‘What makes you really happy?’
I asked a class. One student replied: ‘It was the day I married my wife. Being married to her is wonderful’. So far so good! It was the next comment coming from an unexpected perspective that surprised me. ‘Yes’ he said, ‘I like it so much I can’t wait to get another one!’
In South Sudan, it is expected that a man marrying a woman will pay a substantial ‘bride price’ to the parents of his bride. So accumulating many wives can be a sign of wealth, status and prestige in this society. In Dinka culture, as in some other tribal cultures, the bride price is paid in cows. One woman, who did not seem very happy in her marriage, told the person to whom she was talking: ‘But my father got 300 cows for me,’ as if that was the most important aspect of her marriage. Three hundred cows, by the way, is a very high bride price. This is a very different way of looking at marriage.
I can imagine many people thinking such practices are very demeaning to women, particularly in an era where equality of the sexes and affirmative action are well established. All I can say is that to many people here such practices seem quite natural, the familiar social order, but I suspect polygamy is beginning to decline. Certainly, when I asked a class of Dinka teacher trainees in which the majority in the class had graduated from the Loreto Secondary College in Rumbek, ‘Are there any [...]
Two Spanish visitors and I, guided by Sr Dorothy from New Zealand, Director of our Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau, recently visited the wards of the Wau Teaching Hospital as well as the St Daniel Comboni Catholic Hospital where our registered nurse students are on clinical placement. I had visited these facilities before. I found it simply wonderful to observe the dramatic improvement in the buildings but especially, also, the greater confidence of the staff, and nurse trainees, that is now evident. Standards of care have risen dramatically with great benefit to the people of South Sudan.
Working in the hospitals as trainee nurses were the students to whom I had taught English last year as part of a Foundation programme in preparation for the formal registered nurse training. What a joy to see the assertive ‘presence’ they have developed and the belief and pride in what they are now doing! For me personally, their warm greetings were very reaffirming. For our Spanish visitors, it was extremely gratifying that their seemingly endless toil over fundraising applications has born such fruit.
In the great freedom seeking movements of the sixties, they used to sing: ‘All we are saying, is give peace a chance’. What I hear the young people of South Sudan saying today, now that there is peace, is: ‘All we are saying is give us a chance.’ Give us a chance to help our people with better health care, better education and better attitude.
Trauma in this country runs deep – in prisons, homes, schools, hospitals, [...]
It is easy enough to accept that the poor deserve our special care and concern. That is quite straight-forward and not so threatening: we share the bounty we have received with those less fortunate. It is, however, an altogether greater leap in faith to accept that we should be happy and continue to praise God in wretched circumstances; but, in Agok, that is what the people do!
“They are living under trees with no food and little water”
An energetic man intent on helping his people, the local priest, Fr Biong, has found donors to pay for many truckloads of rough hewn timber, bamboo and matting to be brought to Agok. The people will make themselves tukuls – mud and stick walled houses with grass roofs. Fr Biong had arranged this for 6,400 households but just as he was getting ready to distribute the building materials, he found further displaced people had arrived. They are living under trees with no food and little water – more than 400 families, mostly women and children, who have fled from recent fighting. With the aid of the Governor of Abyei, Fr Biong managed to get 200 bags of sorghum for these recent arrivals but I am not sure how they will cook it as they have no pots or pans!
“Not once did I hear a teacher complain about their” We were in Agok to teach English to more than a hundred teachers. Some walked two hours each way to get to our classes. Attendance was very good. [...]