“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”. 





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.

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!