Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Using their voices

Being back home has physically transported me from Sudan, but in many ways I'm still there. This weekend they held a bondfire at the school site and this was sent to me from the field. Enjoy! It certainly made me cry.

i thought you would like to read this poem that left everyone on the camp fire "crying" with joy and nodding their hands offenjoy! -diane birungi

Voices of NESEI girls

Its gone days!

We will gift for our rights

Equality is our new oxygen 25% in GOSS is just a resting point

The destination is 50% of women presentation

Soon new crops of leaders like the late Dr. John Garang and Joseph Laso will be women

We have accepted leadership

Our living room is no longer kitchen but offices

We have discarded early marriage

We are no longer conditioned parasites

Education is our new farming tool and hunting weapon

We are glued to education

We have accepted

It is clear now

We have seen the road

The message is getting to our hearts

We are grateful to NESEI and WINROCK

our efforts are saluted

We are getting the tune

Don't give up on us

We have accepted education.

This poem was presented by the NESEI School Head girl Neema Nyoka on the welcome Campfire sat 12th July 2008 at the school site

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back State Side-YAY Vermont

Ok folks...after 17 hours on a plane, an extended layover in London and one expensive night in NYC, I've safely made it back to Burlington, VT. I've had the warmest welcome from my wonderful friends here. The FANTASTIC roomies bought me my favorite foods from fruit to wine to Stacy's Pita chips. They put flowers in my room and even planned a welcome back bb-q. Oh that's right, burgers on the grill! I sit with mixed emotions soaking in all the things I cherish about my life here in America yet already missing pieces of Africa. It's true that I have a love/hate relationship with the land where I just spent two months of my life.

stay tuned for more....

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A wee bit homesick but gotta love the kids

Two more days in Yei. I think I'm ready to go. Wait, I KNOW, I'm ready to go. The long hot days are making me a bit delirious, but no fear, I'm still finding ways to smile and have back aching laughs. I've been staying at the CTC, Crop Training Center, that 1/4 of a mile off the Yei-Juba road at the end a cul de sac. Just before the entrance gate is a small path that leads towards a small village consisting of 15 tukuls on the left handside. About 1/2 down there is a road that is a short cut over to what we call non profit row. UNHCR, ARC, NPA and UMCOR all have their headquarters on this road. I usually take this back way to avoid the main road where Boda Boda drivers love to hiss at the white girl, "Sissstta, Boda boad-ride for free sista." I'd rather not thank you. My legs work just fine. So I take this back way to be less conspicuous. Ha right. Last week I was leisurely strolling the short cut, strategizing how to get across the small pond that was created after the early morning rain. As I made my way across and began to summit a small hill I heard the call.
KAWAAJA! KAWAAJA! (white person)
I hear the watchman make his call. All of a sudden little dark bodies, some naked, some dressed in over size shirts, all screaming and laughing came stampeding out of nowhere. KAWAAJA! KAWAJA! Just writing this, I have to pause and laugh. It is honestly a site I will hold dear to my heart, since I feel like a celebrity everytime it happens. Their excitment is a little ubsurd and hysterical but an absolute delightful to see. I liken it to those vidoes where people are getting squashed, crying and sobbing at concerts trying to touch Michael Jackson or Bono. Their beautiful little bodies get as tight as fiddle strings and they can barely breath. They run after me smiling, shouting, "kawaaja, kawaaja how are you? how are you? I am fine!" They all extend there tiny little hands so I can shake and greet them. They do it over and over and over until I eventually make my way past their territory. "Bye Bye Kawaaja" they yell. I turn around and smile and watch as passers by say,"they love to practice their English."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Missing Asphalt

We, or rather I, take a lot for granted in life. I like going to the grocery store on a hot summer day, knowing when the door opens there will be air conditioning that is almost too cold as I wander the aisles looking for the perfect snack. I enjoy being exhausted and flopping on my bed not worrying if my mosquito net is tucked in. After being in Southern Sudan for almost two months what I’ve come to appreciate most of all are the roads in our great nation. Thank you, thank you taxpayers.

Ok I’ve traveled down some less than perfect roads in the backwoods of Maine, and even Costa Rica but nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the roads in Southern Sudan.

Yesterday I was invited to take a ride to Kaya to take pictures an visit some primary schools that my friend Sashi has opened here in Southern Sudan. I was very excited since recently my days have been spent walking the dusty roads of Yei Town. I welcomed the 46 mile ride to Kaya. Now 46 miles that’s what? Burlington to Montpelier? Portland to Wells? You do the estimation. In terms of time 46 miles takes no more than an hour.

At 10:05 I jumped into a land cruiser with Sashi, two engineers, a field worker, a woman about to give birth and her sister. The beginning of any journey is filled with gusto and optimism. I sat welcoming the thoughts of stopping to buy bananas, avocado, roasted corn and g-nuts from the local villagers. I was also excited because the road to Kaya takes you along the border of Congo and eventually to Uganda. It was a rough start but Sashi and I talked about his favorite thing, his home country of Zambia and the turmoil going on with Mugabe and Zimbabwe. He gave me a history lesson on Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi. I was glad to be getting more educated on the Africa’s history. After two hours we made it half way!!! We reached Jumbo, the site of a primary school that opened in February. The place was empty and as we got out of the vehicle we were approached by an old man who said, “the man who owns this land died this morning.” In the distance you could hear wailing and chanting for the dead man’s soul. Somberly he should me the school site and then we continued on our way. Hour three brought us to the bananas and avocados. We bought our lunch of bananas and continued by two o’clock we were descending down a road, I am reluctant to even call it a road, with holes the size of swimming pools. Elias, our driver, was controlled as we pounded over the dry dirt as red dust blinded us. What I saw before us was nothing short of a nightmare. There had to have been 15 -18 wheelers trying to make their way up this road. As a border town, it’s one of the main ways Southern Sudan receives imports from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia etc. Haven’t got a clue where their reasoning or strategic calculations were drawn from but did they actually think moving this way was a safe idea? For many, the choice was catastrophic. Trucks were tipped over on their sides, tires popped off the rims, the place was a zoo. The roads were congested and people just sat, resting there head in hand wondering what to do next.
We zig zagged our way through the labryinth and made it to the border where we ushered the pregnant woman on to the next leg of her journey and then we turned around to do it all over again.
I was glad to see the landscape. A more mountainous terrain than what I've been used to in Yei. The lush hillside was breathtaking even though my butt was enduring a numbness I prayed wasn't permanent. Our way home was much less energetic as we stopped by the funeral to pay our respects and then continued on moving in and out of sleep while our heads bounced like weeble wobbles. As Sashi pulled up to let me out I thought of 89 and how smooth the road is. How we cover distance so easily complaining when we hit rush hour traffic. I will be pressed to bark at road travel in the U.S. for sometime to come. I wonder how it will feel to ride on asphalt again.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thank You

I just want to take a moment to say Thank you to everyone who is interested in what I have to say. It means so much to see comments from people who are actually checking in on my journey. I have much more to say so stay tuned.

xo Annie

Friday, June 20, 2008

International Refugee Day!

Happy Friday. Today, June 20, 2008 International Refugee Day. Again, another life changing experience to tell. Our students were invited by the UNHCR to participate in the day with either a song, poem, dramatization, etc. This year's theme: Protection, Safety, Dignity, Hope. We spent one evening discussing what it means to be a refugee, what it means to seek protection ans safety and lose dignity and hope. In these initial moments we came up with our chant:
What do we want? Protection
What do we need? Safety
What did we lose? Dignity
What do we have?Hope
They also wrote and prepared a song and a dramatization of a family forced to flee all they had due to war. They each wrote essay's about living their lives as refugees or about friends and family that had been forced to live in camps. Incredibly moving and heartwrenching. We built them up. They were so excited to perform in Freedom Square infront of a crowd of people. But of course nothing seems to go smoothly here. How were we going to get our girls into town? Our school is located 8 miles out of town, beyond the level 3 emergency level set by the UN. They would not provide us transportation. The girls were devestated. Lauren, Megan, Deana and I couldn't do this to them. Lauren and I went to an organization and pleaded with them to rent us a 3 ton tipper truck. They were very willing but it would take some more planning. At 6 am we waited a the gate to drive out to the school and load the back of it with 45 girls and 5 teachers!!

They piled in and when I say piled in I mean piled in. They were singing and laughing and so ready to perform. Lauren and I followed behind in the Land Cruiser to make sure no one fell off Thankfully all were safe less than a few girls vommitting off the side. I CANNOT describe the condition of the road we travel on. We got them to the meeting spot on time and they marched to Freedom Square. Can I say I felt proud?? In their orange shirts, carrying signs they made that said NEW SUDAN EDUCATION INTIATIVE-Building Peace Through Education and holding the New Sudan Flag. They were scheduled to perform at 12:00 and at 12:30 they took the stage. I could barely hold back the tears. They were beautiful, strong and screaming, "WE ARE FROM NESEI SCHOOL. WE ARE BUILDING PEACE THROUGH EDUCATION."