I’m walking, walking, sassy, sassy!!

Video

I helped Ann Grace with the preparation of the Cathucumens on Mondays and Fridays each week. They were a sassy bunch – watch them sing and summon their fellow Cathecumens to class.

 


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!!

What can you do??

My adventure in Narus, South Sudan has come to an end for now but my love affair will continue. I know that many of you have followed my journey and offered words of encouragement and support. I have greatly appreciated these kindnesses.

It is not that I feel I have done my bit but rather I need your help in achieving the next bit. I have grown to love Narus and I have learned the culture and more importantly the need of the people there. In particular the need for educational support is overwhelming. 

In St. Bakhita there are 600 students but the facilities are dire. I have identified a number of projects that I would like to help make a reality. To do this, I need to be very sensible about how money is managed so I am asking you to contribute and I have asked Fr. Tim (who you will have read lots about on my blog) to administer and manage the money. We can collect Gift Aid by sending funds through St. Patricks Missionary Society and then onwards to Tim.

These are the improvements that with your help, we hope to make in St. Bakhita, some of these projects will impact the rest of the village so positively too.

– The installation of a play ground  for the youngest  children. Currently there is nothing to amuse the small children and nothing for them to play with. I have arranged that the equipment (swings, slide, climbing frame, merry-go-round etc) will be built in the metalwork shop at the local Vocational Training Centre to keep costs down and to provide work in the local area. Thus, we just need to find funds for the materials and the delivery of those materials to Narus.

– The dining room is in desperate need of refurbishment. Right now, children do not use it because it is full of bugs and the floor is all broken up. They sit outside under the trees with their rations. The floor needs to be relaid and the windows which have been eaten through by termites need to be replaced with more suitable metal alternatives.

– There are no fire extinguishers or lightening rods in any of the buildings and I feel that this needs to be addressed as a matter or urgency.

– Funds have been procured to build a new dorm so that girls will not need to share beds in cramped dorms. 50 metal beds, mattresses and linen will need to be purchased to furnish the dorm.

– The school is in desperate need of teachers. Many of the teachers who remain are not qualified. Despite this, the girls do so well. It would be wonderful to be able to support the development of teachers by sponsoring their qualification.

What can you do to help?

 I have set up a facility for online donations which can be found at:

 http://www.charitychoice.co.uk/fundraiser/helenaquinn/

Alternatively, you might prefer to lodge any donations directly to the Abbeyfeale for Africa account. If that is the case, please contact me directly on helenaquinn@gmail.com for the details.

Thank you 🙂

And then it rained…

This part of South Sudan is dry…so very dry and hot. I walk to school every day through the river bed. There is so rarely water in the rivers that the roads run straight through. Even if there was money to build bridges, I can’t imagine they would bother in most cases. There is one bridge in Narus and conveniently it is just a little further up the river from where I cross. So, when it rains I can take the bridge to school instead.

It rained last Saturday morning. Tim and I drove to the church for mass at 7am. Sometime around the second reading the heavens opened. The rain fell against the tin roof completely drowning out every word Fr. Tim said. And the the win added to the drama. Gusts blew great torrents of water through the ventilation space in the roof of the church drenching us all. So we moved to the other side of the church and continued.

Just after Communion, there was an almighty crashing noise. It sounded as though something had crashed against the metal door of the church. Or very loud gunfire maybe. By the time I reacted I saw that my girls from standard 8 were already under the pews looking terrified. We all giggled when we realised that we’d all had such a fright from a clap of thunder. From where Fr. Tim sat he could see the lightening strike almost immediately outside the church.

What struck me deeply though was that this was not the first time the girls had run for cover like that. They  grew up in South Sudan during the war. Narus was bombed many times. The girls were accustomed to hearing jets overhead from Khartoum and knew the signal to sprint to their designated bunkers. There are bunkers everywhere. There are at least three in our compound and many more in the girls primary school. I thought how fortunate I was that the reality of my childhood was so very different to theirs.

By the time we were ready to leave, the pickup was full of my students and we took off. We dropped the girls off at the bridge and continued the short distance to our compound. When it rains here, the road turns to mud often several feet deep. And then we got stuck! Tim declared it so matter of factly that there didn’t seem any point encouraging him to try again!

I got out of the pickup to investigate and I established that if we could just move one large stone we should be able to proceed. So…when my girls returned to see what all the commotion was about, they found their maths teacher barefoot in a foot and half of mud trying to loosen a big stone from under the pickup. Needless to say they thought this was the funniest thing they were likely to see all week!!

Anyway, my efforts were futile and we ended up calling Mongi (our mechanic) to come with the tractor and save us. When a task seems just too large, a man on a Massey Ferguson can always fix it!!

It rained on Wednesday too but I’m afraid it wasn’t quite such a giggle. It rained quite heavily for about 3 hours from 5am. I made it to school safely through the mud but on my way back to the compound after my morning classes I met Sr. Agnes who told me that there had been an accident.

About 20 Toposa women had stayed at our compound for two nights. They had been in Kenya and Uganda to have peace talks with the Turkana and the Karamajong. There is a long history of violence and war between the three tribes. They had a good trip and productive discussions.

Their villages are about 6 hours drive into the bush from Narus. They travelled in the back of a truck. Apparently the truck hit a pothole which was actually mud many feet deep and the truck toppled over. The women were thrown from the back of the truck.

It is a miracle that no one died or suffered more severe injuries. Two doctors were dispatched from ARC (American Refugee Centre) and the driver from our compound left in another truck. Three women were admitted to the government clinic and the others returned to our compound to rest after their ordeal.

Life is back to normal now after the rain….but my Daddy was (as always right)….I should have packed my wellies!

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.

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!

Welcome to South Sudan Helena Eireannach

We left on the final leg of our long journey to Narus on The morning of Saturday Septemer 7th. Our jeep was packed full but thankfully there were no punctures to delay us!

First arriving at the Kenyan border we were “checked out” of Kenya before continuing the mile or so to the South Sudan border. Not only crossing country borders, we were crossing from Turkana territory to Toposa territory. The two tribes have a history of war but there is peace now and this is a great relief to both tribes.

Outside the Kenyan border control. A young Turkana woman sat with a small purse. She entered into a colourful conversation with John Marren and it was a little while before I realised that this was the Kenyan borders answer to a Bureau de Change! There was a lot of negotiation but eventually the two parties came to a deal. Fr. John walked away and commented to me “now that’s what I call outsider trading”!

We continued to the South Sudan border and while Fr. Tim mad the necessary arrangements to get the truck across the border John Marren accompanied me to get my Visa. After what seemed like an eternity (despite the excellent company I hasten to add) and $100 later I was the proud owner of a South Sudan residents permit valid for one month. Visas are only issued monthly and it’s $100 each time….nice work if you can get it!!!

It was a jubilant return and there were celebratory hugs when Fr. Tim officially welcomed me to South Sudan. I was on his turf now!! We were about a mile into Suth Sudan when we realised that the official had renamed me! Misreading my Nationality for my surname, he has renamed me “Helena Eireannach”which  means “Irish Helena”!!! I’m so proud to be South Sudans only Irish Helena!!

36 hours in Nairobi

I spent a most enjoyable 36 hours in Nairobi at the St. Patrick’s regional house. Fr. John Marren welcomed me at the airport with Patrick and our driver Joseph both elevated to hero status in my books for different reasons: Joseph for his skill at negotiating the Nairobi traffic and John Marren for being the most enjoyable travel companion with a great sense of humour and cracking banter! 

We arrived at the mission house late on Tuesday night. I attended my first mass in Africa read by Fr. Niall on Wednesday morning. It was lovely to see the beautiful little oratory full. 

Wednesday was spent recovering from the flight but also preparing for the next leg of our trip the following day which would take us from Nairobi to Lodwar. I did find time to have a nice long coffee break with Fr. Niall and Im pretty sure we put the world to right! My friend Jo is a teacher in the International School in Nairobi so it was lovely to see her and enjoy some good wine before my time in Nairobi was over. 

What struck me about Nairobi was the great divide between rich and poor. One million people live in a slum just about a mile from the mission house called Kibera. It is normal to see small children begging amongst the gridlocked traffic and young girls on street corners. While we had dinner at a very nice restaurant the next table was occupied by two men and a young girl who was clearly a prostitute. The only way out of that life for these children is education. 

The journey to Nairobi

Hujambo from Nairobi. I arrived here safely late on Tuesday night and since then have found myself in the most hospitable and enjoyable of company.

First a little about my flight because its something I really want to record for my own memory. The world we live in is really a magnificent place. We left London crossing Europe, we flew over the Alps, across the Mediterranean and then the Sahara. I have crossed the Atlantic by air more times than I can remember and I will admit to never having contemplated the sheer expanse of it. That sense of enormity, the sheer nothingness, the incomprehensible scale of it all….the Sahara really is immense, breathtaking in fact. It was dark by the time we flew over Sudan. I am in awe of this little planet we call home. The contrast between the plentiful life in some parts and then the barrenness of other parts. 

Now…I know some of my friends and family know how obsessive I can be about packing. I firmly believe that almost any trip is possible on hand luggage if the proper planning is undertaken in advance! In fact, my goal for 2013 was to do Christmas at home in Ireland on hand luggage…of course that was before I planned this trip! Now obviously, there’s no way of spending two months in Africa without checking in luggage but I’m travelling light! One holdall and one backpack checked in; less than 30 kilos! I find this hugely satisfying and here’s a picture!!

Arriving in Nairobi was an experience! The circumstances surrounding the fire and the magnitude of the disaster is a great source of conversation and debate. There are rumours that the fire may have been started to destroy evidence of money laundering or the illegal issuance of citizenships. There is talk that there was no working fire engine available to attend the fire and when one eventually arrived two hours after the small fire was reported, the fire was out of hand and there was little water with which to quench it. 

The satirists in Nairobi have had a turn with the debacle too – the cartoonist Gado contributed this to the Daily Nation!

The terminal is now a series of marquees and lots of covered seats like one would see at a wedding reception. The process of getting a visa for entry was uneventful but lengthy. It was about 2 hours from the time we touched down to when I walked out of the terminal to meet my hosts. I now have a three month visa for Kenya!