Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Like a Troubled Bridge Over Water..."

One of the major challenges to ground travel in S.Sudan is the fact that there are many rivers but very few bridges.  In the rainy season--8 months of the year--a swollen river or even a fast-moving stream means that travelers must either turn back or wait (hours? days?) until the water subsides.  

There was immense public jubilation, therefore, at the completion of this bridge outside of Rumbek town shortly after S.Sudan's independence. Once the parade had marched and the ribbon had been cut and the festivities had died down, the government sent a convoy of military tanks across the bridge in response to bombings further north by Khartoum.  Alas, the bridge buckled under the weight of the rolling tanks and has been usable only by the brave since that day.  Vehicles daring enough or desperate enough to chance a crossing must first let all passengers off, then inch slowly across to the uneasy tune of creaks and groans from bending timber and steel.  I've walked across it twice myself but would never attempt to cross it in a vehicle.  With a nod to Simon and Garfunkel, I've dubbed it the "Troubled Bridge Over Water."  A bypass is currently under construction....

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Not a tow-truck in sight...

Question:  What's one thing S.Sudan has plenty of ?
Answer:    Miserable roads!

Here we see the road on which our Scholars' vehicle became mired in a muddy swamp en route to the December Scholars' Leadership Training week.  September is supposed to be the dry season, but global warming seems to be scrambling the weather patterns. A day of rain was enough to create this mess. Luckily for our Scholars, a passing UN vehicle winched them out of the quagmire.  Road travel anywhere in S.Sudan, however, remains pretty much a white-knuckle affair: if it isn't the mud, it's the bandits with their AK-47s, or the rising rivers (sans bridges) that make the way impassable.  Even on the best of days, the bone-jarring ruts, punishing heat, and overcrowded vehicles make trips long and, well, memorable!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Even if you're nobody, here you are somebody!"

Sr Mary Mumu, organizer of the women's literacy classes sponsored by MBB in South Sudan, visits the women in Maleng Agok.  The weather is oppressively hot, the roads miserably rutted, the housing nothing but thatch-and-mud.  There are no 7-11's along the way to get a refreshing drink. There are no stationery stores to pick up class supplies.  Yet she manages not only to find and hire good teachers but also to motivate the women to participate in these late afternoon classes as a "break" in their long workdays.  Even more important than learning the alphabet, the women learn here that they are human beings with dignity and gifts, equal to their husbands, and with talent to contribute to the new nation.  As one of the women said, "Even if you are nobody, here you are somebody!"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Have Chair, Will Learn...

MBB's literacy classes for women in half a dozen rural villages of South Sudan are generally conducted out in the open, beneath a shade tree.  

The rule of thumb is BYOC: Bring Your Own Chair (or sit on a log). It gives new meaning to the phrase, "Take a seat...."  

Here we see two Dinka women at the end of class, carrying their plastic chairs back to their thatch huts after an hour of practicing the alphabet.  The women come to these classes in the late afternoons, after working hard all day, and enjoy the respite and companionship before returning home to pound the maize and boil the water to prepare ugali for their families.