I found this in my purse when packing yesterday. I don’t know where it came from but I expect I found it once upon a time in my grandmothers things. I don’t know the context or which paper it appeared in. By the time my dad was 21 he had already served one tour of duty in Katanga Province in the Congo, had been involved in the Siege of Jadotville and spend a number of months as a hostage held by Katanga rebels. I think when this note was written, he would have been preparing for his second tour in the Congo.

I am thinking of him now and how different our journeys into Africa are. Aside from the purpose, I am aboard a very comfortable BA flight on what will be a journey of just over 8 hours. When Dad first went to the Congo, the journey was 13 hours with 120 or so other men in a military personnel carrier. I will have lunch served soon, he was given a plastic bag with a sandwich and some fruit for sustinence. He was wearing a bulls wool uniform, I have clothes suitable for the terrain which employ the latest technologies to keep me cool when I need to be cool and warm when I need to be warm. To combat malaria Dad took one quinine tablet each week. I have two months supply of very expensive and effective Malerone which taken daily will prevent my getting the dreaded disease.

As my dad loves to remind me “I don’t know how easy I have it!!”

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Last days in London

The very fact that I am finally getting around writing this post on the flight to Nairobi might suggest just how busy and frenetic the last few days have been.

It’s has been just over two weeks since I committed my time to the Kiltegan Fathers and planning begun for this trip. I now realise that normal people would give themselves months to prepare….not me!! Is no fun unless there is some extreme hardcore planning and chaos involved. I mean where would the challenge be?!

Ticking things off my to-do list was hugely satisfying and kept me distracted. I’m not too proud to say that I came very close to losing my nerve. Reading conflicting reports about the stability of the region, the landmines left behind from recent conflicts, the challenge of crossing the border from Kenya to South Sudan, the increased risk of malaria now that it is rainy season, the devastating floods that the people of Juba have endured, the upcoming September 6th deadline imposed by Khartoum for South Sudan to cease support for rebels operating across the border with Sudan – the prospect of the path I have laid before me has at times seemed more than I am equipped to deal with. 

And then, in those moments inevitably the universe came to the rescue. An encouraging email or text message would arrive from a friend or family member and I would be filled with courage once more. 

I am under no illusion but that I am a very fortunate young lady. I seem to have been blessed with the gift of making friends – and very good friends, people who in turn are good at being friends. I held leaving drinks in London last week at a friends pub. A very informal affair on a glorious summers evening. I took a moment to look around and be very thankful. My friends came to send me away with their warmest wishes and prayers. The group of about 40 people ranged in age from 21 to 86. They were from every walk of life and all over the world. All gathered because they care about me and want to show their support. And it is that support and unfaltering support from my family that stopped me from wimping out! 

In a particularly touching moment, I was summoned to the platform during mass at St. Paul’s on Sunday where Fr. Nick lead the congregation in a special prayer for me, for my ministry and safe return. I was so moved although somehow managed not to cry! I realise now that this trip isn’t just important to me, it’s important to others too and I must do everyone proud.

So here I am, 35,000 feet somewhere over the Sahara leaving London behind for two whole months. I’m packed and ready and I’m fairly sure I haven’t forgotten anything – malarial tablets, yellow fever certificate (now sporting my correct nationality!), a bag full of various other drugs which should save me from infections, food poisoning, my headaches and a myriad of other ailments. I’m fully expecting there to be a nationwide shortage of baby wipes considering how much I’ve packed!

But most importantly, I have today’s Irish Times, two bottles of very good Jameson, a truck load of chocolate and the Dublin v Kerry football match for Fr. Galvin. I’m really looking forward to meeting and getting to know him. 

More from Nairobi!!

It has been gently pointed out to me that while I have written lots about my preparations for my trip and a little about how this trip came about, I haven’t actually explained what I will be doing in South Sudan.

The frank and honest answer is that I don’t really know yet.

As I think I mentioned before, I offered two months of my time to a mission in South Sudan led by Fr. Tim Galvin who is a Kiltegan Father. In our communications thus far, he has expressed the value of my trip in showing girls that there are options. There are other lives to be lead and that education is important.

I will arrive in Narrus at the end of the first week of September. From then until the children return to school on September 23rd I will do whatever is needed. I don’t know what that will be yet but I expect it will involve learning a lot about the customs and cultures of the Toposa people. From September 23rd until I leave I will teach at one of the schools in Narus.

Of course, being a compulsive planner, I have spent a great deal of time reading as much as I can about the Toposa. They are a farming people who have a very structured social make up. While most children are educated in primary school, relatively few women carry on to secondary level education. Girls have a “value” in terms of their dowry and young girls are often promised to men much older than them. I read in one of the many blogs that I have studied that many Toposa still think that “education is a contamination of women”. This phrase really struck me and made me terribly sad. Each and every girl should have access to an education regardless of what the future holds for them.

I feel that this is particularly important for a country that is just two years old. If South Sudan is going to see the success that the rest of the world hopes for it, it must harness that young energy regardless of the gender of the body that holds it. Almost 75% of the countries population is under the age of 30. Just imagine what the future could hold in store for South Sudan.

So, the answer is that I’m not entirely sure what each day will hold for me but I will do as I’m directed and try to learn as much as I possibly can.

Right arm bite Left hand biteThat bruise is from the jabs just hours earlier...thats one brave mosquito!

For those of you brave enough to look! The last picture is my favourite – the intrepid mosquito bit me directly underneath where I’d had my jabs just hours later. I can only assume he’s is off his head on yellow fever vaccine somewhere! These pictures were taken more about 36 hours after I was bitten and after I’d slept with my hand in a wine cooler!

Well…its just one week to go now and preparations are in full swing. Flights are booked and I leave for Nairobi on Tuesday September 3rd. Its beginning to sink in just what a mouthful I’ve bitten off here and I really hope that I’ll do this adventure justice.

I’m really happy that I will be escorted from Nairobi to Narus. Frankly, this is a huge weight off my mind.

Jabs and bites

So I had all my shots last week. Ironically, just hours after, I was bitten horribly by something vicious and nasty while I slept. I think it was a mosquito but I’m not sure. Either way, on top of feeling rather rubbish on Tuesday because of the shots, I had three awful bites which had swollen like something out of a horror movie. I can only imagine that the mosquitoes in South Sudan are eagerly awaiting my arrival. I slept with my hand in a wine cooler on Tuesday night and went straight back to the doctor on Wednesday morning. The poor man was horrified and prescribed super strength anti-histimines and hydrocortisone. My hands and arms are back to the size they’re supposed to be now and theres just a littleĀ staining to remind me of the mosquitoes feast!

Packing

I will admit to being very proud of my packing prowess. I can achieve almost any trip on hand luggage – my personal best being 5 days in the US and then straight to my sisters wedding on hand luggage. However, this time I’m having to bite the bullet and actually check luggage! Frankly, clothes are the least of my worries although I’ve packed very sensibly. Light clothes and lots of layers. It will be hot and humid in Narus and its rainy season now so I have to account for that too.

The most important thing I will pack is my medical kit – here are some highlights!

  • Anti-histimine
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Iodine (for the purification of water if necessary)
  • Canulae and clean syringes – often such things are sterilised and reused and its better to take the precaution of having my own.
  • Anti-biotics – should I get an infection, I will have a course of anti-biotics on hand. I don’t know how easy it will be procure them in South Sudan.
  • Electrolyte sachets
  • Antibacterial wipes and cream
  • Basic equipment for dressing wounds
  • Sleep aid
  • DEET (to keep away the mosquitoes)
  • Headache tablets – I have paroxysmal hemicrania so I have to ensure I have enough Indomethacin to last me for two months. Whats more is that given that I don’t know how the change in routine, environment, climate etc will affect my headaches, I have to plan for worst case scenario….thats a lot of drugs!!
  • Standard pain killers

Visas

I will need a Visa to enter Kenya but also to enter South Sudan. I have called both embassies and I am assured that visa’s will be issued at the border and that nothing is required in advance. Normally visa’s cost about $100 but I need to factor in extra for any bribes I might need to pay. On my to-do list is to take plenty of passport photos and photocopies of all my documentation.

My GP actually said I would be like a pin cushion...he wasn't wrong...

My GP actually said I would be like a pin cushion…he wasn’t wrong…

A short post before I leave Abbeyfeale to return to London to complete my preparations for my big trip. While I type this note, Limerick are being beaten by Clare in the All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final. I spent the afternoon watching the minors match with my Nana Riordan and her family; unfortunately Limerick were unlucky to lose to Galway. It doesn’t seem to be Limericks day.

Just a few days at home and I am overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I’ve been blessed with. I was nervous about telling my parents; I worried that my fathers experience in the Congo would colour their reaction to my adventure. I’m so pleased that my parents are fully supportive and far from thinking I’m mad; they are really happy I’m undertaking this endeavour. The same can be said for my siblings and I’m really glad to have their backing.

My Nana as always sent me away with two cakes of her home made bread, encouraging words and the most heartfelt embrace. I can’t wait to return and tell her all about my adventure. She too made a very generous contribution and asked me to look to the older members of the community I will live with and be very mindful of their needs.

I visited with Fr. Tim’s sister this morning. I wondered how I would feel if it were my brother in the African wilderness and I only saw him once every two years. She is very proud of him but I’m sure misses him. Her son, his nephew plays football for Kerry and I understand is a promising player. I’m sure Fr. Tim would love to be at every match. For my part I’m going to take a DVD of the next match to Narus so that Fr. Tim can be proud from a distance!

I’m away to the airport shortly and even though I’m often away from home for more than two months, this time seems a little different. I will have had what promises to be a life changing experience and will have a new niece or nephew on my return. It’s an important few months for all of the Quinn family!

Well hello and welcome!

I’m not entirely sure where to start but I suppose I should start somewhere and as Maria suggests in the Sound of Music, the very beginning is a good place to start so let’s try that!

Soooo….Why?
For a long time I have realised that I need to step outside my comfort zone. I live a comfortable life surrounded by family and friends, I realise that I’m one of the lucky ones. I had an idyllic childhood, an excellent education and life (despite plenty of challenges) has been relatively easy for me. I feel the need to acknowledge this and to give something back.

Realising and acknowledging that was the tricky bit, articulating it almost impossible but once the decision was made, everything else happened VERY quickly!

Why South Sudan?
In later posts I will explain all about the Kiltegan Fathers backgrounds and achievements but for now, I’ll explain how this particular situation came about!

Growing up, I remembered a missionary priest who would visit when he was at home with his family in a neighbouring parish. He would take the altar or visit our school and tell us about the work that he and his fellow missionaries did right across Africa. This priest was Fr. Tim Galvin and he was a Kiltegan Father.

I also remember my Grandmother supporting the missions. I can almost hear her now telling us about the marvellous work that those wonderful Irish men were doing in Africa, educating the less fortunate, spreading Gods word and doing their part to secure the future of our church by encouraging vocations. I remember delivering her copy of the Africa magazine which was published by the Kiltegan Fathers.

I reached out to Fr. Tim who is now in Narus in South Sudan. Of course, he doesn’t know me yet but knows my mother well and he has so kindly agreed to let me spend the next two months with him and his mission on the border of Kenya and South Sudan.

And so, that’s why I’m going to South Sudan….because I remembered a priest and I managed to find his email address…it’s serendipity. And in a strange way, I feel a little bit connected to my now long gone grandmother – I wonder what she would say if she knew I was to become one of those missionaries that she read about and supported even if it is just for two months.

When?
I meet my escort – the infinitely kind Fr. Marrin in Nairobi on September 3rd. That gives me just two weeks to get my act together!!

Stay tuned!!