Narus to Nairobi in 36 hours

Gallery

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.

Sunday Mass in Kamai – video

Video

Now that I’m back in London, I can share some videos from my adventure in South Sudan. I posted some pictures a few weeks ago from Sunday Mass in Kamai. We had been due to be there a week before but we were unable to travel because it had rained heavily that morning and there was water in the rivers.

We left Narus at about 7am that morning and travelled the three hour journey together to Kamai. A message had been sent earlier in the week to the Cathecist, a blind man named Michael. Michael is a force of nature and had he the gift of sight, he would be unstoppable.

Mass was a celebration in every sense of the word. The young children were nervous of me at the start and kept a very safe distance but once they saw that I was friendly they couldn’t get close enough. Once again, my hair was a real attraction – these young children had never seen a white woman let alone a girl with long straight hair. What a novelty!!

Narus from on high

I have become good friends with two girls with whom I go walking to the top of the hill above Narus. I don’t think it has a name but it is the best vantage point from which to survey Narus.

When we go walking sometimes Lucy carries her 18 month old son Nicholas. She carries him on her back fastened in her wrap in the traditional African way. I’m always astounded by how fit she is, she almost runs up the hill while Anna and I hike after her, counting every step in the heat! 

From the top of that hill we can see Uganda, Kenya and Ethopia. The land around is flat, dry and dusty. There are hills here and there but typically the land is very flat. Until the two telecommunications boosters were constructed in Narus this was the only place where mobile signal was to be found. In order to make a call, people would have to hike to the top and search for a strong signal. And to think unused to complain about my signal in Fulham!

From the top of the hill, we can also see many of the surrounding Toposa villages. Narus itself is a melting pot of all different tribes. Tousands of people came to Narus during the war and stayed. It was close to the border so it was considered safe and it was also a strategic base for the SPLA.

One thing that struck me on my travels in South Sudan is the absence of animals. I have now lerned that South Sudan was once a thriving ecosystem with many large animals such as elephant, monkey, rhinoceros, giraffe, impala, zebra, lion and leopard. However, the animals are gone now. During the way many were hunted and  killed for meat when there was nothing else to eat. They say that many fled to Uganda for safety scared by the noise of the guns and shells.

The land is so dry here and we are praying for rain. The crops are endanger of failing. The staple here is a grain similar to maize called sourkhum. In different places around Narus you can see where small gardens of sourkhum have been planted but the crop is burning.

The funeral of Donna Kulang Yiko

This post is long over due and it has been sitting in my drafts since my first day in Narus. This was a difficult post to write. 

We had left Lokichoggio early on the morning of Saturday September 7th arriving at the border and crossing safely. The journey from Nadapal which is the town at the border to Narus takes about 45 minutes. 

We arrived, I got settled in and we met for a nice cup of tea. Fr. Tim and Fr. John Joe had been asked to say funeral prayers for a local girl who had died at the age of just 13. We travelled the short distance to the family’s small compound and I felt a little unsure of what to expect. At one end of the compound, a makeshift shelter had been constructed to protect from the punishing afternoon sun. An altar had been placed under the shelter facing the main enclosure of the compound.

I think there may have been about 100 people in the small compound and after greeting the parents of the dead girl we were directed to sit under the shelter. I was struck that with the exception of me and the Headmistress of St. Bakhita Primary School, the shelter was exclusively for men. It became clear that Sister. Margaret and I had been afforded the position of guests at the prayers. All the other women sat on wraps laid on the dusty ground in the centre of the compound, finding what shade they could.

Fr. Tim led the prayers and it amazed me to hear him relate so effortlessly to the family in both Juba Arabic and the local Toposa dialect. It was a simple ceremony with beautiful music provided by some of my now students and other members of the church here.

I knew that the girl had died about two weeks before and I’m not sure whether I expected to see a casket or not but I do remember wondering whether Kulang had already been buried and if so, where.

The answer came immediately after the funeral mass was over. Fr. Tim went to bless the compound and the grave. When he walked towards the corner of the compound where Kulang was buried there was a flurry of activity to clear the way for him. I found it hard to come to terms with the fact that the young girl had been buried almost immediately just a few feet from where she had grown up with her grandmother. Tradition (and I suppose practicality) demands that once a person dies here they must be buried as soon as possible. Tim blessed each of the other buildings in the compound before returning to hear the addresses by the elders of the various tribes in attendance. 

The addresses were given in Arabic or Toposa and were translated as necessary. One in particular struck me so deeply. One woman who represented the elders of what I think was the Dinka tribe said that the only reason that the family should grieve was because Kulang had not left a child. This girl was thirteen years old. This was my first real taste of how young girls are perceived in South Sudan.

There were a number of other addresses and about 45 minutes later we were invited to wash our hands and share a meal. Tim and John Joe were directed to an urn from which clean water flowed to wash hands before being served a meal fit for a king. I was instructed to follow the priests and Sister Margaret followed me.

The food was incredible. I have absolutely no idea what it was but we ate with our hands and licked our fingers clean!

I admit to feeling somewhat uncomfortable with my position of guest, I felt more like an intruder or voyeur on this day in the family’s life. I’m very grateful for their hospitality though and for their welcome.

Things I’ve learned in Kenya and South Sudan

1. And this is by far the most important….when Fr. Tim says “I don’t want to scare you but…” The sentence normally ends with something about man eating snakes, spiders with killer bites, scorpions or land mines and so a sensible amount of terror is prudent.

2. In regional airports, there is no check-in. Go to the nearest bar and wait there until you see the plane land. This is the equivalent of having the gate announced. At any rate, it will take them a few minutes to clear the runway of cattle, sheep and goats so you’ll have plenty of time!

3. I can survive without chocolate, wine and my hair straighteners.

4. I am the only person in the world for whom DEET does not work. I am covered in bites and I think every small bug in South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda has had a chomp on some part of me.

5. I will be very happy never to see another bowl of porridge.

6. Using my ipad under the mosquito net at night is a bad idea.

7. That no matter how many times I ask, Tim is not going to allow me to drive the motor bike.

8. It is almost completely pointless to arrive anywhere at the time you’re supposed to be there. Nothing happens here for at least an hour after its supposed to have happened.

9. The cat and I will never be friends.

10. You can always depend on Fr. John Joe to brew an award winning cup of tea.

11. Always keep your eyes open and your mouth closed in the shower 🙂

A short visit to Kapoeta

I’m currently in Riwoto visiting John Marren with Tim and John Joe. We drove up together and met John in Kapoeta in the early afternoon. Our pick-up was full with those who had business to do in Kapoeta. It’s about two hour bone shaking drive on terrible roads from Narus to Kapoeta, a fact which became very real when I realised that only services for pregnant women only recently became available in Narus.

We visited Fr. Tims old parish church which has been destroyed by the Arabic Khartoum government. It was quite moving to see how the church had been desecrated.

From there we had a quick lunch at the Kapoeta “Ritz”…the less said about that the better…suffice to say I saw them skin our lunch….

I will leave you to learn the history of Kapoeta yourself but it was ravaged by way and the remnants are still scattered around. It’s all very fine taking pictures and making fun as we did below but the reality is rather more serious. There are still land mines which frequently cause destruction and death scattered around the countryside.

We then drove to Riwoto which was another bone shaking drive. The highlight of which was the part of the route that took us directly down the runway of Kapoeta airport. This airport is still in use. There are people employed to clear the runway from cars and animals when a plane comes in to land. Often a plan will have to enter into a holding pattern until the runway is clear!

Another remnant from the war below – I was lucky to have remembered my boarding pass!

Fr. Tim arrives and we drive across the desert from Lodwar to Lokichoggio

I had not yet met my host for this trip and the Parish Priest of Narus – Fr. Tim Galvin from Brosna in County Kerry – a neighbouring parish to that that in which I grew up. He journeyed for 10 hours to meet me in Lodwar in northern Kenya and to escort Fr. Marren and I safely to Narus in South Sudan. It was a great reunion when he arrived and I was very happy to finally meet him. A little older than my brothers, he has quickly taken the place as my South Sudanese brother!

We spent a very enjoyable evening in Lodwar with Fr. John Callaghan; a delicious supper followed by chocolate and a nice single malt on the veranda while putting the world to rights!

The climate in Lodwar is very different to Nairobi. It is desert and the heat is oppressive. It is dusty and barren. In the morning I attended my first Swahili mass read by Fr. John Callaghan who hails from Charleville. I was the only white person amount a congregation of Turkana women in their beaded finery.

Our plan was to leave immediately after breakfast at about 8am but a puncture scuppered that cunning plan.

So the boys left me to change the tyre (not really but I did help!) and we took off to garage in Lodwar to have the tyre repaired.

At this point our plan to cross the border and make it to Narus in South Sudan was impossible so we decided to briefly stop at a mission outpost before continuing to Lokichogio to spend the night. Fr. Dessie Miller has a mission is in Kalabyei which is between Lodwar and Lokichoggio in Kenya. He has lived in Turkana for 45 years and has a beautiful church in a hill top in the desert. Rather aptly it is named St. Benedicts. The picture below shows Fr. Dessie Miller showing off the first of his beautiful desert roses.

After a delicious lunch of ice cold melon we continued on our way. It was a welcome refreshment as it was 32 degrees in the shade! You can imagine how hot it was in the jeep with the three of us in the front! The terrain was difficult too, not only were the roads almost non-existent but we had to negotiate the wild camels too. They didn’t seem to realise that we had places to go and people to see!

When we finally arrived at Lokichoggio, exhausted from our journey, it was lovely to meet Fr. Tom Laffan. Another limerick man. After some tea, he invited me to join him whilevhe said mass at one of the Turkana villages about 30 minutes drive away. I’m so delighted I joined. I got to see a traditional Turkana village and I think I was one of the very few white people other than Fr. Tom that the villagers had seen since the NGOs left.

The mass was read in Turkana (my second mass if the day and I didn’t understand a word of either!). It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The congregation was almost exclusively women. At that time the men are typically still grazing the livestock.

At the end, Fr. Tom introduced me to the congregation and I was able to take some pictures. I was really taken by the experience if sharing the same sacrament with people so different to me. It showed me that standing before the altar, we are all the same

The journey to Lodwar

John and I left together for the next stage of our journey to Narus on Thursday morning. Joseph drove us to the airport – which sounds like a simple job! It’s not…driving in Nairobi is not for the faint of heart. Joseph got us there safely which was a huge a achievement!

The terminal in Nairobi burned some weeks back so the terminal for domestic departures is the cargo terminal. We arrived and having had a nice cup if tea and a good chat, boarded the flight to Lodwar. The plane had one quick stop to make in Eldoret close to the Ugandan border before continuing to Lodwar.

Lodwar was an eye opener and I definitely felt as though I was really in Africa now.

The plane we arrived in had 37 seats and landed on the runway on time. It was in incredible journey, leaving the metropolis of Nairobi, flying over the Rift Valley, the green lands of Eldoret which looked just like home before reaching the desert. All in just under 2 hours.

This is the arrivals and departures “lounge” at Lodwar. I wish I had taken a picture of the luggage carousel which was really a very big wheel barrow around which a scrum took place!

Not sure if the pilot meant to take these bits with him….