Life at home in South Sudan
I realise how far I have journeyed to be able to join together the words ‘at home’ and ‘in Sudan’.
I remember when we arrived five years ago. I was in our aracuba, the temporary grass shelter we lived in as we constructed a hut to dwell in for the next four years.
I was pregnant and sitting on a small stool, washing cloth diapers in a rationed amount of water. It was Sunday morning and I was doing this wash out of necessity, because Samuel, two years old, had been having diarrhoea through the night.
As the flies swarmed and the temperature rose, my discouraged mind wondered, ‘What are we doing here?’ It would not be the last time this question was raised. But my heavy heart was helped, then as often, by Revelation 7:9-12.
Much more frequently, however, I have wrestled with anxiety, anger, extreme fatigue and stress. Someone has said, ‘It is from the belly of the fish that Jonah begins to wrestle with God in prayer’. For me, life in Sudan has oftentimes been the belly of the fish.
We live in a village called Parot, a suburb of the busier market hub of Wanyjok. We have seen Parot change over the years from a relatively quiet village to a place of increasing population and traffic.
Parot is on a main trail from northern villages to the busy Wanyjok market. It is not uncommon to see people heading there and back on business. A man might have a pole to sell, while ladies may be seen carrying grass mats, firewood, water or edible goods, looking for income to buy food.
In recent years, roads have been built. Trucks with goods, vans of passengers, auto-rickshaws and motorcycles now commonly pass by. The political situation has also brought thousands of people back from exile in the north. Many now live in the western side of our village, in densely arranged grass shelters.
Our family moved out of our mud and thatch hut last year, into a more spacious home. Life in the hut had us sharing our space with many species of insects, scorpions and reptiles. These are still present in the concrete block and tin-roofed house, but in more manageable numbers!
We enjoy the lizards, as they help keep the pesky insect population down. As for snakes, any of questionable species in the house are first killed and then more closely studied for identification.
Thankfully, our snake encounters are not daily or even weekly. And if a larger venomous snake is encountered outdoors, then anything goes; even the car has been used to run over a big cobra.
We have learned to appreciate the simplicity and work that each day brings.
Our water supply comes from two sources. The nearby community hand-pump supplies us with good water from 60 metres below. Abuk, our faithful water lady, brings water in 20 litre jerricans.
She keeps our in-house plastic reservoir full, and we use this for drinking, cooking and dishes.
We do not have plumbing, so we use a jug to fill basins for dish washing and the filter for drinking. We also collect rain in large cisterns. There is a pump from one of the cisterns that brings in cool water for showers.
We also use the rainwater for laundry and watering plants in dry times. Laundry is all done by hand and hung out to dry. This can be as quick as 20 minutes in the dry season! Abuk comes twice a week to help with this, which liberates me for home schooling and other tasks.
Home schooling has gradually occupied more of the daytime over the years. Samuel (7 years) will begin grade three this year and Zakari (5) is looking forward to learning how to read. Amina (3) is working on compliance and is often trying to help with housework.
This keeps us busy most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon. It is truly a great joy to share learning with our children. We give thanks to God in prayer each morning for the great privilege of a full-orbed education and for our books.
The climate in the state of Aweil is semi-arid, meaning that half the year is hot and dry. The other half blesses us with dust storms, torrents of rain, greenery, swarms of insects and hot, humid days. The occasional grey or cool day is truly a big relief.
We have the most impressive shows of lightning and thunder. When the first rains come in April, it is customary for our children to whip off their clothes and run out in the rain with gleeful excitement.
The muddy ground provides a perfect place for belly sliding and wrestling matches. When they are cold, they take a roof-drip shower and come in for hot chocolate and popcorn.
We have the benefit of solar electricity for light bulbs, computer and such. We do not have appliances, so we do most things by hand. There’s no refrigerator, so we’ve learned to cook the right amounts and not have too much left over.
We feel like we live in the dirt, so cleaning the house has to be done to an understandably lower standard. We have little access to medical care, so we’ve learned to assess and treat many of our own illnesses.
People drop in throughout the day for various reasons, some just wanting a cup of water on the way to the market and others with various requests. It is customary in the Dinka culture to make requests of neighbours as a way of securing a bond of relationship.
We Westerners often idealise the relationship aspect of these African cultures. The reality is that relationships are a matter of practical existence and often survival.
We are among the wealthier members of this society and, therefore, receive many requests, ranging from a cup of tea, or sugar, to clothes, food, a basin, a hut door, medical help, etc. Many have mastered the art of persistent persuasion.
There has been an ongoing dilemma for us over the years — to give or not to give? When does it stop being helpful?
This post-war people have become accustomed to foreign aid. We have seen first-hand how this has fostered dependence, a diminished work ethic and a diminished sense of dignity.
Suffice it to say, that I reply both yes and no to neighbours and both responses usually illicit some pang within me. These interactions have been the most difficult part of village life in Sudan.
Our village relationships have not really been getting to know one another and heart-sharing. There is a chasm of cultural difference, so difficult to cross.
There are times we yearn to help, and our response in Dinka has to be, ‘We have no power’.
For example, recently when Ayii, a 5-year-old boy, was brought to us, he was grossly malnourished and his little body failing. His parents had tried various cures, from the hospital in Aweil to the witch doctor. They were at an end of themselves.
As I stared, I said, ‘We have no power for this one’. One of our workers, Akec, said, ‘They are here for prayers’. Ashamed of my response, I called Vince to pray in Dinka and he encouraged them to seek the church for the same. Ayii received medical care and has since improved.
We know, however, that our ultimate hope is not in the lengthening or improvement of this life. All must die. The message of Jesus Christ is the hope for fulness of life and eternity.
Vince recently came home after a funeral service saying, ‘Julie, if you ask yourself why we are here, I wish you were there to see’. He went on to describe how Alou, our church elder in Parot, preached a simple message to the unchurched people.
He was holding a clump of dirt in his hand saying, ‘We came from this dirt and to this dirt we will return’. Then he led them from creation and the Fall to Christ and his victory over sin and death.
I need frequent reminders that this is why we are here, in the dirt, so far from our loved ones. God’s unfathomable love sustains us. I am a weak vessel, needing to rest in this love.