Saturday, January 26, 2013

nilibusu...(swahili for "I kissed")

I thought that when I kissed the Blarney Stone that it would be the strangest thing I ever kissed, that nothing could top that. I was wrong. Today, I am happy? confused? to say that I have experienced a weirder kiss. I...have kissed...a giraffe. And there was tongue involved--on the giraffe's part (sorry, Daniel. I hope you'll understand).

Today we hung out with my friend Jenny Korwan, who is in the YASC (Young Adult Service Corps) here in Kenya. We went to a giraffe preserve, where we fed an 18 month old giraffe named Ed and his little 15 month old brother Ibrahim (sp?). If you put one of the pieces of food (they look like fish pellets; I tried not to think about what they were made of) in your mouth, the giraffe will stick out it's long black tongue and take the treat from you. They call it a kiss. It was quite the experience, and I have it on film to prove it! There are 9 giraffes in the preserve; 7 female and 2 male. They are called Rothschild Giraffes. Once they get to be 2 years old, they are released to the wild. One of the females is 16 years old and pregnant, so there will be a calf sometime soon. The giraffes are hunted for their skin, their tales, and their meat; this preserve is trying to rescue them. At one point there were only 120 of the giraffes in a 180,00 km radius (I think I got those numbers right). So this is an important project. If you're in the area, you should visit the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Giraffe Centre. It's totally worth your while.

Image of a Rothschild Giraffe found here.
After the preserve we went to Rongai, where Jenny works and lives. We visited a children's home called Nyumba ya Tumaini (it's essentially an orphanage, although some of the kids have families). It was founded in 2003 (June 5 will mark their 10 year anniversary) to help take boys off of the streets of  Nairobi. Most of them have been living on the streets for years, begging, stealing, doing drugs (like pot or sniffing glue), and drinking. The boys are usually 10 or younger. Several of them told us some of their background. When they first arrive they are rehabilitated, registered with the government, given clothing, and sent to school. There are mentors made up of people from the community and people like Jenny. The boys are so lovely, so full of life and energy! They sang and danced for us and it was great to see how much fun they were having. They work really hard at their studies and several of them are first in their class! One of the boys, D, had struggled with school and never completed any of the years of primary school. But he got a tutor to help him study. After one year he tested out of 8 years of primary school to continue to secondary school! From there he worked hard, becoming first in the class. He was asked to be head boy but declined so that he could focus on his studies. He is hoping to go to university in the fall to study electrical engineering. These boys have so much potential--I hope they get to achieve their dreams! Ben, the director of the home, is amazing, and you can just see how much he cares for the kids. If you'd like to find out more about Nyumba ya Tumaini, contact Jenny at I'll be sure to post pictures when I get back to the states.

After the home we visited Jenny's home, then said goodbye. Jim and I then went to a market to get souvenirs for folks (they didn't really have any in South Sudan) before returning to the hotel. It has been quite an amazing day! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

what IS the What?

I just finished reading the second book I brought with me, called What is the What. If you want to know more about what life was like for the South Sudanese during the civil war in Sudan, then I highly recommend this book. It tells the life of one of the Lost Boys, who walked for months across what is now South Sudan to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, then again to the refugee camp in Kenya, called Kakuma, before finally making his way to the states. It is a powerful tale and extremely sad, but an important read. It has helped me to understand what the people of South Sudan have gone through in recent decades, and what life is like for those lucky (?) enough to have made it to America. If you have a weak stomach, I don't recommend reading it; it is honest and very graphic in places (I had to stop reading it until after I got back to Kenya). But I think it's important for us to know what happened, just like it's important to learn about the Holocaust. Maybe if more and more people learn about these things, then they won't be able to happen in the future. I know that this hope is naive, but I still hope. 

I found the image of the book here.

In other, trivial matters: when we got back to Kenya, it was the first time I had spent time looking at myself in a mirror in a few weeks (there was a mirror in Bor, but we only spent one night there and the power wasn't on for much of the time, so I didn't really spend much time in front of it). Other than tweezers, what I really miss having is some mascara. My friend Liz told me before I went that I should take some, because she had really regretted not bringing some. When she told me this, I brushed the suggestion aside immediately, thinking it absurd. But after having spent several weeks hot and sweaty, with dirt perpetually under my fingernails, I am regretting not having brought it. For the first time in a few weeks, we are in a climate that has some resemblance to ours (well, ours in the late spring/early summer). I am able to wear jeans and a light jacket, to wear my hair down (it was too hot before). Now that we have actual showers and huge beds and sinks and flushing toilets, there is some semblance of normalcy, and it makes me miss silly things like mascara or a blow dryer. It reminds me of a story I once heard about the women liberated from the concentration camps at the end of World War II. One of the most prized things they received was a tube of lipstick. Of course they appreciated the food and clothing, but the lipstick was absolutely treasured. They had been treated like less than humans for so long, been made to live in absolutely horrendous conditions, but now they were able to feel human, even pretty, for the first time. Now, I'm not saying my experience comes anywhere near theirs--not even close. It's just that for the first time I am able to understand the story.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

created equal

Just finished reading President Obama's second inaugural address. I was moved by his words, getting goosebumps and even tearing up a bit. I know that the U.S. has its share of problems: the economy, the confusion with health care, job insecurity, gun violence, etc. But compared to here, America seems so vast, so rich, and able to achieve all of its dreams. I know that our politicians are fighting one another and seem not able to get along, but compared to the problems here, it just seems like a simple fight with an easy solution. I wish all of our politicians would come to South Sudan and experience life here: how each day is a struggle and everything is so much more complex, with fewer options available. I know that's an oversimplified view of both sides, but I think after coming here they would realize that the fights they are having are just a waste of time. What matters is working together to make the dreams a reality. It requires compromise, give and take. And we have so much in the U.S. So very, very much, and we take it all for granted. Cars, fridges, money, houses with air conditioning, education, health care (as mixed up as it is), entertainment, phones. I wish I could shake the shoulders of America, wake us up out of our self-serving reverie. I know that there are many people working tirelessly to improve the lives of others. I know that there are people in the states struggling to make ends meet, that have to decide between medicine and food. But overall, we as a country have so much and can do so much more. Because I do believe that all of us are created equal, and that we all deserve a chance to make something of ourselves. And we are called to help each other achieve those dreams. I wish I could give all of the young girls in Maar who told me their dreams (of becoming pilots, priests, teachers, and businesswomen) the chance to realize those dreams. As cliched as it might seem, I hope that even in some small way I can make a difference, and that you will join me in making this world a better place. We can achieve so much when we work together. Who's with me?

Friday, January 11, 2013

harsh realities

Yesterday was a powerful day! This past week we've been in the midst of the equivalent of a Diocesan Convention, and just about every priest in the Diocese was present (there are over 200). The morning began with worship, and I was honored by being asked to preach (it was on the schedule, so I'd had a few days to gather my thoughts in preparation). I used the passage 1 Cor. 12:12-18, 26-27 and talked about how I understood more about the Body of Christ, was more complete, because I had met my brothers and sisters from across the world. If only everyone treated each other the way they had treated me and my companions, imagine what this world would be like! My sermon was not very long, but it took about 20 min. because each sentence was translated into Dinka and Nuer, the most common tribal languages present. Before I began I was asked to step up to the podium. When I tried to refuse, they insisted. So, to prove my point, I went in front of the podium and of course no one was able to see me because it was above my head. Everyone got a kick out of that. There have been more than a few short jokes this trip, but that's par for the course :o) After the service, one person told me, "You are small, but your message is big." That's good enough for me!

In the afternoon all 6 of us Americans were invited to be part of a memorial service for two men who had been killed in a recent cattle raid. They were the father and uncle of one of the priests in the Diocese, Rev. John. It was a moving experience: each of the tribal leaders of the nearby communities were invited to speak. The community had lost all of its cattle when a mostly nomadic tribe called the Murle stole them. Exact numbers are unknown, but it could be as many as 80,000. This is the community's only form of subsistence, and they were defenseless because the government had taken away the guns of all citizens earlier this year in a disarmament program. Without the cattle, they have nothing. Some of the chiefs said that they would take their villages and leave, but others said, "Where will you go? The only thing we have is land." They were angry with the government, who did not provide them with the protection they needed. The people here already don't have the conveniences that most of us don't even think twice about: clean water, employment,  electricity, regular access to health care or food. Now, they are left with absolutely nothing except the torn clothes on their backs and their homes. What will they do? Where can they turn? The cattle will not be returned to them. It breaks my heart.

As guests of the Diocesan Bishop, we were honored guests at the service. Each person greeted us before they spoke their piece. Many hoped that we would take the story of their loss back home with us, in the hopes that someone will be moved to help, because they have nowhere else to turn.

After the leaders finished speaking, they asked Bishop Duncan (of Mississippi) to speak on behalf of the group. He prayed for those gathered and those whose lives were lost, that in the midst of the confusion and loss, they would feel God's presence. Then one of the sons, Rev. John's elder brother, spoke. He said, "My uncle was buried here. Now my father and another uncle are buried here. We can't leave; this land is our legacy." Then the District Commissioner spoke. He said he was sorry for their loss, that the raid had been publicized, and that he would do what he could for them. Then Bishop Ezekiel gave the closing prayer, where he talked about trusting in God to get through this tough time.

After the service was over (we had been there for about 3 1/2 hours at this point, but we'd missed the recounting of the lives of the deceased), we were invited to come eat in Rev. John's brother's hut. Needless to say, it was a somber ride home.


Thursday, January 10, 2013


From my travels, I've learned that probably one of the most important qualities you can have when traveling is flexibility. It's good to have a plan or general idea, of course, but you need to be okay when (not if) the plan changes. Here, we are on "African time," so things happen in their own good time. The worship service "begins" at 7:30am, but people don't start showing up until about 8, some even later. Meals are later. On the first night, Addy and I came back to our room after our bath, got into our pajamas, and prepared for bed. All of a sudden we heard a knock on the door; someone had come to take us to dinner--at 9pm! But you get used to it, or adapt for your own needs. I have to have breakfast before starting the day or I'll not feel well, so I just eat a granola bar to hold me over until we are served a meal. Flexibility.

Yesterday afternoon we went to visit a clinic some miles away. We all piled into a truck, including some people we picked up from the village. I asked to sit in the back. They tried to convince me to sit inside, but I insisted on sitting in the back. It was such a rush! I was reminded of my travels in Myanmar, riding through the mountains on the back of a truck. I loved feeling the wind on my face (which is a good preventative measure against car sickness, by the way). The view here is incredible: it's so flat (even flatter than in Nebraska!) and you feel like you can see forever. We saw the sun catching on the grass, turning it into golden spiderwebs. Here and there were huts and trees, and we regularly saw goats and birds. And then there were the cattle. Sometimes it seemed like the cattle stretched on for miles! At one point, on our way back, we had to stop because a line of hundreds of cattle was crossing the road. Incredible! This place is simply amazing.

Picture of South Sudanese cattle found here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

we have arrived!!!

After 5 days of traveling, we finally made it to the village of Maar, in the Diocese of Twic East in South Sudan! Jim Yeates and I began the journey on Friday morning, flying from Omaha to Minneapolis and then to Amsterdam, where we met up with the medical mission team from Mississippi (Bishop Duncan Gray, III; Dr. Frank Criddle; Dr. Addy Henderson; and Peter Malual, a pharmacist originally from South Sudan). The six of us flew to Nairobi, Kenya next, where we spent two nights (which was a welcome break). In Kenya we worshiped at St. Luke's, a Sudanese Episcopal parish in Nairobi that worships in the Dinka language (one of the tribes of South Sudan). I was also fortunate enough to meet up with my friend Jenny Korwan, who is doing the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) at Be the Change, Kenya. It was great to see her again! On Monday we left Kenya for Juba, the capital of South Sudan, staying overnight in the Episcopal Guest House. We got up bright and early to get to the airport so we could board a charter plane (which we had hired through Mission Aviation Fellowship, or MAF, who fly specifically for Christian missions). After figuring out how to balance the weight of the luggage and people, we were off! The charter plane has 11 seats, plus 3 in the back if you don't have much luggage. We were traveling with 8 trunks full of medicine for the doctors to use in the clinic, so we needed all the space we could get! From the air we were able to see the Nile below us--what an incredible view! The pilot, Jane, made the smoothest landing I've ever experienced, and on a landing strip made of dirt! When we arrived in Mabior or Panyagor, the county seat of Twic East, we were greeted by a host of people, including Bishop Ezekiel and the District Commissioner, Dau Akoi Jurkuch. The Commissioner invited us to his office, where Bishop E. introduced us to him. Then we went by truck to Maar, an hour's journey on dirt roads filled with the worst pot holes I've ever seen. The whole village had turned out to greet us, and we were welcomed with joyful song and dance. The rest of the afternoon was filled with intermittent song, dance, prayers, and eating. Such a wonderful welcome!

Some info about our life in Maar:
  • We are in a compound made up of several huts and space in the middle for meetings. Bishop Duncan has his own hut, and this is where we eat our meals and have tea. Jim, Frank, and Peter share a hut. I am in a hut with Addy, and we sleep on beds with freshly treated mosquito nets. It's quite spacious, and I slept very well last night. 
  • The moon doesn't show up until about 2am, so once the sun goes down it is completely dark. I was able to spot the constellation Orion, though, which was comforting. 
  • We eat rice, meat, beans (they got them especially for me, since I'm vegetarian), a sponge-like bread, and Dinka Donuts (fried sweet bread).  
  • I am writing to you from the solar-powered internet cafe right outside the compound. This is a way for the people of the village to be self-sustaining. How ingenious!
Today we worshiped in the community center and took a trip to the medical clinic. Who knows what the rest of the days will bring, but each day is an adventure (my word of the year), and I am blessed to be here!

A picture of a hut like the one we live in! Photo found here.

*Sorry for the lack of personal pictures; I don't have a way to transfer them to the computer. However, this will leave you something to look forward to when I get back :o)  If you have any questions or things you want to know about, let me know and I'll try to respond. Don't know how much free time I'll have to write, but I will do my best to answer! Love to all!