Kamai is a village about 55 miles from Narus. That 55 miles takes just under 2 hours over dirt tracks and dry river beds. Tim had arranged to say Mass there so I tagged along for the ride.
There is no church but a number of small villages share a place of prayer. There is a small clearing under on the bank of the river. Two large trees provide shade to mass goers. We were first to arrive so we drove to the villages to round up the troops.
The children walked beating drums and singing hymns in their local Toposa language. They could be heard from all around so others joined the procession to Mass. In one of the pictures below you can see some of the children walking along the dry riverbed to our place of prayer.
In all I think about 80 people attended Mass under the tree. Fr. Tim celebrated mass in Toposa.
Here are some pictures.
This week has been an exciting one in Narus. A peace summit was held in our compound at which there were more than 100 delegates from Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. the attendees included representatives from the Didinga, Dinka, Toposa, Turkana and Karamajong tribes as well as delegates from the relevant NGOs.
Security was high in the compound and in Narus generally, there were policemen armed with AK-47s guarding our compound all week.
My Standard 8 girls have mocks exams this coming week but I was able to move some classes around to allow me to attend for the closing of the summit. Many topics were discussed such as the poaching of animals in the National Park on the Ugandan side of the border, the import of illegal alcohol from Uganda, border disputes between the Didinga and Toposa tribes, cattle raiding between the tribes and violence in the Didinga hills.
It seemed that the Toposa got the blame for quite a portion of the regions problems. They graze their animals without permission on the Didinga side of the border when the rains come there and then claim that they are unaware of the border. Lives are lost daily in disputes between the Didinga and Toposa tribes about grazing and cattle raiding. The dispute between the Didinga and Toposa is bitter and runs very deep indeed.
A dialogue between the tribes was suggested but it seemed to take an eternity to agree on a location. Eventually, mutual ground was found and we moved on to finding a date for the meeting. Then all hell broke loose. The chief of the Toposa stood up and insulted the elders of the Didinga. When calm had finally been restored it was agreed that a small group would go outside and decide when the meeting should be.
So the small group went outside…and so did everyone else. Fr. Tim with his infinite patience and enviable command of both Juba Arabic and Toposa dialects helped to mediate. It turned into what I thought was a good and proper screaming match but later Tim told me that that is just how the Toposa speak. What is for absolutely sure is that there is no love lost between the tribes. Behind me, while the mediation went ahead, a young man confronted one of the Toposa elders and accused him of the deaths of a group of Didinga cattle herders. There was so much happening at once it seemed almost impossible to pay full attention to any of it!
As I write this morning, my standard 8 girls begin their mock exams. I just returned from the school having gone there to settle them before the exam and to wish them luck. I think I am more nervous than them – I found myself explaining what butterflies were!!
The girls are ready though. We had a briefing last evening to prepare them and to help them understand what to expect. There are students from Comboni Boys Primary as well as from Lolim and adult learners from Newcush. The men from Newcush are SPLA soldiers who were recruited as child soldiers when they should have been safe in their schools. They came to the briefing yesterday in full uniform which means rather intimidating attire and an AK-47. I met them this morning and thankfully they had been given permission to sit the exam in civilian attire. They all looked very smart and very nervous!
The Primary Leaving Exam is used by the state to decide which students will go to secondary school or not. Also, Mercy Beyond Borders use the results of this exam to decide which candidates will have their secondary school fees sponsored by the organisation.
All my girls tell me that they want to go to secondary school. There are aspiring engineers and scientists in the class. But the sad fact is that out of my 34 girls, secondary school will only be a reality for about half. This is the strongest class that St. Bakhita will see for some time. The girls work hard, they start school each morning at 7am and finish at 4pm. In maths, they test themselves with problems found in text books from Kenya and Uganda.
The final exam will be in the third week of November and I am so sorry that I will miss it. Once the exam is over the girls will then be on holidays until the first week of March. Those girls who have homes to go to will return to their villages and their homes. The sad fact is that some will already be promised as wives by their fathers to men in their villages. If they can somehow get through the three months of holidays and return to school, the future may well be very bright for these girls.
Some other girls are orphans or displaced children from Boma in the East. The orphans will often stay with friends in Narus but as far as I know, arrangements are being made for the displaced children to remain as borders during the break. Boma has seen terrible violence over the last few months and many villages have been burned.
So, keep my girls in your thoughts this week especially tomorrow morning when they will sit their maths mock exam! Send all your prayers and your positive thoughts to St. Bakhita Girls Primary School in Narus, South Sudan!!
What a perfect girlie afternoon Anne Grace and I had on Saturday last. We heard a rumour that there was yogurt (yes, yogurt!) I’m the Dinka Market so we took off in search of some.
There are two markets in Narus. The Toposa market which doesn’t have a great deal except the local alcohol (waragi) that is brewed here. It seems to me that most adult Toposa are drunk by 3pm every day. The problem is so bad that many young girls brew alcohol to pay for their school fees.
The Dinka market is better stocked. The Dinka people seem to have a better grasp of business – there are many more Dinka traders than Toposa traders. And frankly, I think they’re probably more sober too.
Jen has a stall in the Dinka Market where she sells some groceries but she has a rare competitive advantage in that she has a solar fridge. I think the fridge had been out of action for a while leaving a huge shortage of strawberry yogurt in Narus but she’s back in action again!
The other great find of the day is a man who sells mobile phone credit for face value. Typically, 10SSP of credit costs 13SSP here. The traders consider it fair to charge a premium for the fact they’ve had to travel to Kapoeta or Torit for it.
Once we had completed our little shopping trip, we found two chairs in a veranda of a store house and sent a young boy to find us two cold bottles of Coke. We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and enjoying our Cokes. We may as well have been sipping a very nice bottle of white wine outside Oriel on Sloane Square and watching the world go by!
We prayed for rain and it came. Torrential and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Classes in the morning were cancelled and at midday the rain had eased so I donned my gum boots and went to see the water in the river. Each day, I walk to school along the river bed. Yesterday, that river bed lay under 8 feet of the most terrifying torrent of water gushing at such a speed Any boy or girl unfortunate enough to fall in would be swept away and drowned. Sadly, that was the fate of one man in the village. From what I hear his body has not yet been found.
As well as teaching maths to standard 7 and 8 in St. Bakhita Girls Primary School, I also help with the preparation of the candidates for Baptism and Communion. The girls range in age from about 4 years old to 15 years.
Our first class was last week and while the girls could recite the Ten Commandments, they seemed to have little comprehension about what they really meant or where they came from. So, I set homework for the girls which was presented to Anne Grace and I yesterday and we just had to share!
Our of the 30 or so girls who were present in the class, 5 completed the homework I set. This is a pretty impressive statistic. Homework is a very foreign concept here, I mean they know what it is but just don’t bother as a rule.
Of the 5 assignments returned to us, 3 were exactly the same…even the spelling. They were also a pretty alternative take on the Commandments….It’s been a while since I learned the Commandments but I’m pretty sure the second Commandment has something to do with using the Lords name in vain rather than more specifically dealing with stationary theft.
I really hope you can see these pictures – if not, please someone leave me a comment and I will transcribe them.
This part of South Sudan is dry…so very dry and hot. I walk to school every day through the river bed. There is so rarely water in the rivers that the roads run straight through. Even if there was money to build bridges, I can’t imagine they would bother in most cases. There is one bridge in Narus and conveniently it is just a little further up the river from where I cross. So, when it rains I can take the bridge to school instead.
It rained last Saturday morning. Tim and I drove to the church for mass at 7am. Sometime around the second reading the heavens opened. The rain fell against the tin roof completely drowning out every word Fr. Tim said. And the the win added to the drama. Gusts blew great torrents of water through the ventilation space in the roof of the church drenching us all. So we moved to the other side of the church and continued.
Just after Communion, there was an almighty crashing noise. It sounded as though something had crashed against the metal door of the church. Or very loud gunfire maybe. By the time I reacted I saw that my girls from standard 8 were already under the pews looking terrified. We all giggled when we realised that we’d all had such a fright from a clap of thunder. From where Fr. Tim sat he could see the lightening strike almost immediately outside the church.
What struck me deeply though was that this was not the first time the girls had run for cover like that. They grew up in South Sudan during the war. Narus was bombed many times. The girls were accustomed to hearing jets overhead from Khartoum and knew the signal to sprint to their designated bunkers. There are bunkers everywhere. There are at least three in our compound and many more in the girls primary school. I thought how fortunate I was that the reality of my childhood was so very different to theirs.
By the time we were ready to leave, the pickup was full of my students and we took off. We dropped the girls off at the bridge and continued the short distance to our compound. When it rains here, the road turns to mud often several feet deep. And then we got stuck! Tim declared it so matter of factly that there didn’t seem any point encouraging him to try again!
I got out of the pickup to investigate and I established that if we could just move one large stone we should be able to proceed. So…when my girls returned to see what all the commotion was about, they found their maths teacher barefoot in a foot and half of mud trying to loosen a big stone from under the pickup. Needless to say they thought this was the funniest thing they were likely to see all week!!
Anyway, my efforts were futile and we ended up calling Mongi (our mechanic) to come with the tractor and save us. When a task seems just too large, a man on a Massey Ferguson can always fix it!!
It rained on Wednesday too but I’m afraid it wasn’t quite such a giggle. It rained quite heavily for about 3 hours from 5am. I made it to school safely through the mud but on my way back to the compound after my morning classes I met Sr. Agnes who told me that there had been an accident.
About 20 Toposa women had stayed at our compound for two nights. They had been in Kenya and Uganda to have peace talks with the Turkana and the Karamajong. There is a long history of violence and war between the three tribes. They had a good trip and productive discussions.
Their villages are about 6 hours drive into the bush from Narus. They travelled in the back of a truck. Apparently the truck hit a pothole which was actually mud many feet deep and the truck toppled over. The women were thrown from the back of the truck.
It is a miracle that no one died or suffered more severe injuries. Two doctors were dispatched from ARC (American Refugee Centre) and the driver from our compound left in another truck. Three women were admitted to the government clinic and the others returned to our compound to rest after their ordeal.
Life is back to normal now after the rain….but my Daddy was (as always right)….I should have packed my wellies!
I don’t know this Toposa girls name. Here is what I do know about her.
She is the daughter of a Toposa herdsman. She is about 15 years of age. At a young age her father cut her cheeks and forehead with a knife and filled the wounds with ash from the fire pit. Those are the “beauty” marks you see in the picture. It is an incredibly painful procedure and of course there are no painkillers or treatments to prevent infection.
She attended St. Bakhita some years ago. She learned to count, to say the alphabet and to write her name. She made friends with girls from many other tribes, the Murle, the Dinke, the Karamajong. She was a happy little girl.
Then one day, she stopped coming to school. When the elders of the school investigated, they learned that her fathers fellow tribesmen humiliated him. They mocked him for allowing his daughter to lose her value as a wife by sending her to school. They asked how he could expect to get a good dowry for her if she became a prostitute. (This is what many Toposa men think of girls who get a basic education).
So he stopped her attending school.
I see this Toposa girl walk by the school almost every day carrying heavy loads of charcoal or firewood on her head. She carries the load from compound to compound hoping that someone will buy from her. She desperately wants to return to school but cannot. She sees the other girls enjoy the education they have been blessed with. She sees that with the help of the food provided to the school by the World Food Programme, the girls are fed and healthy.
The best that this girl can hope for is that her father will sell her as a wife for a good dowry that will improve her fathers situation and maybe that of her siblings but not hers. She has been sentenced to a life of hardship and toil. She will become a wife at a young age and maybe not the mans first wife. If she is his first wife, she will not be his last wife. She will share the compound she will build alone with the other wives her husband will take.
Her husband will make her repay the dowry he paid for her by having her enslaved to him for the rest of her life. It will be her responsibility to build the home, to cultivate the crops, to raise her children and the children her husband fathers with his other wives. She will fetch water, cook, clean and try to generate an income for the family.
I really don’t want my posts to sound like those “for $10 a month you can feed a family in Africa” type ads that we see on daytime television. There is nothing anyone can do for this girl. It breaks my heart to know what this girls life is. But I find it infinitely more difficult to deal with the fact that this Toposa girl is exceptional in wanting an education and that many young girls still aspire to the life this Toposa girl has been sentenced to.
I met this Toposa girl last Sunday. I sat at the very back pew just inside the door and she stood at the door throughout the service. I invited her to sit with me and she cowered behind the door. I asked about her at lunch at lunch and this is what I learned. I also learned that she had gone to see the Ann Grace and asked her to read the Gospel to her. Ann Grace invited her to come to church and she came.