Sunday, December 30, 2007

Kenyan Elections and Riots

So I am in Nairobi now and what a good time to be here...not!
Kelly and I were in Loki, Kenya just yesterday, which is on the border of Sudan. We spent Christmas there, and a total of 9 days. It was very nice in Loki because we had our own house with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a kitchen. We were able to cook and even bake! It was extra nice there because Loki has a restaurant called 748 that has wireless Internet, coffee, and ice cream! So, we went there a lot. On Christmas we were able to go there and skype home which was great. On Christmas Eve we went to another missionary's house and had dinner, and then came home and watched the ole classic "An Affair to Remember," and afterwards sung Christmas carols, ending with "Silent Night" in the candle light. We even made a make-shift tree out of some baskets and put our few presents around it. The presents we had were from two of the missionaries: a Turkish coin purse, and Chinese Green Tea. In the morning we made pancakes while listening to more Christmas carols. Then, that night we went out to 748.
So, yesterday, when we thought it was safe because elections were over and Loki was perfectly safe, we flew to Nairobi, just to find out that no stores were open because its too dangerous for the workers to leave their houses. Most of the workers live in the Kebira district, where all the looting and rioting is going on. For more information, please click on the link to the right for BBC NEWS.
So, yesterday nobody knew who was president yet, but it became evident that some fishy business was going on, because the votes just didn't add up correctly. Today, Kibaki was announced president by his appointed election commissioner (hmmm..sound fishy anyone?). And again, there is nothing open. Today we spent 600 Kenyan Shillings in Taxi service to go to the mall. There, we were able to go to the supermarket just before they closed and it was a MOB! It was like going to Wal-Mart on a Sunday or the night before a snow storm!
Then we went to a coffee shop that stayed open for about 2 hours before closing, and people there were getting all hyper about buying Baguettes b/c there was a scarcity of Baguettes. After waiting an hour for our plain coffee, we wandered up to the hair salon and got our hair cut and pedicures. Yes, pedicures-- but if you saw my feet in a before picture you would understand why it is a necessity, not a luxury! The lady who worked on me said "you brought sand from Sudan." I laughed really loudly in agreeance.
So, just so everyone knows, we are perfectly safe at the guest house in which we are staying. The pictures are compliments of BBC and not from my camera. Kelly and I have been staying FAR from downtown where all the uproar is going on. Today (which is now the 31st), we stayed on the guest house grounds, with the exception of a short walk. Fortunately for us, the guest house is quite large, including a courtyard and playground area. As grocery stores are being looted and people being killed from violent riots, Kelly and I spent our evening playing on a see-saw (teeter-totter). We are happy, but a little bored...but at least boredom never killed anyone. AIM has issued an email that all of us in Nairobi are to stay in our houses and lie low for awhile. So, our plans are changed and we are not leaving Nairobi until the 7th (my Mom's Birthday and Orthodox Christmas). Our free ride to Entebbe was canceled because they were advised not to travel. On the 7th, instead, we will fly out to Entebbe for our regional conference.
Please pray for a PEACEFUL resolution in Kenya. Thanks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Thoughts

“In the Beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. ….The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. …Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” ~John 1:1-13
That passage has stuck with me this Christmas season. It has made me think about a couple different things since I’ve been in Sudan. First, the beauty of the poetic writings of John about Jesus’ coming—he doesn’t explain it dry, like a history textbook nor lofty like an analyst, but illustrative and beautiful. It is written clearly, and yet I am interested to read more. Each sentence builds on the other. Word--> Him--> life--> light--> darkness misunderstands light --> those who receive light, receive adoption.
John could have just as easily typed out a flow chart to be presented at the members’ meeting using Excel and Power Point to illustrate the processes of Jesus’ birth and the reason for Jesus’ birth and the whole Christmas story, but instead he used the power of language…a love note to the world, from God. When one wants to express something beautiful they don’t write it in a memo and spreadsheets and flow charts are not used. They instead write out poetry, so that the reader can understand the emotions in the words written. John was trying to make an appeal to the world—God was trying to make an appeal to the world—to make it clear that something great has been overlooked and this is the invitation to look again.
Christmas time, as we have come to know it, is the example of the greatest thing overlooked. We spend so much time in a buying frenzy, family frenzy, party frenzy, that we overlook what happened—the light came into the world and we, the darkness, have misunderstood it. We have completely misunderstood it. We dropped the ball, fumbled, did not collect the money after passing GO, missed the beat—misunderstood it.
The main event that hit me this year was not Black Friday, or crowded malls, but it was a girl named Lilly. Lilly is about 12 years old and comes from a poor family here in Ikotos (that is saying something because everyone is poor, but she is poorer). One morning I woke up, walked outside, and there was Lilly sitting on my porch. I said “Good Morning” and asked her if she was getting ready for Christmas. People here in Ikotos also have their way of getting ready for Christmas: re-mudding their huts, making alcohol, buying a goat, and buying new dresses, shirts, trousers, and shoes. So, I was really just making small talk with her, and not really expecting much of a response; but she replied “no, I don’t have any dress for Christmas.” Then, I asked her why that meant she could not celebrate Christmas. See, in Ikotos everyone goes to their church for an all-night celebration of singing and dancing and eating, wearing their new Christmas clothes. Those who cannot afford new Christmas clothes are too embarrassed to attend the church celebration so they just sit at home and maybe drink a soda or homebrew.
I felt prompted to talk to Lilly about the meaning of Christmas and how it really doesn’t matter what you’re wearing on Christmas, but it’s about what you are understanding at Christmas. After we spoke for a bit, Lilly left the compound, and I was left in my thoughts. I don’t actually know why she had come in the first place, but I do know that her response to Christmas sunk me. Later, I was listening to music and the song of “The Little Drummer Boy” caused me to tear. I know its just a song, but I really listened to the lyrics and thought about what the drummer boy might have been thinking on that day to see the baby Jesus. He sings of having no gift to give the baby Jesus, his new savior, the light of the world, but all he does have is his drum and his ability to play something beautiful for the new king. He probably was wearing rags like the children wear here in Sudan and he probably made his drum out of found materials (if it was in Sudan, it would have been made out of a NescafĂ© tin). The drummer boy probably heard of the new Messiah’s coming and probably was extremely excited from the news; but then he probably looked down at his clothes and remembered he was poor. I’m sure that he ran the scenario through his head several times before going to the manger, imagining what people would say and if the new king would even accept him. He had nothing to bring to the occasion, he smelled like the outdoors, and he looked poor. But finally it clicked and he understood. He realized that he did not need a thing… not one thing but the belief and understanding that the light had just come into the darkness. That thought overpowered him and he started running towards the manger—running and smiling, and deciding which song to play on his drum. He got there, and with adrenaline pumping, he didn’t care what other people thought, he just played for the one who mattered and played his heart out—he played a love song with passion.
That is what I want this Christmas. That is also what I want others to realize this Christmas. Whether you are in the United States, or Sudan, or any other place in the world, it is so simple: Light came -->darkness misunderstood -->those who understood are children of God—no matter what you are wearing or how many presents you have bought for others.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

March Against Gender-Based Violence in Ikotos

This is a press release I wrote for CRS after marching through Ikotos against gender-based violence:

Ikotos Advocates Against Gender-based Violence March, 8 December, 2007

"To whom does it belong?! To whom does it belong?!" Shouts the Ikotos Advocates Against Gender-based Violence, on the marking day of "16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence", in solidarity with others around the world marching to create a voice for human rights. The Ikotos-based group has been facilitated by the Catholic Relief Service-- Ikotos, Peacebuilding Intervention, in partnership with the Catholic Diosis of Torit, Lutheran World Federation, Norwegian Peoples Aid, Norwegian Church Aid, Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace, and the local authorities. The Ikotos-based group's mission statement is to celebrate and protect the integrity of all creation, and are committed to promote and practice peace, justice, and reconciliation.

Today, the group began the march at Commisioner's office, and after a speech by the commissioner, they marched through the market, into the compounds of NGOs such as LWF, NCA, and CRS, ending at the compound of CDOT. They carried signs that stated root problems of gender-based violence. Statements such as "Women Can Do It! Leadership, Empowerment, and Decision Making."

After the today's rally the group had a round table discussion on ways and means to generate economic empowerment, as one way of preventing violence in the community. One income generating activity the group decided on was uniform production. Currently, the uniforms for the local area schools are made in nearby Uganda. Traditionaly, tailoring is a man's job because it is not becomming of a woman to straddle the sewing machine. Today, that is not so much a problem, but rather only the lacking of the skills to do it. The group is currently looking for financial backing to begin this project.

Harmful Traditional Practices:
~Compensation: compensating death by killing, with young girls. For example, yesterday in the office of the courts, a 10 year old girl was to be given to the family of the victims of a killing, by the family of the murderer to avoid legal punishment. In this community, it is customary law to give a young girl in replacement of the murderer going to jail.

~"A baby girl to become a wife." Early and forced marriages are highly practiced in this community. Girls are given to marriage at puberty in the exchange of cattle and goats. Most of time, the girls are not mature enough for marriage. The girl can be as young as twelve years old and be given to a man in his late forties. These girls are then expected to bare children within the first six months, before their body is capable of delivery.

~Inheritance. When a man dies, his wife is given to his brother or male-relative in marriage, without the woman's permission or without her or the relative being tested for HIV.

Women Can Do it! Empowerment, Leadership, and Decision Making:
The Ikotos advocate group is encouraging women to be educated, leaders, and to make their own decisions on issues related their own welfare. Currently, women are still property in South Sudan.

Say 'No' to Domestic Violence:
In Ikotos, the traditional practice of husbands is to discipline their wives with abuse in the name of love. The men believe that this is the only way to teach a woman right from wrong. It is customary law in South Sudan that a woman who is beaten by her husband is not allowed to flee the home. As a result of fleeing, the woman can be arrested by the police.

The Use of Guns in Public Places:
Because of armed conflict, small weapons are readily available and mis-used in public places such as bars, schools, marketplaces, and church. In this community there is no gun control or legal action in place for gun violence.

Support Equal Opportunity of All Children:
Education for all children is important to stop violence in the community and in the home. When the men are educated, they do not raid cattle and they are less likely to abuse their wives; and when women are educated they are more likely get a job and support their families on their own and are less likely to have a husband who abuses them.

Say 'No' to School Drop-outs:
In Ikotos this year, one school alone reported 59 girls and 37 boys dropped out in the first term for various reasons. Some of the girls (even in primary) drop out due to pregnancy. In one instance, a girl as young as primary three dropped out of school this year because she was pregnant. Many of the students are forced to drop out of school because of lack of money for school fees. Several of the students are orphaned by the 21-year conflict in Southern Sudan. As of print, there are no official statistics in South Sudan for the reasons of drop-out.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sudanese-American Thanksgiving

I am sorry that it has taken this long for me to update you on what is up here in Ikotos. The past month has been VERY busy. Between setting mid-terms, to then setting and typing final exams, and even typing exams for the other teachers, attending a Peace Workshop, and then traveling to Torit for Thanksgiving, I have not had a lot of time on the computer.
First, school is just about over for the 3rd term and the students will be traveling home for their long break (like our summer break). After Wednesday, I will not see many of them until February 1st. They finished taking their exams last week, while I was in Torit. I will miss the students, however, I am also glad for the rest. During the next two weeks I plan to paint the inside of my tuukel, varnish my kitchen table, re-boot my computer after first organizing all the pictures on it and transferring them to my flash disk, and then finally going to Gulu to see the IDP camps. I will be travelling with LWF by rode, 7 hours, to see the place that I have been campaigning for the past 2 years. Although, you should know that the LRA has affected this part of Sudan just as much as it did Uganda.
In Gulu, I will spend only about 3 days before heading back to Ikotos and then heading to Lokichoggio,Kenya; Nairobi,Kenya; and catching a ride with some missionaries (The Carpenters)to Kampala,Uganda. I will be spending Christmas in Loki with the Hildebrandts: Jon and Ginny. Jon is a pilot for AIM Air and Ginny is an excellent cook. Another short-term missionary, Kelly Miller, will also be joining me on this tri-country excursion over the holiday season. Kelly works in Torit with the HIV ward of the hospital and at the AIC pre-school. She lives with the Bylers and Matthew Lovelace, a full-term missionary teacher, along with another couple, Russ and Lyn Noble.
In Nairobi, we will not only enjoy being there on election day, but also have fun in the big city for a week. Personally, I am looking forward to some good coffee, pizza, and ice cream-- like any modern American.
In Kampala we might try to visit a wildlife preserve or game park. There is one that has some fabulous waterfalls, which I will look forward to seeing. That will all be done during our week to kill, before the Central Regional conference. The conference will also be for about a week.

So, Thanksgiving... I flew to Torit (a 15 minute flight) to spend the holiday with some other Americans (those mentioned above). I arrived there on Wednesday the 21st and stayed until Friday the 30th-- so a week and a half, I was there. You all were celebrating on Thursday, but because of tired travelers, we decided to celebrate on Saturday, which gave us the energy to cook and have fun. We had some Sudanese guests that happen to be in town, who had come from Juba, and then many Sudanese from right there in Torit. All together making up more Sudanese than Americans, thus calling it a Sudanese-American Thanksgiving.
Our traditional Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest and thanking God for good food, but also a celebration of the first pilgrims with the American-Indians, and thanking them for teaching us about new crops and sharing time together. Well, I thought about that with our Thanksgiving celebration because here we are, both Sudanese and American, sharing ideas together, teaching, learning, and enjoying each others' presence. Everyone had a good time laughing, eating, singing, and drawing. As you can see be one of the pictures, Linda had the idea of doing a collaborative drawing in which everyone drew a picture of what they were thankful for this year. For me, I drew a picture of Africa and a heart on Sudan, with people holding hands, because I am thankful to have made it here. For my blind friend Willie, I drew his picture for him as well. He is thankful for friendship, so I drew a picture of him and I.
After drawing, we all explained what we drew, translating in both Arabic and English. Then, we ate a dinner of: pumpkin soup, cooked pumpkin leaves with peanut sauce, rice, corn bread, meat, and bread. For dessert, we had pumpkin bread, chocolate cake (icing and sprinkles compliments of Trinity care package), and papaya. Everyone was well-fed and happy with the menu. I was surprised, but even our Sudanese guests enjoyed the chocolate cake-- most of the time my friends here do not enjoy sweet foods, only sweet tea.
Finishing up the night, we sang songs and chatted until it was time to disperse at dark. The moon was a beautiful orange pumpkin that night, as seen above.
While in Torit, during the next week, I was able to sit in on HIV counseling and even watch a HIV test be given, and learned about the different kinds and how to do them. I was surprised at how easy it was to do. Just one drop of blood from the finger, onto the tester, wait 15 minutes and the results are in. But of course, it is good for them to come back within 6 months because there is a window period whereby the test shows negative and maybe later will show positive.
I also followed Kelly to the Pre-school, where she teaches primary 1 (1st grade). Those kids are cute, but boy, I don't think I could handle that everyday, or even every other day! They sure do have a lot of energy-- that is an understatement.
It was cool because there, I was able to help by putting my small juba arabic into practice. In Ikotos, Linda and Kelly assisted me with my school stuff, and in Torit, I was able to be a translator and an extra hand for discipline. Both mornings, I also slipped away to be with the little little ones, to teach them some songs like "This is the day that the Lord has made," "skimmer-a-rinky-dink," and "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." Those kids were great and hilarious!
So, that was my time in Torit, in a nut shell. In the next entry I would like to show you pictures from the STAR Peace Workshop and let you in on the peace building training that is going on here in Ikotos, for people from all over South Sudan. This particular session was on "restorative justice." I'll let you know more about it later. Thanks for letting me fill you in on this past month. I hope that all of you also had a great Thanksgiving. Feel free to comment and let me know!