Thursday, April 28, 2016

South Sudan to San Francisco

Maureen Limer, a Sister of Mercy from northern England, has served the peoples of E.Africa for the past 35 yrs, including many years in South Sudan. Oh, the stories she could tell!  She's now a volunteer in South Sudan with MBB's scholarships program.

Maureen recently spent a few weeks in California and participated in a meeting of the MBB Board. She's pictured here at "Land's End" in San Francisco with board member Shirley Tamoria, MD. Land's End, you say??? Surely that describes S.Sudan more than San Francisco!

PS:  If you are ever planning a safari to Maasai land in Kenya, contact Maureen first. She taught most of those safari guides when they were in school.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Currency Collapse

On average, teachers in South Sudan earn from 450 - 600 S.Sudan Pounds (SSP) per month.  Until last month, that was roughly $150 - $200 USD. Not a fortune, but enough to make ends meet. 

Then the government, giving in to international pressure to reduce the yawning gap between its official exchange rate (3.1 SSP = $1 USD) and the street exchange rate (38 SSP = $1 USD), allowed the Pound to float.  Its value plummeted. Today that teacher’s monthly salary is worth a pitiful $15 - $20. 

Adding to the misery, the government has not paid any civil servants their salaries since last November.  Teachers, soldiers, health workers, clerks…. No one!  

Even the most dedicated ex-pat teachers who stayed in South Sudan throughout all the years of war and turmoil and danger are leaving their posts because the $50 border-crossing fee eats more than 2 months’ pay!  Kenyans and Ugandans who were, in many cases, the only trained teachers in S.Sudanese schools, can no longer afford to stay.  It’s going to be a very rough year for everyone, including students.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Q.  When is a rubber band not a rubber band?
A.   Soon after you bring it into South Sudan.

Within 24 hours the rubber band hardens, cracks and splits open from the intense heat. It’s no longer elastic and no longer a band. It’s a useless brittle strip of what was formerly quite handy for holding things together.  

South Sudan is like that now. It’s hard to hold things together there. The country is unraveling: hardening and cracking and splitting open from political and tribal divisions, violence, currency devaluation, famine, and massive population displacements.  When is a country not a country? South Sudan teeters on the edge.

Once again, I’ve emerged unscathed from several weeks inside South Sudan. The odds of that are not favorable, but I am lucky that way.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reality TV ?

One lone and very dusty TV set occupies a place of honor in the meeting hall of the Narus compound where I stay when visiting St Bakhita School in South Sudan.  It sits atop an old wooden cabinet, next to a wall clock forever stuck at eleven minutes to six. The TV is on for an hour or two each evening, powered by a generator. It gets only one station: CCTV, an African version of Chinese state broadcasts. Under the guise of world news, it treats us nightly to a peculiar perspective on current events. My favorite was a recent documentary about how the Chinese government honors the Tibetan culture by “preserving” its monasteries as museums. The videography was stunning but the narrator neglected to mention China’s systematic oppression of Tibetan people and religion. Or its imprisonment of monks and nuns. Or its forced relocation into Tibet of tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese to replace the indigenous Tibetans. 

Well, I watched the station several times. There isn’t much else to do once darkness falls. Each night without fail, at about 9:00pm and lit only by the glow of the TV screen, a small swarm of bats swoops up and outward from some secret hideaway behind the wooden TV cabinet, lurches lopsidedly around the room and eventually settles onto upside down perches from the ceiling.  Now, THAT’s reality TV!