I have found myself in four African countries in the last two weeks and have had to manage the foreign currency exchange data in my head and that can be quite confusing! For some reason I lost access to the calculator on my phone. My last stop before Sudan was Uganda and I have not been in Uganda in a year and in that time, all of their money has changed! Nothing looks the same. I am really amazed that my brain can negotiate between Kenya shillings, Tanzania shillings, Uganda shillings and Sudanese pounds and that I have managed to keep it all straight in that small space called my brain! One of the common denominators that I have found in every country is the presence of the local police force and army, as they are everywhere carrying rifles or even riding their bikes with AK47s slung casually across their backs while pedaling to their post. Only in Africa! It is a very common sight.
While I was in Uganda, I was staying in a hotel where my room literally overlooked the very yard of a local family. Serious, my window looked right down into their yard. I have been watching intermittently how this family interacts (can’t help it really) and it is so amazing. It truly typifies the African family lifestyle. There seems to be three separate doors or apartments (one story) that share the same yard and they all share the same cooking utensils and cook fire and such. There has been one girl who has been doing the dish washing and she is wearing a school uniform so she is a teenager.
School goes until five pm here and then they come home to do their chores. The children in many, many places go all day without a meal until they get home for dinner. There are no cafeterias and snack machines. They are amazing in their energy and zeal to learn. Back to this family…. There are two toddlers just walking around and playing together, one who has been playing with a butcher knife! I am so serious, this is normal here in Africa. There is another lady who has joined the toddlers and seems to be watching over them now. Then there is another lady who appears to be cleaning the rooms or apartments. So, here is this small village or related family within the city, all working together to care for each other. It is what I love about Africa because this is so normal. The family lives together and works together and helps each other and cares for each other so no one has to do anything alone. That I think is how God designed us to be. There is so much peace and togetherness in this setting.
I arrived in Yei (Sudan) on Saturday morning and was greeted by so many children running out to meet me and so excited to see me again. Hugs all around and singing to welcome me. We were so happy to come together again. It really felt like I had never left. I just fit right back in. Mama Udita told me this morning that when they were told I was coming back and to live with them for a good while, they were actually singing and dancing and jumping in their excitement. This made my heart sing with joy because I am so loved by them and I love them so!
So, it is the rainy season here also and the trails are very muddy and slippery. We have no vehicle here (which I can use) that can manage the roads except a motorcycle. Not a dirt bike, but a regular motorcycle. For anyone who rides, you can imagine how hard it is to negotiate just regular trails. Here I have to negotiate small muddy slippery trails and rocky river beds, big rocks, on a motorcycle! So, I set out to town my first day here to buy some bottled water and, yep I got caught in a downpour. I pulled over to the nearest building, which happened to be a small bar. The guys welcomed me to come sit out the rain and offered me a beer, which I declined of course, and had a cola instead and had a very pleasant rest and conversation as I waited for the rain to stop. I continued on and had to stop twice more to escape the rain. I managed to handle the motorcycle well and didn’t fall even once. I am so glad now that I have a vast experience with motorcycles and even in these horrible driving conditions, sliding a lot in the mud, I managed to stay erect praise God!
By the time I arrived back to the base, my backpack was soaking wet and me too. I realized that one of my large bottles of water had been leaking the entire time and so my Sudan driving license and Visa and money, all made of paper, were dripping wet. And so I had all this hanging from clothespins in my tent to dry. Then as I was walking around the compound that first day, I managed to smash my big toe on one of those “invisible” tiny stumps that stick out intermittently on the trails. It was the same toe I broke in mission school a year and a half ago. So now it is bruised and purple and I still get on with things, playing with the children, riding the motorcycle and just doing life here in beautiful southern Sudan.
I have pitched my tent inside an office space and so I am out of the rains. It is sort of like camping inside, like we did when we were kids, putting the tent up in the living room and having a sleep over. I have been sleeping on the floor on a thin foam pad so I awake a teeny bit sore in the morning. So today I purchased a nice teak wood bed for $30 USD. Teak wood and mahogany wood are dirt cheap here. Right now I am sitting on my back porch looking at over 20 teak trees just here. I am glad I thought to purchase a large enough tent to fit an actual bed, although a twin bed. Perfect. I have been living on a diet of posho and beans for dinner every night and posho and fish or cabbage for lunch and once a week a small bit of meat, usually beef. The fish here are dried, guts and eyeballs and all. Then when they cook them, they are in a sauce, which I absolutely love, very salty. I just pluck off the head, as I just can’t bring myself to eat this just yet, and eat the jerky like pieces of fish. For breakfast it is a piece of bread and coffee or tea.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon helping to give haircuts. We use the elementary school safety scissors and cut as close to the scalp as manageable and that is the haircut. It takes awhile to do one kid and yesterday I think I gave at least 8 or 9 haircuts, even to toddlers who just sit quietly. And all the while I have toddlers in my lap or on my legs or petting my arms as I am cutting someone else’s hair. They seem to like the downy hairs on my arms and like to pet me like a puppy. It’s pretty funny. The toddlers here call me Lina as it is easier to say for them. Today, I have three more haircut appointments and probably more as they see me cutting.
Yesterday I learned that all of the city schools were gathered in the town center, called Freedom Square, to pray for the coming referendum. The children here at Iris for the most part are praying for unity and a godly nation to arise. The city I think is praying for separation and having their own state. So, there are different prayers being sent to the throne room of heaven and I pray that God answers according to His will and not the people’s will if it is not lined up with His. I am praying also for unity, for President Bashir’s heart to be turned to Jesus and that all of Sudan would be a godly nation and that the religious spirit would be broken, bringing true freedom to this country.
Since I have been here I have spent every morning with the toddlers and I feel this is one of my ministries here. I play happy kids songs, Christian children from Uganda singing about Jesus and the Kingdom and doing battle on our knees. The children and I dance and sing for a very good hour. Yesterday we then colored and did stickers. Today I made them a pot of oatmeal with lots of sugar and how happy they were with this sticky creation. I know that this hour and a half that I spend alone with just them and no other children brings a calm to them and much joy in their hearts. I think that they need some special undivided attention while the others are at school. We are having fun.