Looking at these frail, weary, weather-beaten people, I found myself thinking, ‘You are among the lucky ones who survived 39 years of war (1955 to 1972 and 1983 to 2005) and the recurring fear of attacks by the LRA (Lords Resistance Army). How many nights have you spent in the bush in quiet fear of the enemy, snakes and other dangers? They have survived when the average life expectancy in South Sudan was only 43 and 183 children per thousand, in this part of the country, die before the age of five. But few of us in our comfortable first world existence would think of them as lucky!
THE LONELY, THE FRAIL, THE FORGOTTEN
They are lucky now to receive the gift of care from those who have more – us. The theory of good social work is that we should empower persons to take their place as full citizens in their society; we should not patronize them with hand-outs. Yet this theory can be blind to the human misery of the old, the lonely, the frail and forgotten. On this day they were remembered and clearly rejoiced. In his homily, Fr Morris reflected on the feelings the old once had of importance in their community: people came to them for advice and wisdom. But now they experience the loneliness of seeming useless, a burden, a consumer rather than a contributor.
WASTING TIME WITH OTHERS
Again my thoughts turn to another favourite quote from Le Petit Prince by Saint Exuperien: ‘It is the time you [...]
South Sudan has negotiated elections and the referendum, and achieved independence, with remarkable clam and stability. The fears of outbreaks of violence and lawlessness have been largely unfounded and the country has moved smoothly to becoming the world’s newest nation. There has been some inflation in prices and some shortages, especially in northern regions, but one can only say we have been well led to this point. Peace and stability have been preserved. One cannot fail to notice there is a ‘liberation’ among the women in the style of western clothing they are now choosing to wear. People seem to be more relaxed and confident that they are indeed able to choose their own destiny rather than suffer the imposition from others; but there are some emerging concerns. The mood of optimism and confidence continues but slowly the awareness is dawning that independence does not bring instant rewards for the general population. There has been no town power in Malakal since August 25th. The people of that city formerly received the benefits of a power supply every night. I was there for the independence celebrations on July 9th and we enjoyed power all that day. Before independence, a power grid operating during daylight hours in Wau. That has now ceased. Wau and Malakal, after Juba, are the two largest towns in South Sudan. In Juba, however, twenty-four hours of power had continued. After all, it is the capital of the new country. But the last ‘town power’ in Juba was supplied on October 5th and [...]
Last Wednesday, one of our teachers in the first year programme, Elizabeth, told Ninet she had endured a terrible toothache for the past ten days. So Ninet rang the dental section of the United Nations and out we drove to ‘Log Base’, the UN compound a few kilometres out of Malakal. The Indian dentist attended immediately to two fillings and told her to come back for work on three root canals…all at no charge.
Most of the population of Malakal do not have access to dentists. If the people can get to Log Base, they will be assisted for free but it is a daunting proposition for most of them. The capacity of many local people to talk with ‘ex-pats’ let alone pay for any kind of health service is normally very limited, even for teachers. In first world countries we take a lot for granted and expect a lot.
All of my life I have expected a clean water supply but here I have had to become used to showering and washing my clothes in water containing varying amounts of river colloids. I try to avoid the hours just after pumping when the stirred up water is at its muddiest. We never drink it but the locals do! We go often to the water purification plant near the Nile to fill-up gerry cans of clean water – for free. We are lucky. Our community in Juba has to buy drinking water. By the way, I can buy a 600ml bottle of water here for about 29 [...]
The Easter vigil was celebrated with great style here in Malakal. There were approximately two hundred baptisms and confirmations in our parish church and four hundred in the cathedral. There were energetic liturgical dancers and much singing with great rhythm and energy. The church was crammed and there were several hundred more people on seats outside the church with some still standing.
I entered the church at 6:45am and perspired my way through the next three hours. Was that the conclusion? No we had not yet reached the offertory and the lines of those being baptised and the confirmees still filled the centre aisle. The offertory would not come for another hour. Mercifully by 9:45pm it had become a little cooler and my shirt began to dry out! The ceremony concluded at 11:50am.
At the Easter vigil, we had all seven readings, not a reduced number as is common in Western countries. I could understand some references, ‘Ibrahim’, ‘Isaac’, ‘hojanna’ and the like but it was not helpful to me that Arabic was used for the entire duration of the service. As it was, I focussed on surviving but the people seemed to thrive and, at times, come fully alive.
There were some girls doing a liturgical dance – aged about sixteen. I found myself thinking what was it like for them growing up to age eleven in a war zone. How have they found the last five years?
Here the people welcome us as ‘kawadjas’ who are willing to journey with them. The women, in their distinctively coloured laos [...]
It’s been a week now since arriving home from my two week trip to Pakistan and Singapore and I have not stopped (except for the occasional NCIS program – I do enjoy a good crime show!)
Pakistan was a great experience - despite the fear of suicide bombings and the level of tension (on the day I left six suspected suicide bombers were captured in the city of Faisalabad) I felt particularly safe.
I think strangely enough it’s because there is so much security. Even in the McDonalds restaurant in Lahore I had to go through airport type security just to get a feed!
I departed Lahore and headed for Singapore. While the heat in Pakistan had been dry, the moment I walked out of Changi airport I was hit by the humidity…it was shocking.
My time spent in Singapore involved assisting two of the youth coordinators; Kenny and Linddi. They had organised a leadership training day for students from two of the local Lasallian schools and I helped out.
I got home (Bankstown, Sydney) late Friday night and next day I was back at Sydney Airport! This time it was to pick up Des, a young man from Melbourne who is considering starting his training for the Brothers vocation.
Des spent all last week assisting at the Year 12 retreats for one of the Lasallian schools. Part of his discernment process for the Brothers’ life is experiencing a variety of different ministries. When I dropped Des at the Airport on Friday he looked happy and somewhat exhausted – well what else could be expected from 5 days at a Year 12 retreat!
Most of last week I caught up on paperwork, attended meetings and [...]
On my last night in Pakistan I was taken out for a meal to one of the local hotels, which proved to be an interesting experience.
Firstly, getting there was precarious. I am glad the driver knew where he was going because I saw no road signs in English and he seemed to take many left and right hand turns.
The traffic has to be seen to be believed. Imagine a vehicle carrying goods that appear to be five times its size! And every second mode of traffic seems to use a donkey – boy donkeys have a hard lot here!
When we got to the hotel, security was high. I had to walk through a metal detector like those at the airport. In addition there were armed guards on the roof.
After dinner and back at the Brothers’ community, conversation focused on the suicide bombings at the Islamic university in Faisalabad. The government has ordered the closure of all schools and other educational institutions.
The situation is tense. Yesterday, the Brothers were at the gates of the school here turning away students and their parents.
There does not appear to be any logic to the targets: cash and carry shops, Co-educational schools, English medium schools, military facilities….
It seems that for the next month or so, armed guards will be posted at each of the entries to the Brothers’ schools here in Faisalabad.
Today I will make the road trip from Faisalabad to Lahore to board a plane to Singapore.
Your prayers are in need for all of Pakistan.
It’s almost a week since I arrived in Pakistan and opportunities to write have been limited by time and numerous “brown outs” which are common occurrences. For those who don’t know, a “brown-out is the term for a drop in voltage in an electrical power supply – it’s not as drastic as a blackout, but the dim lights and the reduction in power is annoying!
Anyway…after a long flight from Sydney, I arrived at Lahore international airport to be greeted by Brothers Sajid and Lutu. We then set off on a 3 hour drive to La Salle High school in Faisalabad. (Faisalabad is the third largest city in Pakistan after Karachi and Lahore).
In Faisalabad, the Brothers run a number of schools, the largest being La Salle High School which is known as an English medium school. Of the almost 2,000 students that attend, most are Muslim.
Enjoying my sleep after the long journey, the next day started early and there was no need to be woken up by an alarm. At 4.30am I heard the first Muslim call to prayer from a nearby Mosque. If that didn’t wake me up the second call to prayer at 5.45 would have!
During the first morning in Faisalabad I visited several Lasallian schools. At each visit I received a warm welcome, which consisted of walking between a tunnel of students who showered me with rose petals and presented me with flowers! I lost count of the number of students who came to greet me and shake my hand saying “God bless you [...]