“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.

A lady what lunches in Kapoeta

I’m hopelessly behind with my posts but I’m going to make an effort to rectify that over the next few days. For now though, let me tell you about our day at the market in Kapoeta last Saturday. 

Fuel is a rare commodity here now. There is no diesel and we have heard that a permit is now needed to move fuel outside of the capital.  

We had heard that there might be fuel in Kapoeta that morning so Fr. Matthew and I went to see if we might be one of the lucky ones who managed to fill the tanks that day. Of course, once wind of the word got out that a car was going to Kapoeta…it was full! We had some teachers from both the primary and secondary schools, all of whom had business to do in the town that day. Tim was busy here working on accounts and making things ready for his trip to Narus this week. 

We set off after breakfast. It was already hotter than hell even at 9:30am in the morning. The drive is about an hour and as we crossed the dry river bed we met many villagers who were on their way to the market. Mainly women carrying jerrycans of milk or waragi (the illicit local brew), charcoal or firewood on their heads. The men of course were busy sitting under the trees playing dominoes.

When we arrived, we deposited our passengers and drove out to “the junction” to see about diesel. We were out of luck I’m afraid. The truck had been stopped leaving Juba. I daren’t presume what might have happened to the fuel.

Having failed in our mission to fill the tanks, we decided to have a soda at the bar across the street from the fuel station. One beer for Fr. Matthew and I was more excited that one probably should be about the prospect of a nice cold Coca Cola. The girl brough the drinks and I didn’t notice at first but soon realised that the syrup I was given was not Coca Cola but Juba Cola! To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. 

Because the South Sudanese Pound is now almost worthless, it is very expensive to import from Kenya. Furthermore, the customs officials at the borders seem to operate a set of rules that change weekly. For example, it is possible to move metal across the border but not wood. It is not unusual for a lorry to be held at the border for weeks. For that reason, some clever entrepreneurs in Juba have started bottling something that looks vaguely like Coca Cola but tastes like the nastiest own brand cola one can buy. Devastating!!

Afterwards we had some errands to run at the market. We went to the bakery where we picked up some bread and then to the veg market where we were again unlucky. No fruit and no eggs. Try again next week they said.

The market is also where currency exchange happens. I had Kenyan Shillings but very few South Sudanese  Pounds. Tim had told me that I should expect about 130 SSP for 1000 KSH. In all honesty, the rate is a little higher than this but I wasn’t about to argue. These traders are providing a service and if they cream a little comission off the top then thats more than fair. I wanted to share around a little bit so I asked  5 different traders to change 5000 shillings for me. I expect each trader made about 20SSP from the transaction. I do love a little honest capitalism!

Once our business was done, it was time for lunch. Well, I have no idea what it was but it was delicious! I think it is called angeli which is an Ethopian dish. The restaurant came highly recommended by Tim but I was rather nervous on entering.It was a ramshackle tin building and I’m fairly certain that any health inspector would have had a coronary immediately on entry. I decided I was brave though and ordered the dish from the very handsome Ethopian proprieter. He returned with water and a large tray of some kind of stewed meat with rice, pasta and something orange served on a bed of fermented bread. I think its fair to say that I’ve eaten in some pretty incredible restaurants all over the world but this was right up there!! 

It reminded me of my lunch with Tim and John Marren at “The Ritz” in Kapoeta on my first trip here in 2013. Tim and John still laugh at the colour I turned when I walked out the back to find them skinning a goat right beside the latrine. I pride myself on a fairly sturdy constitution but this was enough to make this girl green…and to give the boys something to really laugh about! Since then, we have called that place “The Ritz”. 





Sunday Mass in Kamai – 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!!

http://vimeo.com/78248944

http://vimeo.com/78248945

Weekend in Riwoto

This weekend I went to Riwoto to spend with my wonderful friend Fr. John Marren. Initially there was some doubt over whether the weekend would happen or not. Both Fr. Tim and I had been ill on the previous week and while it seemed that I had strengthened, Tim seemed to be a few days behind me in terms of the illness and was still fighting a fever on Thursday. 

Tim has somehow survived the last 30 years in South Sudan without me fussing and stressing over him so I decided that since I was strong enough to travel and it would be my last opportunity to go, the trip had to happen. Frankly, I think Tim was happy to see the back of me and to be left alone to be poorly in peace!!

The arrangements were made and Mowngi our driver was to deliver me safely to Kapoeta a few hours drive away where I would meet Fr. John and we would drive together to Riwoto, about an hour from Kapoeta. We left just after lunch, I had rearranged my classes to free up my afternoon. The drive up was fine. Aware that there had been some “trouble on the road” over the last few weeks I had taken the sensible precautions of leaving all but a little cash behind – I took enough that should we be stopped thieves might be satisfied enough by the cash I could offer possibly distracting them from my iPad and camera stored in my backpack.

Thankfully, the trip up was safe and there were no problems on the road. John and I met at the Junction and shared a sode before carrying on to Riwoto. Of course there was shopping to be done and items to be collected. The pickup was full on our way back with provisions and workers hitching a ride back from Kapoeta.

When we arrived at the compound in Riwoto, Sr. Margo Delaney had a lovely supper ready for us. It had been a long journey and we were ready to eat.

Such a lady; gentle, kind, educated, intelligent and marvellous company. She takes a keen interest in other people and has such a loving spirit. She has been a missionary for many years and has spent a great deal of time in South Sudan as well as Samoa. The love she has for the children is apparent and their love for her is certain too. On Sunday as we walked to mass, she knew the names of all the children and all greeted her with real affection. 

It was the first weekend where I didn’t have classes and seemed like a little holiday. We breakfasted on paw paw and drank barrel loads of tea. You’ve never met two people that can get through quite as much tea as John and I, the refrain “cup of tea dear?” rings in my ears! On Saturday night, we sat on the verandah watching a lightening storm in the distance. What a show!

We three had a lovely weekend together and I was sorry to leave on Sunday afternoon. John was to stay in Narus on Sunday night before continuing to Lodwar in Northern Kenya with Fr. Tim and Fr. John Joe on Monday morning. We were joined by some friends from Riwoto who had business in Lodwar or Lokichoggio and were taking advantage of the car going in that direction. Uneventful as the drive was, I realised when I got home that I had missed the subtleties of what was going on around me. 

That terrible time when Fr. Tim starts a sentence with “I don’t want to alarm you but…” had now turned into “I didn’t want to alarm you but…”

Apparently, on Mowngi’s return journey to Narus on Friday evening there had been “some trouble” on the road. Thankfully Mowngi handled the situation well, watching the thieves loot two trucks ahead of him and waiting for a safe time to continue. He returned safely. It was agreed that I shouldn’t be told so as not to worry me but I can’t decide whether I should be cross with Tim and John or not. I hadn’t even noticed when John discretely took his watch off as we left Riwoto!

Cup of tea dear??!!



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!