It always takes me a while to look at and ponder the pictures I take when I go into South Sudan. Sometimes certain images won’t strike a chord with me until I’ve looked at them a few times. Now that I’ve had time to look through them, I’m posting some of my initial favorites from my most recent trip. I’m leaving captions off of most of them so you can let your imagination work. All can be clicked on for a larger view. Enjoy. I’ll probably do the same for previous trips soon.
This post is going to be a bit out of the ordinary from what I usually write about, but I am trying to cover all things about travel in South Sudan. The items I use while over there are definitely part of that. Being that I’ve had products that have failed and ones that I’ve been very happy with while traveling, I like to pass on the information when something works well.
Whenever I travel in South Sudan, clean water is a problem. You can’t just simply drink out of the tap. For one reason, there frequently is no tap, and if there is, you definitely don’t want to drink directly from it. On all previous trips, I’ve drank nothing but bottled water. There are three main problems though. The first is that it’s easy to end up spending a large amount on nothing but bottled water. The second problem is waste. I look around, and Africa is littered with discarded plastic bottles. The smell of burning garbage that is so prevalent in Africa is due in large part to burning plastic bottles. The third thing that has come to my attention is that in some places now, the bottled water you’re sold is not actually purified water. They just find a clear looking source, bottle it, and voila, instant dysentery starter kit.
I decided this time to bring a Camelbak All Clear with me, which is a water bottle with a high power ultraviolet lamp in the top of it. It doesn’t filter the water, but rather sterilizes it (so I understand), making it drinkable. If you have a source of clear water that you suspect is full of nasties, you turn the lamp on, and it counts down for 60 seconds while you agitate it, after which, the water is supposed to be safe to drink. I was apprehensive about trying it, being that I was going to be out in the middle of nowhere for a good week, during which time stomach sickness would have been a real problem. In fact, for the first day or two, I went ahead and bought bottled water. But in my wife’s words in a conversation on the sat phone, she said; “You spent the money for it, you may as well use it.” I’m not sure if she was trying to kill me, but I took her advice.
For five days I drank water that was sourced out of the Nile, which if you’ve ever been there, is not exactly Culligan. I still didn’t entirely trust the Camelbak, so I ran the UV cycle twice each time. Nevertheless, I had no stomach problems the entire time in South Sudan. In fact, I was the only one on my team that didn’t, but I suspect theirs came from medication rather than from the water. So having put it through that test, it is definitely something I would use again, not only traveling overseas, but also on backpacking trips and such. You’re supposed to get about 80 uv cycles out of each charge, and it charges by usb connection, so it’s good for at least a week of use. I hope this was helpful for anyone wondering.
Today I was involved in two separate car accidents in South Sudan. Most of us are bruised and sore, especially on the knees and shins. Also, there’s damage to the vehicle. The only thing is, each of the accidents lasted two and a half hours and we were the only vehicle involved. What we hit was the Juba-Bor road. The rainy season has just ended, and the road can no longer be considered a road. As they say; in America your drive on the right side of the road, in Britain on the left, and in Africa you drive on the good side of the road. This of course doesn’t apply to South Sudan, where there is no good side of the road. Each way to the village we went to was only 30 or 35 miles, but took 2 1/2 hours to travel. Going the 140 miles all the way to Juba currently takes 2 days.
The good thing is that the reason for this transportational fiasco was that we were going to a Baptism at a year old church that meets under an acacia tree in a village along the Nile. It doesn’t get any better than that. Imagine yourself in the time of Christ, in the land of Cush, along the same Nile River where Moses floated in a basket. Now realize that except for the odd T-shirt or other western clothing, and the fact that the well has a hand pump instead of a bucket, NOTHING has changed since that time.
The event was as amazing as I thought it would be. A line of people walked from the church down to the river, singing as they went. It was just like the scene in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou“, only it was all Africans singing in Dinka. The villagers continued to sing the whole time as they stood along the shore, and the music was beautiful. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world. Afterward, the chief greeted us and thanked us for being there, and expressed his appreciation for our participation in their village. I was here a year and a half ago, and I sensed a lot of skepticism at the time that we would actually continue to be involved as we said we would. I think there was some appreciation that we had followed though and continued to build relationships in this village.
In the end, the bruises and soreness were worth it. This is a beautiful day I will always remember.
All pictures can be clicked on for a larger view.
Sometimes you need to see things with a new pair of eyes. Close your eyes and if you’re in your home, think about where you are. Can you describe everything in the room? Chances are you can’t. Not because you don’t see the things in that room everyday, but because you are so familiar with your setting that you look right through the inessential items. You’re so familiar that you no longer notice. It’s the same with life, and why travel is so essential. For me at least, it is impossible to evaluate the importance or unimportance of the things I do, the thoughts I have, and the logic of the things I put my resources into on a daily basis without stepping outside of it once in a while. It is impossible to understand that the tiny body of water you’re standing next to is an estuary of a might ocean without climbing to the top of the mountain and seeing the big picture. It’s the same with life.
Without leaving the comfort of home and traveling, you are never far enough away to understand yourself, your society, or the value or lack of value in your cultural morays. I would go even farther and say that if you travel, and only stick to well guided tours designed to give the feeling that you’ve traveled while at the same time denying you the discomfort of non-western living, you’re doing yourself a disservice. If you must have a guide, and many people should for safety reasons, at least find a local guide, or better yet, stay with a local family that may or may not speak English. There are ways to do this. Even better than that is to get involved with a missions organization or an NGO. You will not only enrich your own experience, but you can help someone else at the same time.
I remember getting off a cruise ship one time in Barbados, and a photographer was standing there next to one of the locals. He held up his camera and said “Rasta man?” I could not stand there and have my picture taken with the “Rasta man” because I felt it was degrading to have his culture so reduced to the point where the only contact people have is when they get off the ship and stand there next to him. Wouldn’t it be better to get pictures next to the Rasta men because you involved yourself with them, and you’ve got pictures because you made new friends?
Most of my favorite travel pictures were taken in places where no tour group will ever go. Many of them were taken because I was in the right place at the right time. Many came after a day of very difficult and sometimes dangerous travel. But I’ve made friends along the way, and in 19 days now I will be going back to South Sudan to see some of them. So throw out the brochures. Go learn a new language if you like. But leave the tour group behind if you can.
Yesterday I set up my hammock and mosquito net out in the yard. On our next trip we’ll be staying out in the bush, and I wanted to make sure the rain fly I’d bought would fit over the mosquito net and keep me dry should it rain. You might be thinking, “You stay in a hammock? Are you nuts?” Well there’s a couple of practical reasons for this, and I would much rather stay in a hammock than any other way when in South Sudan. Even when I stay in a “hotel”, I string up my hammock between the door and the bars on the window. Cleanliness is one reason. A lot of the beds, when there is one, I’d rather not touch much less sleep in. The other reason is the heat. Last time I went it was February, the hottest month of the year, and the temperatures would climb to 42 centigrade during the day. The building bake in the heat all day and continue to release that heat throughout most of the night. Sleeping in a hammock is so much more bearable than sleeping on a mattress. Even a tent seems hot.
I don’t really like staying in hotels anyway, because if I’m going to interact with people, I’d really rather be staying with the locals than locked away in a hotel. Yes, there are nicer hotels sometimes, but if I am going half way around the world bringing a message of good news, the last thing I want to do is live better than the people I’m going to bring that message to. Too many people have gotten the wrong message that following Christ is about gaining prosperity, when if you’re doing it right, it often means exactly the opposite message. It’s about self-sacrifice and putting your needs second to others and your wants last. There is nothing uglier than a Christian who thinks they’re entitled to anything the world has to offer simply because they’re a Christian.
Which brings me to fish. When we go to South Sudan, the people we stay with are generous even within their poverty and give us their best. This includes fish as they prepare it.
They have really great fish, as they come straight out of the Nile just a mile away. The problem is in the preparation. In the worst case scenario, the fish is left in a pile in the sun for a day or two before it’s eaten, and in the best case scenario it’s simply boiled. The conversation has come up on a few occasions that we need to show them how to take a little flour and some oil and fry up some of those great fish.
My pastor talked yesterday about when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Even though Jesus was in authority over them, he showed that being a leader means being a servant. That people don’t follow you because you lord your authority over them, but because you will not ask them to do something you yourself are not willing to do.
A problem in South Sudan is in many men’s attitude toward their wives. Regular beatings are a common thing. While I am not by any stretch of the imagination of the though that there are no gender roles as western society is trying to tell us, beatings are not one of these roles. What I would like to do is have our team cook fish the way we want to do it. This will cause at least some laughter, as men DO NOT cook in South Sudanese society. But then I’d like to go one step further and serve the women first, to show by example that just as we are serving those seen as second class in society, so God sent his son to die for those not worthy to receive that life. Along the way I’m sure I will learn things about myself and my own society that I overlook, but that God doesn’t want me to overlook anymore.