Tag Archives: Juba

Trying To Understand Juba

Juba, South Sudan, seen from the air.
Juba, South Sudan, seen from the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There aren’t a lot of places like Juba, at least not that I’ve experienced. If you fly in, generally you either come from Addis Ababa or Nairobi, and the first thing you notice is the shock of the first blast of heat as you step onto the tarmac, especially after the cool temperatures of either of the previous places. Many things in Juba are just like other cities in Africa; the dust, the ubiquitous Toyota Land Cruisers and motorcycle taxis, the smell of diesel and wood smoke. But other things are distinctly different, namely the tangible sense of desperation. It’s hard for me to describe to someone who hasn’t been there, but I’m going to try. After that, I’m going to try to do an even harder task, and that is to explain why.

The first thing is to describe the conditions on the ground. Juba went from a town of 115,000 in 1993 to a city of somewhere between 500,000 and a million in the past couple years. Obviously there was no way for infrastructure to keep up with that kind of growth. Since the oil shipments into Sudan stopped a couple years ago, there is no functioning power grid in the entire country, and you only have electricity if you have a generator. There are some paved roads through town, but almost all roads are just rutted dirt tracks that become very hard to travel if it rains. Juba’s dirt turns into a slick mud you could almost skate on, so driving is quite a challenge. Copious amounts of garbage is burned because there is no other way to deal with it, so it occasionally rains black ribbons of ash, and smoke sits on the city. There is no central water supply. All water is trucked to individual water tanks from the Nile, which runs through the city (and is quite beautiful). Consequently waterborne disease is a major problem. None of these things on their own really explain the sense that comes over you in Juba, though. I believe the reason for that sense is the same reason the city has grown so fast in the last fifteen years.

Traditionally, the South Sudanese have lived in villages in the scrub forests and grasslands. They live in traditional thatched huts in family groups, among a larger village. Some villages are extremely large. They raise cattle with enormous horns, and do some farming with very basic methods. They have very tight family and community ties. One of the reasons westerners (especially Americans) have a hard time understanding Africans is because of the way we see time and the way we see our role within a community. We see time as a finite thing to be planned out and quantified, divided and packaged. We have day planners and use phrases like, “time is money” or “how am I going to get that hour back?” Africans largely see time (or don’t see time) more as somewhat of an unlimited resource, and if something doesn’t get done now, that’s ok. The focus is more on relationships and community. Church doesn’t necessarily start at such and such a time It starts when the pastor is ready and the drum beat starts to signal for everyone to come. There are advantages and disadvantages to each way of seeing time. In the first way, time can be used more productively for producing goods or services, but the other way people tend to have closer relationships and a stronger sense of belonging and community. Villages truly raise the children, and the elderly are not abandoned to nursing homes.

So what happened?  Well, in a nutshell, the war happened. South Sudan was at war with northern Sudan almost constantly from the 1950’s through 2011, when independence was finally declared (though some level of war still goes on with north Sudan.) Even when there wasn’t all out war, there was oppression from the Arab, Muslim northern government against the Black Christian and Animist south. Decades of war caused people to flee to wherever they could find safety. One of these places was Juba. The choice was to stay and raise cattle and be killed, or head to the relative safety of a large group of people in Juba. This desperation along with tribal division (which is a subject worthy of a book more than a blog) caused violent cattle raids and the abduction of children. This was another reason to leave the villages and head to the city.

So people left their villages. The lucky ones could take their families with them, the unlucky ones either had lost their families to the war, or had been separated from them in the diaspora. Community was lost.  The cattle were raided, which is currency in South Sudan, so they no longer had assets. From a distance, Juba looked pretty good as the promise of a job and security called. Juba has now become the African version of a gold-rush town in the American west. People come with hope of a new life, security, and a way to take care of their families.

This is where those two different ways of seeing time come in. There are a certain number of South Sudanese and a lot of foreigners that run businesses in Juba. They understand that time is money, They are also more individualistic people who are driven personally to succeed rather than seeing themselves as much as part of the community. They are there to make money, not build a community. It’s a very western way of thinking. It’s good for running a business, but not good for building lives, and it’s not the prevailing way of thinking in South Sudan. These people naturally become successful as business owners, but people coming in from the villages don’t think this way, and are quickly exploited by those that do. Making this situation worse is that in Juba, all the tribes have been thrown together, and there’s always that tension under the surface. Consequently you have a high capacity for violence. You have a large number of people who came looking for a better life and didn’t find it. They’re alone, their community is gone, everything that is familiar is gone, and they have no money. The only thing worse than having no hope is thinking you had hope and then finding out it was false.  All of this together is what creates that tangible desperation I was speaking of. Juba is a place where I always feel like I have to look over my shoulder.

I might try to write later on what might be done about this, but I really don’t know if I’m up to the task. My goal today was really to try to bring some understanding to this subject. There are of course more layers to this, as nothing with people is simple.

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The Snake Woman And The Blind Man

A couple of years ago, I was in Juba, South Sudan. I heard of a recent ‘event’ that had happened in the city. The story was, that there was near panic in part of Juba, because a woman had reportedly turned into a snake. How this was supposed to have happened and why, I don’t know, but the fact was there that in addition to the panic, there were apparently a large number of people that came out to see the snake woman. Ridiculous we would say. To add to it, we’d probably go on to say that it was simple-minded people believing in superstition, if we were to speak out loud what was going on within our heads before we remembered it’s not politically correct to pass judgement on what anyone believes.

Now let me tell you another story. The same year, there was a semi-homeless man that I would run into frequently as I’d walk my dog in my hometown. I would occasionally speak to him, and got to know him a little. One day, I saw that he had a patch over one of his eyes. I asked him what had happened. He said that his retina had detached, and his doctor told him he was losing his vision. I asked him if I could pray for him, and he agreed. I prayed that God would restore his vision to him and heal his eye, and we both went on our way. About a week later, I saw him again, and he was no longer wearing the patch on his eye and could see out of it.  I asked him about his eye, and his response was, “My doctor says he misdiagnosed it.”

One culture believes in all things spiritual, the other believes in nothing spiritual. While faith is the evidence of things unseen, what do you call it when you see something with your own eyes and still manage to rationalize it away? We in the supposedly Christian west write off all things spiritual as superstition or the figments of simple minds.  The fact is, that in my experience, it’s only in the caucasian west that we manage to convince ourselves that all things spiritual are such figments of a desperate imagination.

Go to Africa, and you’ll find that even the educated believe not only that God is able, but that he WILL intercede if we pray and act on the authority given to us in the Holy Spirit. Most of the book of Acts, and a good bit of 1st Corinthians deals with the subject of spiritual gifts. Jesus says in the gospel of John, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

“Greater things than these” are the words used. So as Christians, do we believe this, and if not, why not?  I’ve seen things that would blow the minds of such deniers. We don’t believe, because we don’t want to believe. We would have to live differently. We would have to take God at his word on a lot of things we currently ignore. I hear the question a lot, “How do you know which religion is correct?”  When an entire Muslim family in Ethiopia is instantly and miraculously healed, they know what is correct.

When a doctor tells a man he is going to lose his vision, the doctor has to be pretty sure about his diagnosis. When I see a man’s vision restored anyway, I know what’s correct.

If we profess to be Christians, it seems to me that there is the choice to take the whole package or nothing at all. Why would we want to follow Christ if what he said was a lie?  There’s any number of liars I’m free to follow, and most of them don’t require such things as abasing the human nature and pride, or putting others before yourself, or any of the other myriad of unpalatable things Christians are called to do but rarely do. In fact, most of them tell you to follow your heart and do what feels good. The book of Proverbs speaks directly to this and says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” On the other side of things, if everything Jesus said is true, then why WOULDN’T we want to follow him? Yes, it requires a lot of you, but it’s so much better a way than the half-hearted, half-believing version of following that the church generally does now in America. Jesus says in Matthew 10, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”  That is the version of following Christ that I want.

A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.
A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.

The Turd That Hopped.

I was in Juba, South Sudan. Juba can be called Africa’s equivalent of a wild-west town. It’s pretty rough. People come there hoping for a better life, but with that comes a lot of crime and violence. Very few of the roads are paved, and no grass grows in the dry dirt, especially in February, when there’s no rain and the temperature hovers around 42 degrees celsius during the day. There’s no electricity, no central water, and no sanitation. The last part of that is the start of my story.

If you’ve ever been to Africa, you’re familiar with the squatty-potty. Essentially you have an elongated hole in the floor that drops to a pit; hopefully a deep one. Since there is no running water, after you do your business, you walk outside and fill a bucket with water that comes from a water tank that gets filled periodically with water trucked in from the Nile. It’s no good for drinking, but it’ll do for flushing.

One night we were staying in the compound in Juba. It was the middle of the night, so the generator had already been shut off, and the only light came from a headlamp, if you had one. A friend of mine got up to use the bathroom. As he entered the stall for the squatty, his headlamp landed on a pile of unmentionable on the floor of the bathroom. He was a bit annoyed that someone would have the lack of decency necessary to miss the hole completely and leave it there for the next person. What you have to realize is that this friend is in his sixties, with eyes in their sixties to go along.  As he went to kick the unmentionable into the hole with his shoe, the turd hopped toward him.  I heard a yell, and immediately suspected what actually happened. One of the large frogs that like to use the bathroom to stay out of the blazing heat had made its acquaintance with my friend.

For other antics of South Sudan’s frogs, check the blog post, https://southsudantraveler.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/check-your-shoes/

The hopping turd.
The hopping turd.

The Soul of South Sudan

My last several posts have all dealt with war and struggle and difficulty. Today I’d just like to show why I love South Sudan. I’m just going to show it through pictures, and let them speak for themselves. These were all taken between 2010 and 2013, and I’m richer for having been there. It’s easy to make generalizations about a nation or a people until you look into their eyes. So here they are, the eyes and soul of the people of South Sudan.blog-7507blog-0774blog-9965blog-9527blog-8165blog-8085blog-8016blog-7770

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Cut The Baby In Half

I haven’t written for a while. I’ve been waiting to hear some definitive news that anything has changed in South Sudan. I wish I had good news to report, other than the fact that there have been some miraculous stories of escape and rescue, including a boat that appeared out of nowhere to rescue a family that was about to be overrun by Nuer rebels.

There is talk of resolution at the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Salva Kiir’s government has been negotiating a peace deal with Riek Machar’s rebels. The thing I have to ask is; “for what?” The damage is done. Thousands are dead. The “good” news came yesterday that the town of Bor, where our friends are, has been retaken again by SPLA (South Sudanese government) forces. At this point I’m not sure how many times Bor has changed hands.

I put the word “good” news in parenthesis, because at this point, what is there to go back to?  South Sudan’s leaders need to take a hard look in the mirror.

A friend of a friend in South Sudan brought up a very poignant allegory. It’s the story of the two women that came before Solomon with a baby, each claiming to be the mother.  1 Kings 3:16-27“16 Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. 17 And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while shewas in the house. 18 Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. 21 And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.”

22 Then the other woman said, “No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.”

And the first woman said, “No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.”

Thus they spoke before the king.

23 And the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son, who lives, and your son is the dead one’s; and the other says, ‘No! But your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” 24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.”

26 Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!”

But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.

27 So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.”

28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.”

What the leaders of South Sudan have essentially done is decide to cut the baby in half.  Rather than let your enemy win for the good of the country, they’ve decided that no one should win. When self comes before brother or family or nation, that nation cannot stand. I understand that it’s a hard thing to do, but old hostilities need to be left behind, no matter how deep they run. It’s only by the grace of God that South Sudan will stand, because it’s going to take a level of forgiveness that only God can give to heal the wounds that exist. And shame on those that have exploited old tensions for their own gain. In the end they will lose too, because they will not have a nation to rule. And when that happens, South Sudan will again fall under the rule of someone who is not only not Dinka, and not Nuer, but also not even South Sudanese.

The following is a before and after picture of the market in Bor. The first picture was taken in November, last time I was there. The second picture was taken in the last few days.

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A Further Update To The Fighting In South Sudan

It’s been over a week since I last updated this blog, not because there was not something to write, but because it was just too difficult to write it. I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but the situation has further deteriorated since then.  Only now when there is a glimmer of hope can I write about it. We have heard stories of incredible escape, but also tragic, personal, heartbreaking stories. The latter I may tell when there is some emotional distance, but perhaps never.

Last time I wrote, our friends were hiding in the bush as the town of Bor was overrun by Nuer rebels known as the White Army, named because of the ashes they cover their skin with to protect from insects. They are not much more than armed children and youths, but deadly nonetheless.  Our friends were able to return to Bor after about a week, after SPLA forces forced the rebels out. One of our friends escaped harm in the bush, only to return to Bor and get shot in the arm by a random bullet. Fortunately he will be alright. Another was caught by rebels and told to sit down. Had he complied they certainly would have shot him. As he put it, “I decided to make my own decisions. I ran. They shot at me, but God said no to the bullets.”

Since then, the SPLA pulled out of Bor, for two reasons as far as I can tell from what I’ve been told. The first is because the town of Bor was full of unburied bodies, and the risk of disease was a concern. The second and I’m sure the larger reason was that 25,000 Nuer rebels gathered to the east to try to retake the town of Bor, which they subsequently did.

So for our friends the situation became even more difficult. Their trip back to Bor was largely fruitless, since the entire market and the hotels were looted, and much of the town was burned. As the threat of a further assault built, thousands gathered at the Nile to cross  to safety in a place you can’t even google. A number of children drowned in the crossing, and many more died from dysentery from drinking the Nile water, which was the only water available. Thank God, though, it sounds like most of the people made it across.

From there the people of Bor were able to flee to Juba, where the fighting was not as fierce, though it’s still going on.  As a footnote, I’ve been to Juba probably ten times, and there’s never been a moment there when I didn’t feel like I’ve had to constantly look over my shoulder. So to flee to Juba, you know it’s bad.

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Refugees coming into Juba in the back of a flatbed truck.

At this moment, it look as if there is another assault imminent on the town of Bor from SPLA forces. The talk is that Riek Machar is trying to hold onto the town of Bor so he will have a bargaining chip during peace talks. It’s a tragedy that our friends are the bargaining chip he is using in his bid for power.  Please pray for our friends, and the people of Bor and the church there as this atrocity continues. Pray for a real peace, for the safety of our brothers and sisters, and that Northern Sudan doesn’t use this as an excuse to try to take back their former territory.

Civil War in South Sudan (again), and Facebook.

This is an incredibly hard post for me to write today. I was greeted with the wrenching news a few days ago that civil war has started again in South Sudan, and ground zero for it is where our friends are in Bor. The initial indications are that the vice president, (a Nuer), who was dismissed by the president (a Dinka) back in July, has begun to air his grievance against the president with an uprising. During this uprising, the town of Bor was taken by Nuer rebels. Bor is where most of our friends are in South Sudan. If any of my South Sudanese friends have more accurate information than this, please feel free to post.

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Now, with that short background, we are praying for them with a lot of nail-biting. This is the first time that war has affected me in such a personal way. People talk about the fact that only in the past thirty years or so have people been able to find out almost immediately via news what is going on in a foreign war. But previously it was still hard to see it as real , because the disseminator of news was always a news agency, and it was still a bit impersonal. You could always tell yourself that whoever it is that you knew might not have been wherever the bad news was happening.

Facebook changed all that. No we know within hours or even minutes what is going on with people who aren’t just acquaintances, they’re friends. And we can’t tell ourselves that they’re not involved or suffering, because these are personal statements being put on Facebook, coming right from their own experiences.

On one hand it tells me specifically how to pray for them, but on the other hand it breaks my heart to see what they’re going through.  We have a very hard time in the United States relating to what’s going on in a country many of us have never heard of, so I’m going to post some of their own statements (with no names on other personal info), to make this more real.

“All the displaced people of Bor Town are in the UN compound, but the open air will not be enough for the gunshot victims.”

“Gunshots have started now, at 4 AM.”

“Bor town is scare by gunshot at block 4 this evening.they were trying to be the part of what is happening in Juba. i don’t know how is gonna be tonight oh God !!!!!!! guard the live of these innocent civilians who are the suffer of this nonsense war.”

“Keep your battery charged.  I was told by a source that commandos together with tanks were on the way to try to retake the Town of Bor. Whatsup with Bor and the rescue mission? Do u hear sounds of artillery fire from ur hide out or it’s calm in town? The Army sent ystrday is really enough to push them out. God be with you.  XXXX refused to leave the house n she said if they wanna kill her, no problem! I am dead here man.”

“Hi! Freinds. I am fine with people in the bush on our third day sleeping in the cold. Thanks for your prayers.”

“Using computer power to charge phones in the bush, the only last chance for phones to stay on.”

“For those looking relatives, stay calm, all hiding are calm yesterday and today. I can still hear sound of heavy machine guns from Bor town. I don’t have an idea of what is happening there.”

Folks, it just got a lot more real. Please pray for these people caught in the crossfire.

Pray For Our Friends in South Sudan

Just a short post today. Violence has broken out in Bor, the main town where we work and where most of our friends are in South Sudan. Please pray for peace, and for the lives of those we work with. Here is a link to a BBC story.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25444406

My Favorite Pictures

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.

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Children sit in dugout canoes during a baptism in the Nile River
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Girls playing the Sudanese version of double dutch.

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The Weatherman Says We’re All Going To Die.

I currently have the Weather Channel website open on a separate page, and some of the headlines are as follows; “I realized I was going to die”

“One little thing can go wrong, and that can be it.”

“Caution, check your groceries.”

“Horrific croc attack for golfer.”

“There is no antidote”.

I could literally go on like that for a while simply by scrolling down the page. As Ty Tabor says in one of his songs, “We learn how to be afraid.”

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I have no time for this sort of thing. The fact is that we’re in God’s hands, and He takes care of us whether we know what the danger or the problem is. Take my exit from South Sudan as an example. My last night in Bor, South Sudan, the rain began at about nine at night, and continued on almost until morning. Rain blew in the sides of the semi-open building I was in, and I had to cover my hammock with a tarp. By morning, the roads were a special kind of slick like we simply don’t get in America. Dirt roads in America are graded and built up with gravel so they’re still passable in bad weather. In South Sudan, (and most of the world for that matter) dirt roads are just places where the trees have been cut down. When it rains, they turn to the kind of mud that’s hard to walk on, much less drive.

We prayed the entire way to the airport as the vehicle literally slid completely sideways and narrowly missed going into the black-hole-like ditch, where vehicles go in, but don’t come out again. We made it to the airport, and pastor Joseph didn’t say goodbye. We turned around and the vehicle was sliding back down the road. He was concerned about just making it back.

Our plane made it into the airport, and we made it out back to the capital, Juba, with our plane splashing through mud puddles on the runway as we left.

The weather cleared, and everything was ok, but we didn’t realize for a few days just how close our escape was. We left during the only break in the weather for the next couple of weeks. Shortly after we left, the rains came back, and the Nile flooded its banks for the second time this year. That two hour window was the only one we would get, and had we missed it, I might still be there.

My point in all this. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own. Who, by worrying, can add a single day to his life?”  The fact is that people were praying for us, and the troubles facing us were taken care of despite the fact that we didn’t fully understand the problem. 2nd Timothy says,  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  So think about that the next time the weather channel tries to convince you that you might get ebola from pigeons in the park.

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