entering.It was a ramshackle tin building and I’m fairly certain that any health inspector would have had a coronary immediately on entry. I decided I was brave though and ordered the dish from the very handsome Ethopian proprieter. He returned with water and a large tray of some kind of stewed meat with rice, pasta and something orange served on a bed of fermented bread. I think its fair to say that I’ve eaten in some pretty incredible restaurants all over the world but this was right up there!! 

It reminded me of my lunch with Tim and John Marren at “The Ritz” in Kapoeta on my first trip here in 2013. Tim and John still laugh at the colour I turned when I walked out the back to find them skinning a goat right beside the latrine. I pride myself on a fairly sturdy constitution but this was enough to make this girl green…and to give the boys something to really laugh about! Since then, we have called that place “The Ritz”. 





A day as a teacher in St. Bakhita

I stopped off in Narus for a few days on my way to Riwoto to visit my friends there. More to follow on that but I had a great time going back to St. Bakhita Girls Primary School where I had taught maths two years ago.

It was wonderful to see the changes in the school. There are more teachers and the security has been improved. The new Principal Sister Jane has worked wonders on a shoe string and the girls seem so happy. 

Sister Jane was quick to jump at the opportunity to have a new maths teacher and I spent one day at the school teaching revision classes. I helped to prepare the girls for their mid-term exams which will take place over the coming weeks.

I must admit, I was completely exhausted by the end of it all. But very happy to be back!

On Friday morning, there was a special assembly for me. The girls danced and sang and presesnted me with letters of appreciation for the domitory as well as beautiful beads. I felt so lucky. There was a sense though that I was moving on to a new adventure. 

There are more than 700 girls in the school now which comprise of both borders and day students. About 400 of those girls are borders with many coming from villages and town days away. St. Bakhita is one of the best schools in the province and those parents to value education are always keen to have their children attend.

I will write more about the dormitory later. Theres plenty of news on that front!
   

  

  

Sister Susan sends thanks for the new dormitory

This is another post that I should have written months ago but better late than never I guess.

I am proud to say that this is the fruit of my last visit to South Sudan and I am excited about what adventures my next trip holds in store.

Thank you Sister Susan for such a lovely message and to Fr. Tim for his impressive camera work!!

But most of all, thank you to my family and friends for their financial support in making this happen….look what we did!!!

https://vimeo.com/103996040

The Temporary Dorm

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the war broke out shortly after I left South Sudan in 2013. It was during the girls “long holiday” so we feared that they would not be able to return to school when the term started in January.

The opposite was the case. Girls came to school in such numbers that there was not enough dormitory space. In this video, Fr. Tim shows us the tarpaulin tent he constructed to go some way towards protecting these new students from the elements.

 

https://vimeo.com/103948073

Running Roads for South Sudan

On December 15th 2013, the generations-old power struggle between the Dinka and Nuer ignited and a wave of tribal violence spread across South Sudan. Once again, South Sudan was brought to the brink of war – this time a bloody civil war which has the awful hallmarks of descending into the kind of genocide that we so recently saw in Rwanda. Over a million people are displaced, the refugee camps are full and locals flee having seen villages burned and their tribes-people murdered.

Narus, being close to the Kenyan border is safer but is on the migrant route out of South Sudan. More than 500 people every day leave South Sudan through Narus.

The trouble broke out while the children were on their “Long Holiday”. We worried and feared that the children would not return to school – travelling by road was so dangerous. However, when the children began to return, we were overwhelmed and delighted to learn that so many had returned that the school could not accommodate them all in the dorms. A canvas was constructed to shield the girls from the blistering heat and wild animals but a more secure and lasting solution is needed.

Construction on the new dorm began in February. We have raised a considerable amount of money so far but there is still a way to go.

My wonderful brother Diarmuid and 14 other elite athletes from ESP have so generously entered 3 relay teams in the Cork city marathon which is taking place on Monday 2nd June 2014 to support the effort. And I ask that you support them while at the same time supporting our project in South Sudan. Each and every cent you contribute will be spent on the project – there are no administration charges or fees.

So please – dig deep and do what you can! It is hugely appreciated.

Narus to Nairobi in 36 hours

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This gallery contains 6 photos.

Leaving Narus was strange.  I wrote earlier about that morning in the post “Goodbye Nakalong”. There came a point where I just wanted to have skipped to the bit….skipped to the bit where the goodbyes had been exchanged and the … Continue reading

The strong and refined essence of a continent.

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“There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through 6,000 feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent.”

From Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

When we were in Nairobi and at those times when the absolute beauty of the sunset over the majestic Ngong Hills was almos breath taking Tim would say “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills”. This came as a surprise to me. I knew that Tim had spent 5 years in Kenya but I didn’t realise that he had farmed…until I was politely informed that those were the first words of the literary classic “Out of Africa” and a favourite book of Tims. 

I’m reading the book now but my favourite description comes just two paragraphs after.

It has been difficult to come home. Maybe I’ll talk about all of that another time but when talking to my friends and family about the depth of feeling, this image helped me. 

South Sudan is not quite 6,000 feet but in reflection, this idea of distillation is the perfect description. There is nothing in South Sudan to dilute the experience, nothing to dissolve the feelings. Love, loneliness, sadness, pain, happiness….everything seems more acute. I realise that now. I wrote in earlier posts how I was surprised by my capacity to love and the willingness of the girls to love me. 

And now, as I work to integrate this extraordinary experience into my “real life”, I know that it all awaits me.

I’m walking, walking, sassy, sassy!!

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I helped Ann Grace with the preparation of the Cathucumens on Mondays and Fridays each week. They were a sassy bunch – watch them sing and summon their fellow Cathecumens to class.