Friday, March 29, 2013
Tomorrow will mark two weeks since I landed in Yei South Sudan, and I must say I have been doing well in trying to get my way round. However I had been missing out on Church and being Easter weekend it was pertinent for me to find a way of communing with other Catholics. Since my younger days, and then reinforced more in my college days, Lent period and Easter have been my most favorite seasons in the calendar of the Church. In the Catholic Church this is the period where you experience more of the interesting rituals that define our faith. The period between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday are the great Easter Trindium. On Holy Thursday we commemorate the Passover linking the old and the New Testament and more so the sacrament of Eucharist when Jesus had his last meal and hence the priests/ ordination. Most churches will have a mass in the evening, several activities on Good Friday (the crucifixion of Jesus); then Easter vigil mass on Saturday and on Sunday when we commemorate the ‘morning after’ disciples realized he had risen. I enjoy this season! That is why I looked forward to celebrate at least some these commemorative days by going to Church. I was therefore happy when I found myself at St Bakhita Cathedral Church. I had been informed the ‘Way of the Cross’ would be in English but apparently not. Luckily I had my Kiswahili missal with me. The congregation used the Bare Language and I followed using my Kiswahili version! Since this is familiar I followed what was being done and said, and even silently sang my own songs! We were together. Of course before the procession I started imagining what the priest was actually saying as he introduced the procession. He was courteous to say a few sentences in English. I always find it interesting when I find myself in a place where there is language barrier, but one thing is obvious. We can greet each other, may be by smiling, or waving, and that is understandable. We can also trade, using gestures where we can just indicate 2,5 …and the transactions go on. Of course it is not always smooth. This begs the question, is there a universal language? Even sigh language is not universal I understand. It was a hilarious moment in Kenya during the elections results announcement when Kenyans who have no clue about sign language started imagining what personal characteristics the sign language interpreters were using to indicate different presidential candidates. Some claim that there is universal language, love. A song that was common in my former secondary school Christian Union comes to mind. I recall some of the words of this song “love in any language, straight from the heart, join us together never apart. And when we learn to live it…Love in any language is the language spoken there” I am not sure I get all the words correct, but yes, love as a language that different people can understand. I am reading one interesting book called “ Say you are one of them” by Uwem Akpan who I must commend has a way of describing some occurrences in African set up that make the stories so real. One of the stories that he tells is based in Addis Ababa of some two little girls who loved each other so much as “Best Friends”. They went to school; salon etc together and even chose the same styles. Many called them twins since they behaved as such. They used to feel that the world was big enough for just the two of them. One day, the main character wakes up, not in her bed but in her parents’ bed and her parents were fussing over her. She did not understand. There was smoke and signs of burning in the neighbourhood. After breakfast, she asked as was the norm, if she could and play with her friend Salem. But her parents asked her to seat for an important discussion. “We do not want you to play with that girl again” they said “What girl?” she wondered. “That Muslim girl” “Best friend?” she wondered; as she had never referred or heard her best friend being referred to as the ‘Muslim girl’. After some violence had rocked the city, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ had become pronounced and as result these two girls were ordered never to speak with each other. They both felt sad about, each one wondering if the other missed her as much as she missed her. The girls would stare at each other’s balcony behind the blinds. One day one of them got the confident to come out of the blind, and the other one followed suit. They looked at each other for a while, and later one of them waved. The other waved back, and they smiled at each other. One sent hugs and kisses, by hugging herself and blowing a kiss to the friend, and the other followed suit. They were excited and happy, they had discovered their language. They now knew that their parents could not keep them apart. Well, well, isn’t language amazing! We all have our universal and coded language. That specific language; which if you are in a crowded place some occurrences will make you both exchange glances; that only you understand. For Christians the language of Easter is love. We believe that God realized there was no other language that the human beings would understand better than sending Jesus, the image of God to live as human and die like a criminal. While it happened many years ago, we remind ourselves every year of the journey from birth to death. Have a love filled Easter!
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A few minutes ago, in the process of reading a certain document, I came across a picture of a school and pupils learning. I stared at it for a long while, not because I have not come across these kind of schools over and over, but I was wondering “how will this boy and this girl compete in this global world?” The school am speaking of is a shed with poles at the side and a bit of grass for a roof. If it rains, there cannot be school. The children are sitting on the floor, some on stones and some of some make-shift benches. Needless to say there is no blackboard and I am yet to figure out what the teacher is writing on. Luckily I can see some if not all of the pupils holding pens and paper! This is not a unique sight, it is seen over and over in many rural and informal settlement urban areas many countries in Africa. However, in another place, within the same country, or in neighboring countries, there is another child whose main worry is where is a new computer game! This got me reflecting about people and communities that I have come across and it struck me that luck and fate determines a lot. I am not suggesting that you “pray not to be hit by a car and sit on the road” as one of my great friend’s mum commented (hilarious story for another day) but rather that there are some circumstances that are beyond one’s control that determine their life. Sometimes we can do something about it but sometimes we cannot. I was discussing an issue with some girlfriends regarding how women and men live and believe in life when one friend commented that it is sad they are missing out a lot. But the rejoinder was, they do not know what you know, so they are not missing anything. If someone is living in a deep village where the main prestigious meal is beef they will not miss out on how pizza is delicious; or for that matter brooding over terrific Tuesday. Sometimes it pays not to know. Back to my luck and fate hypothesis, a few days ago I watched a video online by one of the Kenya media stations on “Kibaki’s siblings”. Hon Mwai Kibaki has been the president of Kenya for the last 10 years and has a lot of CV under his sleeves including being a Makerere graduate and many years as Member of Parliament for Othaya constituency. Makerere is a public University in the neighboring Uganda but in Kenya it is synonymous to the ‘bright boys of pre-independence era”. And now that I think of it, I don’t recall any Kenyan woman associated with Makerere! It is generally accepted that persons who went to Makerere are now controlling world in various ways. However that was not the main thing that caught my attention watching that vide, this is already in public domain. One of the older siblings of President Kibaki who was interviewed mentioned that Kibaki having been the younger one ‘was not useful’ in the home – read herding cattle- and since there was a requirement to take “one boy” to school he was ‘chosen’ to fulfill that obligation. At that time, the young boy might have felt ‘unlucky’ to miss out on the fun of what boys did away in the fields to go spend time in a classroom. Is it fate or sheer luck that he got an education that made his life take a completely different direction from that of his siblings? I recall while reading memoir of the late Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai (RIP) and a similar occurrence struck me. Wangari mentions that after her family relocated from Nakuru to Nyeri one day her elder brother, Nderitu, wanted to know why he had to go to school when Wangari did not. The boy did not understand gender issues and the fact that girls were not considered a priority to go to school. He could have been thinking that it was unfair for him to be made to go to school while Wangari did not! Regardless of the reason that the brother had for asking, the mother did not have a good answer and thought ‘why not’. That possibly abrupt occurrence set out the path for Wangari. Later on since the walk home was long hence not safe for a girl she went to a boarding school which increased her chances even more. One need to understand that in those days education was not a priority and educating girls was even rarer. First forward years later, Wangari was to become the first woman in in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, founder of the Green Belt Movement, first African woman to win the Nobel Prize among many other great achievements. Some ‘minor’ occurrences impact lives forever. My mother has told us that her father was very opposed to girls going to school so there was no question about it. However, her youngest sister was lucky to get basic education since (like Kibaki) she was ‘useless’ in the home. Unfortunately for her, when she got admission to a prestigious girls’ secondary boarding school my grandfather felt that if she went to secondary school far from home she would be bad girl and that was the end of my aunt’s education! How would life have turned for her if she had pursued secondary school education; or for my mother? We can only speculate, but will never know. This brings me to a very interesting book I read called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He explored how the ‘outliers’, those persons who are outside of the average in their group/ achievement graph. This is a non-fiction book based on a critical look at various people in history with various achievements and occurrences that were not the norm among populations. He defines outliers as exceptional people who are smart, rich or very successful who operate at the extreme of what would be called “statistically plausible”. The book discuss how certain factors like family, culture among others play an important role in an individual’s success and pose the question whether successful people deserve the amount of praise we give them. However, he adds the "10,000-Hour Rule", where he argues that to a large extent for one to be a great success in a field one needs to practice about 10,000 times. I will summarize a few of the issues that Malcom highlights. He examines various factors that contribute to high levels of success. He looks at how successful Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year and link this to the time of recruitment to the game. Taking an example of the ice hockey players, he argues that since eligibility youth hockey leagues is determined by the year one was born, someone born say January and December of the same year are considered in the same league. He further theorizes that since those born in the early months of the year are more mature, almost a year older for some to the peers, they are identified as being better players hence getting more coaching. Other persons /groups mentioned include Bill Gates, the Beatles singers among others. He further examines cultural and socialization aspects that affect how people behave. E.g. the fact that some cultures are assertive hence a mechanic noticing a problem in an aircraft will inform the pilot boldly while another will merely suggest and this can determine possibility of a plane crash or not. On less acclaimed levels, it is clear that certain achievements are determined by aspects that are beyond our control. If I was born in a culture where educating girls was unheard of; girls get married in teenage, I would not have had to the privilege of making some choices. My experience working in communities for over ten years always gives me such aha moment as I interact with various people in different communities. In most instances aspects of empowerment like access to education which is among the most of basics are a rare privilege. Nelson Mandela is quoted saying “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The first five of the UN Millennium Development Goals in my view are based on the most basic of human needs; 1) Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, 2) Achieving universal primary education, 3) Promoting gender equality and empowering women, 4) Reducing child mortality rates, 5) Improving maternal health. In my view is that access to education is one of the greatest resources than one can get. This can help in realizing ‘individual MDGs’. However, not everyone is born in area or culture that promotes access to education. If one has not seen benefits of education, will they even realize they are missing out? If children are schooling in such deplorable conditions, how do they fit in this ‘global world?’ Sometimes its hard work Sometimes its determination Sometimes its other values; given that people in similar conditions do not necessarily achieve the same in life due to the efforts they put into it; Nonetheless sometimes it’s really luck or fate! Being in the right place at the right time!
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
“I deserve to just break down and cry now”! Those were my thoughts on Friday morning, 16th March 2013 as anxiety finally crept on me as I prepared to go to the airport. My friend Rahma actually validated this “I would have been worried if you are not a bit anxious” She knows how to say the right thing always. Why I have been so calm about this? I wondered. Somehow only one tear fell! I was okay and happy, as I prepared to go back to South Sudan. I recalled the last time I had been in this country in 2007. I could recall with nostalgia the time I flew out of Juba and looking from the sky thought “I am not coming back here”. My experience in Juba had been an interesting one that I still remember with a smile. I had been ignorant of what to expect but somehow got over the culture shock quite fast. The language barrier did not help matters especially when there was a public announcement and we could not comprehend. The scariest had been a curfew, where Justa my colleague and I had no idea what was happening and had been prepared to go to work as usual. For many that was nothing but the two of us having not experienced that before it was scary. We had coined a phrase “but then” as we made fun that any person would not have believed our experiences since they would have to be punctuated by “but then” hence removing the positivity. We were not just melancholic, for real life had a way of just putting some twists every now and then. It was more of what Kenyans would currently say “ni kama drama ni kama video”. The first mishap was that the office we were going to establish in Juba was to get most of the office stuff, computers, stationery, and furniture from the Nairobi office which had been in operation for some time. The network we were going to work for was to closing most of the operations in Nairobi and have Juba office fully operational. However the person contracted to transport the furniture to Juba decided to do some shady deals and use another organization’s transport space. The short of it was that he was to get away paying the costs and ‘hide’ under the other organization’s cargo. Things did not work as the person who was to receive our organizations’ equipment was not accessible by the time the transporter reached Juba. This started a long tussle with the person who had legally hired the transporter that lasted a while hence we had an office space without equipment. Some of the equipment had been purchased afresh hence were transported by air, but then the day my colleague landed in Juba with the equipment was the day the government introduced tax for NGOs equipment so this was again held at the airport. Eventually after a month we managed to retrieve the equipment from the transport saga, but then a good number of pieces were broken or spoilt, and small parts missing. So we could barely fix the computers, a cable missing here and there, board room table had leg broken…etc. A Kenyan friend helped us once in a while to mitigate some of these experiences…friends are friends forever! He came in handy when we were stranded. Another interesting experience was trying to get a mwiko (specific wooden spoon used in Kenya for cooking ugali which was our favorite meal). We tried without success and we could not manage to use the kind of cooking spoon that was used locally. Eventually after more than a month, someone brought us mwiko from Kenya, but then by then the maize flour had gone bad having warms due to the heat and the fact that we had not made arrangements to store it well to avoid heat and humidity. I don’t remember how we sorted our craving for ugali! Of course our Sudanese colleagues never understood the fuss over this small wooden stick. As part of making life more comfortable we had plumber repair the piping system in the house so that when we purchased water we could have it in the pipes! And voila we could finally use tapped water, I remember how that evening felt when we could eventually take a shower and have the 1,000l tank full! Shock on us (but then) on waking up the following morning to find not even one drop of water in the taps! We thought something had happened to the piping system but on checking the tank it was completely empty! Apparently there was something in the piping where the system could be open to go to public pipes. I must say this was one of the most interesting experiences I have had. Not forgetting how frogs seemed to time when I want to go to the bathroom to jump in…the door had some opening but I can almost swear the frogs waited for my turn! I also recall the day, when I was coming from work thoroughly exhausted, and with my colleague having proceeded from R and R break hence I was not feeling quite happy. And guess who meets me at the gate? Some very excited kittens welcoming me! I hate cats! Some cat had hidden and given birth in the compound without our knowledge. I felt like crying. I got the night guard to get rid of them. As I write this, seated outside the house in a new environment of Yei, I can only smile. I am not very good at working with the unknown hence this is an interesting experience for me. For once I had experience of using the kind of planes I dread most…15 seater! I dread using small flights but there I was in Entebbe looking at what looked exactly like an overgrown eagle! To make it worse, the luggage was piled outside with “chose one, leave one”. It doesn’t help that I had carried luggage like I was going to the moon. When we finally boarded I learnt we were to have a stopover in some place in northern Uganda. The advantage of this kind of craft is that it is so noisy that even if the captains wished to tell you “we are out of control” you will barely hear! However I can swear I felt the windows crack…and could see some small cracks after that when I checked the window! I heard the noises and tried checking what was happening and noted some tiny fresh cracks. I started imagining the window cracking completely and consoled myself that it was the outside part of the window. Of course the captain felt it was some old scratches when I alerted him at the stop over (he would not admit it though, right?); but he went ahead to check (and never gave me a report). I look forward to the experience in a different climate; meet new people, new challenges, and more so to the work I will engage with working with women! And yes… I am back…and hoping my luggage will get here today!