My favorite story
about this situation is one of a hotel in Juba. While I can’t vouch for
the accuracy, I did hear it separately from two people who had lived in
South Sudan for their entire lives. They told me that there was a
relatively nice hotel in Juba, staffed mostly by locals. Two women on the
cleaning staff did not show up to work regularly or on time, and
frequently did not do their duties while at work. When they were fired,
they went back to their village and brought back the entire village for
support. The villagers tried to burn the hotel down in protest, a type of
community justice common in this area. When the police were called,
rather than dealing with the angry villagers, they arrested the hotel
The "guest house" where I stayed.
students frequently had trouble with cause and effect when it came to
advocacy. The first part of my class focused on defining problems that
the organization’s advocacy work could address. This was not a problem
for the class, and they easily came up with several ideas. The second
part, solutions, was a lot harder. Much to my frustration, I frequently
found myself having the following conversation:
Tanya: Okay, you said that the problem
you want to solve is that people do not understand the relationship
between sex and HIV, how do you think we can address that?
Student: They don’t understand.
Tanya: Do you think you could teach them?
We could work on teaching and communication strategies.
Student: But they don’t understand.
Tanya: What would help them to
understand? What helped you to understand?
Student: No, but… they don’t understand.
young and inexperienced, I could be misinterpreting this conversation, but
what I got out of this experience, and confirmed with those who had been
in the field longer, was that the miscommunication wasn’t in the words I
was using — it was in the very idea that the class’s actions could effect
change in the future. A challenge, indeed, for an advocacy-strategy
class, and one I sincerely hope that I, at least, lay the foundation for
overcoming. I was left with one thought, though: “What better way could
there be to help a society to adjust to a peaceful situation in which
personal efforts are needed to sustain growth than to encourage
self-reliance through homesteading, to help people to rely on themselves
and their neighbors to grow their own food, prepare for the dry season,
prepare for the next growing season, and to watch the fruits of their
labor develop in the course of months, rather than years.”
People told me that wouldn't like Sudanese food
because they mix everything together. Instead, the mix of
potatoes, bread, and rice in one bowl started to grow on me. I
did horrify my hosts by eating my bananas separately, however.
In stark contrast to
this problem with sustained effort and cause and effect, I found myself
awed by the level of faith held by so many in the area, and by people’s
commitment to grow. I attended a conference for Christian Juba University
graduates on their role as Christians in dealing with social and
development issues. I missed the section on HIV/AIDS, instead arriving on
the day in which the group was discussing integrity in business, and how
problems among the Sudanese with a lack of integrity was damaging the
economy and leading to problems domestically and internationally. I was,
frankly, terrified that my conspicuous white face would lead to
difficulty, that my face would be seen as one of judgment, but I was
welcomed at every turn. At services on Easter Sunday, each church was
filled with men and women singing. They welcomed everyone who came,
friend and stranger alike, and made time to study together in small groups
several times a week. I was particularly struck by the pastor, who spoke
of the role of the church and faith in creating a better and stronger
future, of building a community that can overcome the hardships that they
have faced in South Sudan; even on one of the holiest days of the year,
the Sudanese were focusing on working hard, growing, and becoming
Poultry seed, also imported from Uganda.
While some people have started to raise poultry, and selling
eggs is quite profitable in Juba, the infrastructure needed to
support small animal farming isn't available domestically.
I found some irony
in the fact that my class, which included at least one former child
soldier, was held in Totto Chan, an old child trauma center. The trauma
program ended two years ago, and now the building has that has lapsed into
a sort of social services bureau. A luxurious building, there is
usually enough power to run lights, an air conditioner, a laptop, and a
projector. My students tried to charge their cell phones there, rather
than paying at the market or risking overloading their generators, but
inevitably someone would try to add one charger too many, and everything
* * *
On the last day of
class, at the graduation ceremony, a colleague asked the class to thank me
for coming, adding that it was very difficult for most western visitors to
make the trip and stay there. At the time, the only real difficulty that
I could think of (other than the inevitable upset stomach) was that even
the relatively luxurious class building didn’t have a working toilet — the
bucket system was the best they could provide. Upon reflection, though,
the hardest part of being there had nothing to do with the living
conditions: the hardest thing was to see how far the region has come and
know how far it has still to go.
Class, post-graduation, outside Totto Chan Child