Not like a Lost Boy . . . but still a long walk

I should have known something bad was going to happen when we had to be pulled out of the mud within the 1st 5 minutes of our drive to town. I had arranged to ride to Bor with Paul Anyang, one of the local guys who takes people to and from Bor for 10 Sudanese pounds each way. I had to make good on my promise to pay the first installment on our tractor and none of our vehicles could make the drive . . .

Riding with Paul is an experience. He has an Isuzu SUV (not sure the model) that is a 4WD vehicle – but only 2WD now because some parts are broken. It had rained several times and the roads were pretty muddy. After getting pulled out BY OUR NEW TRACTOR, we hit some places where the water was as much as 3 feet deep, but the ground was solid underneath so we passed right through. It did look pretty scary, but turned out to be no problem. As we left, I’ve never seen a 5-passenger vehicle so loaded. There were 5 people squeezed into the back seat; 2 ladies piled on top of bags of “stuff” in the back and a 9-year-old girl on my lap. Because I have white hair, I’m automatically assigned the front seat ☺

Once we were in town, Paul dropped us all off about a half mile from the Governor’s office and I walked in. The Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture was out sick with malaria and he was the one who was going to walk me through the process of making my payment. He did send his driver who picked me up and took me to the Ag Ministry offices. There I met Solomon, a very gracious official who took about an hour to get a 3-line letter written and copied. The letter was my “authorization to make an installment” on the tractor. Once we got to the Ministry of Finance, we went into an office that had 4 desks with 1 man at each. I kid you not, each person in the office had to write something on the authorization letter and hand it to the next guy. From there, I got escorted to another office where I found one guard and next to him a cage, completely enclosed with bars, where the “cashier” sat. I was summoned into the cage and the cashier said, “Give me the money!” Overall, it took almost 4 hours to make the silly payment!

Then the ride back. Like the ride into town, we were packed to the gills. We stopped several times while Paul negotiated fares or whatever. We were constantly hounded and people who wanted a ride to Werkok yelled him at repeatedly. By the time we got started it was about 5:00pm. At 5:25 – about 1/3 of the way, we got a flat. I thought, “no problem, we’ll just change the tire and be on our way.” Not so much. Paul had a flat a couple of days before and it wasn’t yet repaired. We had no spare and we were about 13 miles away and it would be dark in about an hour and a half. Paul just stood there staring into space – I had no idea what he was thinking, until he stopped a truck coming towards us heading back to Bor, never said a word to us and got in! He left us there on the road and headed back into town!

We started walking through the mud and potholes filed with water . . . and two and a half hours later (yes, in 2 and a half hours I “walked” over 12 miles; the Sudanese walk so fast I could barely keep from running) I stumbled onto the compound, with some massive blisters on my feet and drenched in sweat. But I was home, and home safe. No problem. Welcome to Africa.

Tragedy in Werkok

I awoke to gunfire again today. It is Good Friday and I’m sitting in the HIV/AIDS office of the Minister of Health, waiting for the Secretary to finish sending her work so I can use the Internet. This is an amazing place. On the way here, I got some more updated information on the death count from the fighting over the past few days (about 20 miles south of us in a place called Anyidi); from the tiny village of Werkok, there were 21 young men killed – all of them under 24 years old. Besides the ones killed from Werkok, there were a total of over 50 Dinka killed and at least as many Murle deaths. The Murle had actually set a circular ambush and got the Dinka in a crossfire, mowing them down from the front and rear. Apparently these guys are such bad shots that the Dinka, despite being caught in the crossfire firefight, killed more Murle than the Murle killed Dinka. The tragedy is beyond comprehension. More than 100 young men dead.

Contemplating the death and resurrection of Jesus, our hearts grieve with the families and know that peace can only come as a result of the resurrection power of transformed lives. Apart from that, it seems there is no hope. Most of the Dinka here have no confidence that peace can ever be achieved; because of the systemic syphilis and resultant barrenness of their women, the Murle are forced to raid and kidnap children just to insure their very survival. Add to that the reality that the Government of Sudan is arming and supporting them in order to foment further insecurity and the picture continues to get even more bleak.

I am overcome with sadness at the wretchedness of the lives of these dear people. Not only does the climate conspire against them (this weather is the harshest I’ve ever seen), but the insecurity and fear and revenge and abject poverty overwhelm and consume the lives of the people. Is this really the 21st century? Can people really be so brutal and value life so little? Clearly we cannot change all of Sudan, but now having become aware of this specific problem in this specific place, with people whose names we know and whose families we have visited, how can we just stand by and watch? Will you please join Sherry and me in asking God for wisdom in how to approach this horror? Will you please join us in asking God for safety for the children and young men who feel bound to protect and avenge them? Will you please join us in beseeching God for changed hearts that will allow for peace to break through the tribal hatred and for those who claim to know Jesus to begin walking with Him, in deed and in truth? It is a task far too big for us – and facing it is almost unbearable. Thank you for joining with us, at whatever level you can. God Bless you!

Nairobi: Monday – Long Monday

This was a loooonnngggg day. Shouldn’t have been, but it sure was. Maybe because it started at 3:30 am? Anyway, Mamer’s cousin, Ajak came to escort us through the day and we would have really been in trouble without him. We first went to the Government of Southern Sudan’s (GOSS) special permits (visas) office, arriving there at about 11 am. The official who had been contacted by the government in Juba was a bit reluctant – I suspect because there are so many visa requests they do daily – and he was being pressured to get ours done quickly. Apparently it usually takes at least 24 hours to process a single visa and we were expecting two in less than 4 hours! Grumbling, he asked us to come back at 3 pm to collect the visas.

We left the GOSS office, heading into the center of Nairobi to Barclays Bank to withdraw cash for the tickets – and then to the airport to purchase our flights to Juba. We ran into a small hitch at the bank; we have a $1,000 daily limit for drawing cash, so I figured we’d have no problem with the $305 (each) fares. In an enclosed atm, at which there were no less than 2 armed guards, I started the transaction to withdraw 40,000 Kenyan schillings (about $500). The atm sounded like it had processed the transaction, started counting the bills . . . and then the screen went blank, froze up and reset itself. No money and no receipt. But the machine had processed the withdrawal! After about an hour waiting and dealing with a very gracious banker, we now have a signed receipt proving the money never changed hands. However, once I withdrew the 40,000 schillings from another atm inside the branch, we had “exceeded our daily limit,” and couldn’t get any more cash. Fortunately, East African Airlines takes credit cards ☺

At about 4:00 pm we actually picked up our visas, and exhausted, headed for the hotel. Not used to either the heat or humidity, it took another 2-1/2 hours before we finally finished all the errands (walking I might add). So we leave for Juba, Sudan on a 10 am flight tomorrow morning to meet with Mamer, who says, “The land won’t be a problem!” In fact, it should be confirmed at our meeting Wednesday morning with the Minister of Agriculture!

Ahh . . . like Sherry says, “We ain’t in Kansas any more!”

The Lost Boys of Sudan

Since many have indicated a desire for a bit more information about the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, I thought I’d do a quick primer . . . I also have to insert a bit of editorial disclaimer here; these are no longer boys – and not very lost. Those I’ve met are incredibly intelligent, articulate, gracious, generous, passionate men, willingly leaving comfort and relative prosperity in the US to return to Sudan. They plan to invest their own resources, indeed their very lives in an effort to see a decimated country flourish once again.

In what has been called the second civil war in Sudan, north fought south from 1983 until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005. During this war, nearly 2 million southern Sudanese were killed and more than 4 million driven from their homes.

Nicknamed “the Lost Boys” by several aid organizations operating in Sudan, most of the boys were orphaned or separated from their families when government troops (from the North) systematically attacked villages throughout southern Sudan killing many of the inhabitants, most of whom were civilians. When villages were attacked, girls were raped, killed, taken as slaves to the north, or became servants or adopted children for other Sudanese families. Consequently, relatively few girls made it to the refugee camps. The younger boys survived in large numbers because they were away tending herds or able to escape into the nearby jungles. Orphaned and with no support, they made epic journeys of hundreds of miles (some over 1,000 miles!) and lasting years across Sudan’s borders to international relief camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. It was a miracle they survived thirst, starvation, wild animals, insects, disease, and one of the bloodiest wars of the 20th century. Experts say they are the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined.

In 2001, about 3,800 of the Lost Boys arrived in the United States. Since then, many have received university education and in some cases, gone on to pursue graduate degrees. It has become Sherry’s and my privilege to be invited into the lives of a handful of these now grown young men who are passionate about returning to Sudan and investing in the lives of their people and country.

You can find many resources, but I’ve read or watched these and know they’re good:

– Dave Eggers, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. A novel based on the story of Valentino Achak Deng, now living in the US

– John Bul Dau and Michael Sweeney, God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir. The life story of John Dau, who was also chronicled in the 2006 documentary God Grew Tired of Us. ISBN 978-1426201141

– Judy A. Bernstein (ed.), They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky. The true story in their own words of the 14-year journey of Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng and Benjamin Ajak, now living in the US.