As I attempt to begin to describe this last week, I am already overwhelmed with the flood of things I have experienced and seen here in this seemingly forgotten part of the world. I am going to be very upfront about what I have seen so you will know the true living standard here in Akuem. But first,
It is 5:00 a.m. and I feel good physically for the first time in days. Monday I was hit by a bacterial invasion that literally took me to my knees for days. The first day I was so sick and it was one of the hottest days yet that I literally laid down on the hard concrete floor and slept there all day in the corner of an office, which is just a concrete building with a corrugated tin roof, so you can imagine that it was still not a very cool place to rest. My tent is like a slow cooker all day and so I couldn’t even think of resting there.
I had to trek across very hot sand to use the latrine so many times that I wore a fine trail in the dirt with my melting sandals as the sun beat down on my tired body. By the third day I still hadn’t eaten a bite of any food. We have decided that we got some very bad meat. I am so afraid of getting sick again that I will only eat now on days that my friend Viola cooks because I know she is meticulous about sanitation. She cooks every other day. I have easily lost ten pounds just this week.
I am looking back on the almost two weeks that I have been here, and because of our extreme living conditions I have been unable to do any really effective ministry. I cannot begin to describe to you the constant heat. It chases you down and no matter where you go it finds you. We have no refrigeration so there is not even a cool cup of water to relieve this constant thirst. All night long my sheets are wet from my sweat. Sometimes I just get up and stand outside to cool off before crawling back into my sauna for another round. Most times there isn’t even a breeze. It really is miserable.
There is so much filth and trash here in this small town. I went into the market in Akuem, which is just ½ a mile down the road from us, and I was overwhelmed the entire time by the stench and the trash, which was everywhere. In Yei Town, at least trash was gathered in a pile in the street and burned. There is nothing that I can see here to resemble that. I am so serious, there are plastic bottles and bags, food wrappers, animal dung, you name it, scattered all over the place, caught up on bushes, littering yards and all over the fields. When I returned from walking in the market and changed my dress, my dress smelled just like the market, it was that strong.
Just here on our compound, there are hyperdermic needles still being found in the dirt. This used to be a TB testing base and when they left, they just dumped it all over the ground and here it remains. When we took the base over we were able to clean most of it up. Still, everyday I am stopping to pick up exposed needles to throw them away so we don’t accidentally step on them. All around the back fence there are still uncountable needles lying everywhere.
Also on our compound, the latrines were built years ago and we took the compound over two months ago. So there is all this old human waste in them and the place where they put our tents is where the only two latrines are and there is always this poop smell hanging in the air. Everywhere I go in the market I smell this smell. People just squat and go wherever they want almost. We stopped at this one stall and asked what they were selling and it was cow manure for fire chips. They had these little cans with little round candy sized balls of it too and an old lady came up and bought a round dung ball and just popped it into her mouth pretty as you please! I almost lost it!
I have since learned that in many of the cattle camps, the people stand behind cows as they pee and hold their head under the flow to die their hair orange, no kidding! And it is not unusual for locals around here to leave their meat set for five days, unrefrigerated, before cooking it to eat.
And the flies here drive you crazy. They never, never stop hounding you. Even at 5:00 a.m. they are here in my tent attacking my face. The only escape I have is my bug hut misquito net but it is even hotter in there because air can’t pass through as easy. When I have to visit the latrine at night, I have to set my headlamp on the door frame or my face will get attacked by these huge latrine flies that are vicious. And when you are done you have to be quick about leaving because they will literally chase you out of the latrine as you go. I also met my first centipede last night. Actually my back met him through my shirt and pants thank God or it would have hurt worse.
I had to go into town early this morning to the meat market and it is an hours drive into Aweil, which is a cleaner city. We have decided not to buy our meat in Akuem anymore because of the filthiness of the market and the meat stand. I am still sick and not eating very much and my stomach still recoils at the thought of food six days later. So, here I am in the early morning hours watching whole cow heads, fur still intact, blood dripping out, being wheelbarrowed into the meat market. Cow legs with hooves intact are also in the bottom of the barrow. Needless to say, I did not eat lunch again today.
Most people here dress in rags and are so dirty most times yet there are plenty of available boreholes for water and so I am unsure as to why this is. It could be that women are just tired of constantly washing clothes that will be dust drenched the next day. It is just one very large dust bowl here as we are so very close to the Sahara and Southern Darfur.
I feel like I and the people of the western world have been so clueless to this type of existence or we have just chosen to ignore it. It is such a pitiful place for these children to “try” to grow up. More than half of all Sudanese children die due to unsanitary conditions and health issues related to sanitation. Yesterday I saw small babies digging through piles of trash. I see small children running around so totally unattended. These children are just able to walk and they wander the paths alone, It is heartbreaking.
I have been going out to the borehole still every night to visit the women and girls. Even while I was sick and had very little energy, I would make an appearance to greet them and pump a jerrican or two of water with them. The old ladies are so extremely friendly and will cross a field to come and shake your hand and say hello and even kiss your hand. They are so loving. The younger women are a little more reserved but never fail to wave and smile hello. Walking through the market, you will have a trail of children following you constantly calling out, “kawaja”. I haven’t ventured to start a children’s ministry yet as I have been sick and am going out of country next week for two weeks. When I return, I hope to get something going pretty quick.
There is so much need here that if I look at the whole picture I feel so overwhelmed that I just don’t know where to start. And God always reminds me to start with love and the rest will fall into place. These Dinka are a very proud people and very resistant to change of any kind. I want to find a way to instill cleanliness and sanitation into their daily lives. I want to communicate with them and learn their language. I feel like I have such a short time to do anything as my contract with SP is up in less than six months and here I don’t even know the language. And so I am learning to just seek God one day at a time and love the way He shows me for that day.
Through this week of sickness and heat stress and daily struggles of just living here I have also been getting a deeper understanding of the reality of God being the only plan. Out here there is literally no plan B. Without Him I die, with Him there is ALWAYS life, always. I am learning what true perseverance means and what He is saying to Paul when He tells him, “My grace is sufficient.” This week I thought oh God what am I doing in this seemingly God forsaken place? How will I ever do this? I even dreamt a dream where I saw an angry dark cloud in the sky and it was in the shape of Satan’s face and I looked at it and said, “Satan hates Sudan.” The conditions here are so horrid and so inhumane sometimes that I know Satan surely hates this place. But I also know that God loves Sudan and He will never forsake her.
This evening my friend Heather and I took our ATV’s and drove across the plains and dusty trails of Sudan, at least our part, and went to the next town about ½ hour away. All along the way, men and women and children smiled and waved and greeted us with such warmth. And when we stopped they came right up and offered us their hands in friendship. I wish the whole world could be this friendly. Maybe we might all live in peace one day soon huh? Cool thought.
Pray for me to persevere even under these harsh conditions. Pray for me to stay in the fight and to stay strong, to not listen to my flesh when it is screaming at the injustice of its treatment. Pray for me to live from the heavenly place where Jesus is and will always be with me. Pray for me to be moved by what is moving Him here in Akuem. And pray for the unity of my team because many are quitting. This is a very hard place to be and we need each other and must be in agreement about our purpose here and how much Jesus cares for us.