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."

Friday, June 13, 2008

A little Uneasy

Kudral Moth Mia~ June 7, 2008
Yesterday evening it began raining around 5 o’clock. It was a rain close to what you’d experience during a hurricane. Whipping winds rattled our tent city. Thunder and lightening penetrated my tent lining as I lay in bed literally feeling the electricity saturating my skin. All I could do was pray that it wouldn’t strike me dead. Everyone scattered to their respective “homes” when the rain began. I sat alone with my thoughts trying to keep myself occupied by reading God Grew Tired of Us. I’m not in the happiest part of the book, not that there are happy parts, but it’s where John has just settled into the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Everything I’ve read and heard in the states has become so real for me- from understanding the importance of cows in Dinka culture to navigating a landscape filled with such a dark history. Being here has changed my perspective on life, on hope, despair, and resiliency and the ability to live in fear.
Eventually the rain turned to a steady stream that was bearable to move around in. We all crept out of our tents and one by one slid by way of mud into the designated “office.” We gathered around a candle to eat our rice, beans and posho and drink tea. It was cozy and all seemed right for the moment. One by one, through the glistening night each retreated back to our tents.
My setup has evolved into a nice dwelling space. I actually have a mattress and a bed in my tent so it’s much more manageable then what I anticipated. I snuggled back into my nest, read more about John Dau and drifted to sleep, while listening to the pitter patter of the rain against my tent. I’ve never slept as well as I do here. I think it’s because each day is mentally, emotionally and physically taxing. I slept while other in my camp lay awake worrying about our safety. I wasn’t aware of the information that was moving through camp. I awoke to the unsettling news.
A group known as the LRA, Lord’s Resistance Army, a terrorist group from Uganda began its attacks again with Sudan, Uganda and the Congo responding that, “enough is enough.” Joseph Kony and his rebel group made its way to the villages of Nabanga and Yamba killing 21 people which included six children. Their intended path was/is towards Kajo Keji, at the Sudan-Uganda border. This is not very far from where our school site is located. We really didn’t know what to do. Evacuate immediately? Call the SPLA (Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army?) The Yei and Lainya county commissioner? And so on. But before we tacked Joseph Cony and company our first mission of the morning was to get Sasha to the airport. She’d missed it two days earlier and missing this one was not acceptable. We needed to get her out of southern Sudan. Lauren, Sasha and I hopped in the Land Cruiser and off we went. Not 10 minutes into our ride we got stuck. We were trapped in the biggest, blackest, wettest hole of mud-tires spinning but going know where. We jumped out and began digging, pushing cursing, anything to get the damn vehicle to move. Oh what a sight we were. Time to call in the troops. Marlen, Camis and Mousa came to our rescue with the tipper truck and with some good team work got us out It was smooth sailing for the next hour, that’s the only way you can live here, moment to moment. We made to the airport with 10 minutes to spare. Sad yet relieved we watched Sasha board the plan for Entebbe. (I have to write one full entry on Sasha. A young girl of 19 she has changed lives and will make the world a better place wherever she goes.)
The rest of our day was spent on the GO. We moved between the commissioner’s offices, to the SPLA Police barracks, UN/UNHCR, to calling local NGO’s on advice and while sneaking in a cup of tea. My trip to Sudan has many layers to it, one of those is wearing the hat of a NESEI Board member and Chair of the Sudan Operations committee. I came here intending to set up our security procedures but didn’t anticipate doing it in the situation.
We spent Saturday and Sunday assessing and contemplating what, if any action to take. After a visit from the commissioner who vowed to defend us, we decided not to evacuate. The locals vowed to serve and protect us. We continued business as usual not breathing a word of this to the girls.
After our decision was made in regards to the girls I decided it was best for me to take leave from the site for a few days. The advice we received was that while we weren’t in immediate danger having a kawajja (white) staying there wasn’t the safest. My exhaustion was taking me to a place where I couldn’t think straight. This is not what you need in times like these. Being held accountable for 45 girls is a big deal. I feel personally responsible for their safety and over all well being. They are young, innocent and vulnerable-an easy target for a madman.
I’ve spent the last week at the CTC (Crop Training Center) where we have a room. I’ve been working on security protocols, emergency procedures and meeting great new allies at the UNHCR and Samaritan’s Purse. I miss the site and the girls. I think today may be the day to reunite with them.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Back at the School Site

Loidi-(How's it going?)
After my adventures in Juba and Kolyngang I've safely made it back to Lanya County and the school site. A was welcomed by a wonderful surprise: a wireless satelitte dish. Yes, I'm connected to the 21st century. I found out the KG and the Celts have made it to the finals , thankfully Hillary has decided to retreat and I have a manicure and pedicure lined up in August. Let's just say my feet are in desperate need of TLC. This week's topic question: how annoying can a fly be? AHHHHH sweet and loving lord I'd like to embrace all living things but baby give me DEET. I'll add it to my list of wants: a toliet that flushes, sushi and clean cotton sheets.

Ok enough of that let's talk about the school. It's is moving along nicely. We have 40 girls here and 30 more on the way. They have begun lessons in English, Math, Leadership and Civic Engagement. This afternoon I'm going to do a workshop on role models and identity. There is a famous Dinka woman by the name of Alek Wek who is taking the world by storm. As Aduei would say, "black is in." I've planned what I hope is an engaging lesson highlighting the characteristics they have and ones they hope to gain. We'll see how it goes. My American accent makes them laugh so none the less they will be entertained.

Update on Bior:
After our journey to Juba/Bor and then his trek to Nimule he has decided to head back to the states early. I think he misses the lab ! ha...It really is another world here and it requires pateince, resiliency and every once in a while a good strong drink, preference a NILE (beer). I'm still having a hard time believing that we set a goal and reached it. We went to his village, we reunited him with aunts, uncles, cousins, childhood friends. We ate cow liver and I was the first white woman to sleep in their village. The range of emotions I've endured makes me appreciate the soul of humanity.
Ok I'm now going to try and upload some pics! Please if you're around write me how life is for you!! I can't get to email now....

Yin Ce Lec (Thank You!)