“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.

Night time in the wilderness

There are many things I enjoy about Africa but  I am both terrified of and thrilled by night time. Terrified because there are all kinds of nasties that come to life at night time; scorpions, mosquitoes, snakes, big hairy spiders. But I am thrilled by it because it is beautiful. It’s so dark that sometimes I’m not sure whether my eyes are open or closed. Sometimes the moon shines so brightly casting a glow on the world that makes it feel as though it has been snowing. The sky is so full of stars. More stars than I have ever seen. And the Milky Way!! It’s almost as if the universe is rewarding your courage for being outside after the sun sets with the most spectacular show.

And the sun sets! Gosh, each one seems to be more beautiful than the last. Again, the universe rewards your fortitude in getting through a day of punishing heat by putting on a light show which can’t be compared to anything man is capable of producing with fireworks and gunpowder. That burning orange casts a glow on the world and turns trees and anthills into silhouettes. 

One of the things that I am enjoying most about this trip is the nighttime visits to the villages for prayers or mass.

This was something we did not do in Narus. The villages are all very long drives from the main town of Narus so it was not practical to go out there at night time. Here in Riwoto, we are in the heart of Toposaland and the villages are accessible.

Night time too is a good time to get people. The villagers have finished their work for the day. The men have been tending their animals. The women have been cultivating their crops of sourghum, caring for the children, bringing water from the borehole, cooking, cutting wood or making charcoal or brewing beer to sell in the villages. Now that the work is done they have time to come and pray in the darkness. 

We drive out after dinner, sometimes the village is over an hours drive away. We are always joined by some of the Toposa speaking teachers. Tim goes armed with his iPad and portable projector. He shows pictures of that weeks Gospel story and speaks about it in their native Toposa language. While I still don’t understand the language I am now able to pick out words and phrases. It always makes me smile when I hear Fr. Tim speak Toposa with a thick Kerry accent!

The meetings take place just outside the boundary wall of the village. Each village has a meeting place which is essentially some logs arranged in a circle. Sometimes the people bring firewood and light a fire. Although, I’m not convinced it’s needed…at nighttime it’s still warm here.

We are often joined by over 200 villagers. I suppose we’re the only show in town. We always have teachers from our school too who speak to the people about why it is so important to send their children to school. Most Toposa cannot read or write and very few pursue and education. Part of the challenge here is to express just how important that education is.

On one night, there may have been almost 300 people. We talked about education and not one single person in the group was now going or had gone to school. I found this particularly hard to deal with but it was made worse when one man said “if we send our children to school who will take care of the cattle”.

If I had known what was going on at the time I would have retorted with questions about what would happen if the cattle became diseased or if trouble broke out and their cattle were stolen or killed. Inshallah.

   
 

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!