The welcome feast

On the evening of Sunday September 22nd we were invited to the home of the Ugandan sisters who share the diocese compound. The Brothers were also invited, Brother Mike from New York and Brothers Germay, Rene and Gonzaga, all from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fathers Tim and John Joe and I made our way there after evening prayer (and once the All-Ireland was over!) to find that some other esteemed guests had been invited also. Zachariah the town chairman, Monica the chairperson of the PTA, Madame Helen from St. Bakhita and Esther Iko who I had first met on my arrival here at her daughter Kulangs funeral.

It transpired that Sister Margaret had gatherered the group of fourteen together in my honour. She made a short introductory speech welcoming me to their home and urging me to feel it to be my home too. 

And what an honour it was.

Sister Anges presented me with a beautiful posy of flowers and a huge hug of welcome. She is young and energetic and always full of life. I hear that she was a very popular radio host in Uganda before she came to South Sudan. Now she teaches the younger girls in St. Bakhita and I can’t help but think how lucky they are to have her.

The feast was fit for a king. There were local dishes from South Sudan and Ugandan dishes prepared by Sister Margaret, Sister Susan and Sister Agnes. I really didn’t know where to start. And the smell!! The room filled with the aroma of meat slowly cooked in a delectable concoction of herbs and spices. We washed it all down with the great treat of bottled soda. 

Conversation was lovely as it tends to be when Zachariah is around. He’s full of life and energy. He is a great town chairman and he works hard to create a better future for the children of this place. 

Desert came disguised. We were to guess what it was – Tim thought it might be our angry cat but I think my guess was closest. I said that whatever was hidden underneath the cloth was sure to be delicious. And it was! We cut the cake together, me, Tim, Zachariah and Monica to a great round of applause. It was a scrumptious ginger sponge cake that had been prepared earlier in the day.

Sister Margaret then asked, ever so officially, for Zachariah to make an address. He spoke of how happy he was that I had come to Narus and how he only hoped that I could stay longer. He made it clear that I was one of them now and that I should call on him day or night if there was something I needed. He wanted me to feel safe here and happy and invited me back next year!

Tims address was next in his capacity as Parish Priest of Narus. He explained that it has been only 6 weeks or so since he had an email from me out of the blue introducing myself. He knew my mother but didn’t know me and in the short time since that email we’ve become good friends. He saw in me someone who wanted to learn more about missionary life and having conferred with John Joe decided he must help me. He knew that St. Bakhita needed a maths teacher and with my having studied maths he felt I’d be a good fit. The timing of my visit was perfect. He welcomed me and wished me well. He sees that this is a journey for me too and sees that I’m very happy here.

And then it was my turn as guest of honour. At this point I was so touched and admittedly a little close to tears. I addressed my friends. I thanked them for the marvellous welcome and wonderful evening but most of all for letting me be part of their lives and the community here in Narus. I told them that they came to me at the right time too. Providence put us all together. I told them, very honestly how happy I am here and how very full of gratitude I am to all of them. I shall miss them all and this life terribly when I have to return to London.

Fr. John Joe closed the addresses with a prayer for me and for all of us. 

Guests drifted away and soon it was time for us to leave too for the short walk back to our house. As I was leaving, another huge hug from Sister Agnes and the sweetest thing – she said “thank you for loving us and St. Bakhita”

And I do. I love them all. I love St Bakhita and my life here. And I am eternally grateful to God or the Universe or whichever power directed me to South Sudan to be surrounded by such love and hope.

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.