My farewell party – just a snippet

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Im on a bit of a roll this evening so why stop now!! A small taster of my farewell celebration from St. Bakhita. Do those girls know how to party!!  It was the most special day of my life and … Continue reading

The beginning of the end…

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Monday morning last was a special morning in Narus. It was the last time the three of us would be together in Narus.  We returned from Riwoto on Sunday evening thankfully to find a much recovered Fr.Tim. I made the … Continue reading

Standard 8 update

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Big news from Standard 8! I thought you might like to see some of my friends in Standard 8. We took this picture after a revision class last Saturday morning. We had begun at 8 am and finished at 10:30am. … Continue reading

Learning to love

Disclaimer: My time in Narus is now to be measured in just days so I reserve the right to feel a bit sentimental and wistful. Furthermore I reserve the right to share it!!

Earlier in my trip I wrote a post called “Things I’ve learned in Kenya and South Sudan” and in it I listed some of the practical and sensible lessons I had learned – the importance of keeping my eyes open and mouth closed in the shower and the fact that I can say with almost complete certainty that once I return to London I will never eat another bowl of porridge regardless of whether or not real missionaries eat porridge. Inevitably I suppose, I’ve learned a lot about myself too in the last few months too.

In the last few years I think I’ve had more than my fair share of heart break. That point one gets to when it seems that a heart can’t  feel any more broken and frankly might never feel anything other than that hurt again, the sheer amount of energy I expended on assuring everyone who cared about me that “I am fine” and “I’m too busy to worry about it” seems now to be such a waste.

You see, we are all so busy. We rush about from one appointment to another, from meetings to networking events to dinners with friends that many of us don’t give ourselves time to heal. I have always been of the mindset that I can overcome any emotional distress by making sure I have absolutely no time to think about it. My friends will be familiar with my Tuesday panics when I realise that I don’t have anything planned for the following weekend and I go into planning overdrive. 

So, there are two things. The first is something Fr. Tim said to me over breakfast one morning when the very thought of my leaving had reduced me to tears…he said that I had to give myself time, that I had built relationships, there are people here I care about and who care about me…that I had to allow myself space to come to terms with my return to London. I was too ashamed to admit that I had already been thinking of all the ways that I could fill the days before I start my new job so that I wouldn’t have to think about it. Fr. Tim is right and I am wrong. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves time to process and adapt.

The second took me by surprise. I am surprised by my capacity to love. I don’t think i realised how much I could love. I see how excited my students are when I arrive at school or when I see them in the village. I am full of love for that. When I read the results for my Standard 8 girls and that feeling of pride in them completely overwhelms me, when I see how proud they are of themselves and each other for such excellent results, I am full of love for them. When my darling Nicholas comes to me after mass for a hug or blows me a kiss from his seat, I am full of love for him. I find myself thinking of the life I would like for him; healthy parents who will find work and be able to provide a stable home life for him, a good education just like the one I had where he will be blessed with opportunity and possibility. 

So now, I know that the best cure for a broken heart is not to lock it away and ignore the problem, it is to find a way to fill it with a love even greater than before.

My own capacity to love has been eclipsed by all I see around me. I once considered missionaries to be men and women who gave up or sacrificed their lives for others. My perspective has changed. These incredible people do not “give up” their lives, they chose another pattern, one which is so full of love and hope. Here I see men and women live in sometimes harsh and difficult circumstances because their capacity to love is so great. They have the strength see the hope in seemingly hopeless circumstances. They know that each day a child sits in their classroom, they step just a little bit closer to breaking the cycle of abject poverty that oppresses them, Progress can be so very slow and sometimes it takes a lot of effort to see the fruit of the work. But through education and commitment things will change. 

Maybe I took all of this for granted. Maybe this is nothing new but here, in one of the poorest places in the planet, still reeling from the effects of a bloody war, love in the truest sense of the word seems more obvious.

The Peace Summit

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This week has been an exciting one in Narus. A peace summit was held in our compound at which there were more than 100 delegates from Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. the attendees included representatives from the Didinga, Dinka, Toposa, … Continue reading

Standard 8 mock exams

As I write this morning, my standard 8 girls begin their mock exams. I just returned from the school having gone there to settle them before the exam and to wish them luck. I think I am more nervous than them – I found myself explaining what butterflies were!!

The girls are ready though. We had a briefing last evening to prepare them and to help them understand what to expect. There are students from Comboni Boys Primary as well as from Lolim and adult learners from Newcush. The men from Newcush are SPLA soldiers who were recruited as child soldiers when they should have been safe in their schools. They came to the briefing yesterday in full uniform which means rather intimidating attire and an AK-47. I met them this morning and thankfully they had been given permission to sit the exam in civilian attire. They all looked very smart and very nervous!

The Primary Leaving Exam is used by the state to decide which students will go to secondary school or not. Also, Mercy Beyond Borders use the results of this exam to decide which candidates will have their secondary school fees sponsored by the organisation. 

All my girls tell me that they want to go to secondary school. There are aspiring engineers and scientists in the class. But the sad fact is that out of my 34 girls, secondary school will only be a reality for about half. This is the strongest class that St. Bakhita will see for some time. The girls work hard, they start school each morning at 7am and finish at 4pm. In maths, they test themselves with problems found in text books from Kenya and Uganda.

The final exam will be in the third week of November and I am so sorry that I will miss it. Once the exam is over the girls will then be on holidays until the first week of March. Those girls who have homes to go to will return to their villages and their homes. The sad fact is that some will already be promised as wives by their fathers to men in their villages. If they can somehow get through the three months of holidays and return to school, the future may well be very bright for these girls.

Some other girls are orphans or displaced children from Boma in the East. The orphans will often stay with friends in Narus but as far as I know, arrangements are being made for the displaced children to remain as borders during the break. Boma has seen terrible violence over the last few months and many villages have been burned.

So, keep my girls in your thoughts this week especially tomorrow morning when they will sit their maths mock exam! Send all your prayers and your positive thoughts to St. Bakhita Girls Primary School in Narus, South Sudan!!

Girlie afternoon in Narus

What a perfect girlie afternoon Anne Grace and I had on Saturday last. We heard a rumour that there was yogurt (yes, yogurt!) I’m the Dinka Market so we took off in search of some. 

There are two markets in Narus. The Toposa market which doesn’t have a great deal except the local alcohol (waragi) that is brewed here. It seems to me that most adult Toposa are drunk by 3pm every day. The problem is so bad that many young girls brew alcohol to pay for their school fees. 

The Dinka market is better stocked. The Dinka people seem to have a better grasp of business – there are many more Dinka traders than Toposa traders. And frankly, I think they’re probably more sober too. 

Jen has a stall in the Dinka Market where she sells some groceries but she has a rare competitive advantage in that she has a solar fridge. I think the fridge had been out of action for a while leaving a huge shortage of strawberry yogurt in Narus but she’s back in action again!

The other great find of the day is a man who sells mobile phone credit for face value. Typically, 10SSP of credit costs 13SSP here. The traders consider it fair to charge a premium for the fact they’ve had to travel to Kapoeta or Torit for it.

Once we had completed our little shopping trip, we found two chairs in a veranda of a store house and sent a young boy to find us two cold bottles of Coke. We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and enjoying our Cokes. We may as well have been sipping a very nice bottle of white wine outside Oriel on Sloane Square and watching the world go by!

Catechumens first homework assignment

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As well as teaching maths to standard 7 and 8 in St. Bakhita Girls Primary School, I also help with the preparation of the candidates for Baptism and Communion. The girls range in age from about 4 years old to … Continue reading

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!