The strong and refined essence of a continent.

Image

“There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through 6,000 feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent.”

From Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

When we were in Nairobi and at those times when the absolute beauty of the sunset over the majestic Ngong Hills was almos breath taking Tim would say “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills”. This came as a surprise to me. I knew that Tim had spent 5 years in Kenya but I didn’t realise that he had farmed…until I was politely informed that those were the first words of the literary classic “Out of Africa” and a favourite book of Tims. 

I’m reading the book now but my favourite description comes just two paragraphs after.

It has been difficult to come home. Maybe I’ll talk about all of that another time but when talking to my friends and family about the depth of feeling, this image helped me. 

South Sudan is not quite 6,000 feet but in reflection, this idea of distillation is the perfect description. There is nothing in South Sudan to dilute the experience, nothing to dissolve the feelings. Love, loneliness, sadness, pain, happiness….everything seems more acute. I realise that now. I wrote in earlier posts how I was surprised by my capacity to love and the willingness of the girls to love me. 

And now, as I work to integrate this extraordinary experience into my “real life”, I know that it all awaits me.

This Toposa girl

Image

I don’t know this Toposa girls name. Here is what I do know about her. 

She is the daughter of a Toposa herdsman. She is about 15 years of age. At a young age her father cut her cheeks and forehead with a knife and filled the wounds with ash from the fire pit. Those are the “beauty” marks you see in the picture. It is an incredibly painful procedure and of course there are no painkillers or treatments to prevent infection. 

She attended St. Bakhita some years ago. She learned to count, to say the alphabet and to write her name. She made friends with girls from many other tribes, the Murle, the Dinke, the Karamajong. She was a happy little girl.

Then one day, she stopped coming to school. When the elders of the school investigated, they learned that her fathers fellow tribesmen humiliated him. They mocked him for allowing his daughter to lose her value as a wife by sending her to school. They asked how he could expect to get a good dowry for her if she became a prostitute. (This is what many Toposa men think of girls who get a basic education). 

So he stopped her attending school.

I see this Toposa girl walk by the school almost every day carrying heavy loads of charcoal or firewood on her head. She carries the load from compound to compound hoping that someone will buy from her. She desperately wants to return to school but cannot. She sees the other girls enjoy the education they have been blessed with. She sees that with the help of the food provided to the school by the World Food Programme, the girls are fed and healthy.

The best that this girl can hope for is that her father will sell her as a wife for a good dowry that will improve her fathers situation and maybe that of her siblings but not hers. She has been sentenced to a life of hardship and toil. She will become a wife at a young age and maybe not the mans first wife. If she is his first wife, she will not be his last wife. She will share the compound she will build alone with the other wives her husband will take. 

Her husband will make her repay the dowry he paid for her by having her enslaved to him for the rest of her life. It will be her responsibility to build the home, to cultivate the crops, to raise her children and the children her husband fathers with his other wives. She will fetch water, cook, clean and try to generate an income for the family.

I really don’t want my posts to sound like those “for $10 a month you can feed a family in Africa” type ads that we see on daytime television. There is nothing anyone can do for this girl. It breaks my heart to know what this girls life is. But I find it infinitely more difficult to deal with the fact that this Toposa girl is exceptional in wanting an education and that many young girls still aspire to the life this Toposa girl has been sentenced to. 

I met this Toposa girl last Sunday. I sat at the very back pew just inside the door and she stood at the door throughout the service. I invited her to sit with me and she cowered behind the door. I asked about her at lunch at lunch and this is what I learned. I also learned that she had gone to see the Ann Grace  and asked her to read the Gospel to her. Ann Grace invited her to come to church and she came.