“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.

Leaving London – 2015 trip to South Sudan

Here we go again!!

I haven’t written in the same way I did last time about leaving London, the preparations and the goodbyes. 

I can’t say whether it was more difficult leaving this time or the last. The circumstances were so different in every respect.
Firstly South Sudan was a very different place two years ago. It was enjoying its new found independence. There were tribal factions as always but the country was largely peaceful. There was hope for what the future might bring.

Now, in 2015 it seems that the hope has been drained from the land I left in 2013. My family and friends all knew South Sudan to be a dangerous place where the political situation was volatile and uncertain as a result of the war which broke out shortly after I left in December 2013.

Of course I was nervous about my return. My friends and the people I loved seemed to think that my return visit was badly timed and I was being foolish.

In particular my mother and Nana were very worried. I found this very hard. I hate it when people worry about me. I hate to think that I am causing anyone any distress or discomfort. I internalised it all and felt so selfish and heartless. It was my fault that I had upset my mother and Nana. 

There is work to be done here and there are people doing it. I learned on my last visit that the smallest kindnesses shown by one person can be life changing to another. 

So here I am in Riwoto in Eastern Equatorial State teaching maths to young Toposa children and happily tagging along with Fr. Tims visits to the outposts.

The second major change in circumstance is my personal life! When I left London in 2013 I was single and paddled my own canoe (so to speak). Now I am blessed with a new relationship which is full of love and promise. My leaving came at a time of transition for us and I had sleepless nights worrying if I was making the right decision or not.

Thankfully, my incredible boyfriend knows me well enough to know that my love for South Sudan is part of who I am. And now the confirmed singleton realises how lucky I am to have someone who will support me in my endeavours.

The post I didn’t want to write

This post took me a while to write for a whole host of reasons.

1) For a while I couldn’t quite process the fact I was back. Of course, I was looking forward to starting my new job and getting stuck into that new adventure. I missed my friends in London but I didn’t want my life in South Sudan to be over. I thought that my next post would be a “Farewell Post”

2) I just didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t find the words to explain how much I missed being in South Sudan. I couldn’t quite describe in a way that would make sense to anyone else how I never cried like I cried when leaving Nairobi and how I didn’t stop crying for about 3 days after I got back to London. I didn’t know how to admit that I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone once I got back.

3) My life in London is so very different to the life I led in South Sudan that I really didn’t know how to draw any parallels.

That first week back in London was I realise now and without any shadow of doubt, one of the worst weeks of my life. Of course, Fr. John and Fr. Tim were so supportive and understood how I felt. Once again, they proved how fortunate I am to be able to call them friends.

My father too understood. I had heard the story of his return to Ireland after his first tour of duty in Katanga – that faithful trip where he and the other men of A Company were taken captive for three months by Katangese rebels after the Siege of Jadotville. He described arriving home to our small country town at Christmas time and how he just could not relate to people and indeed how people could not relate to him. What he had done in that time in the 60s was so out of the ordinary, so far away, that no one understood what he had been through. So, we Facetimed while I was still in London and he listened to me be lonesome and watched me cry….and then he told me to toughen up….and he was right.

He made me realise how happy and lucky I was to have kept and shared my journal. It meant that when I returned, my friends and family had some sense of life in South Sudan. Dad didn’t have this crutch and so his detachment from those around him was so much more severe.

He returned to the Congo and I will return to South Sudan.

Following in footsteps

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!!”

Back to London

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!

First post – welcome to Solo in South Sudan!

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!!