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Landing in Wau I can honestly say we had no idea what was in store for us. Our questions to Gabriel about life in the village were continuously answered with…”you will see”. Knowing that he wanted us to form our own impressions we began to just soak in the experience. The roads from Wau to the town of Kuajok are treacherous, but we have heard an enormous improvement from before the country gained independence. Wearing our nauseau bands and slipping homeopathic remedies in our water, we bumped our way through red earthed roads and woody shortcuts to enter Akon where we were greeted by the Paramount chief of the surrounding villages, Nyal Chan, (later to become known as “our favorite man”), and had a chance to talk about the conditions and politics of the country.
Our first formidable moment was when we realized that our traveling campanion, Wol, was having an allergic reaction to the over the counter cold pill we have given him in the car. His eyes were almost swollen shut and he was short of breath. Frantically we insisted upon finding a clinic. Our first intro into healthcare facilites in South Sudan, expired and non refrigerated drugs run by a medical assistant with very little training was not comforting. South Sudan is curently prioritizing security, road infrastructure and training of civil servants. Health care has not quite made it to the top of the list and it might take years before it does.
Clinics are run by untrained health workers or medical personnel with little education, mostly trained in other countries. Although not completely satisfied with the treatment, Cory’s nursing expertise was able to establish the best option, get Wol’s reaction under control and get us back on the road.
Once in Kuajok we made a stop to visit some of Gabriel’s family and learned about some local cooking traditions.
Rolling out the dough for Chapati (my favorite)
as well as making another health care stop to visit Gabriel’s sister in law who is 8 months pregnant and suffering from various complications.
Her daughter also needed medical attention as she was showing signs of malaria. Little did we know the seriousness of the health issues we would experience. As we worked our way closer to the village, the health condition of villagers grew more disconcerning. The lack of clinics, trained health care professionals, vehicles for transporting, and food for nutrition was alarming. We encountered a villager near death from starvation, children with distended stomaches and pregnant mothers barely eating. Effects of the the drought and crisis on the border of Sudan has reached far into the small villages. Humanitarian aid has turned to caring for incoming refugees from the North and those affected by tribal conflicts so many villages go without any assistance at all.
But what was most amazing was that amongst what seemed to be such a despondent condition, we were greeted with fanfare, celebration, and traditional, dance and blessings by the most wonderful, joyous and happy villagers of Ariang.
We ceremoniously stepped into the village over a sacred cow.
Next we toured through Ariang school and inspected the classrooms and building and participated in a meeting where people from many surrounding villages came to welcome us and talk about the education project for the village.
Life in the village took a while to adapt to. The scorching hot sun, red earth dust kicking up into our faces and lack of food made the thought of spending many days perilous, but each day we adapted a bit more, found small moments of comfort in a wet rag, cool breeze or walk by the Nile. Each day, as I became more comfortable, I grew to respect the resiliency of the people even more. I would watch them carry on all day without a sip of water or food not understanding how it was possible that they could carry bundles of necessities on their heads, cook in the heat and care for their families under these conditions. The villagers eat one meal a day made of the same wheat product called Sorghum that does not seem to have much nutritional value. (sort of like a flour/bisquick product to us).
We were offered the traditional honor of a the elders’ blessing where we were doused with ritual water (which we were thankful for in the unbearable heat).
Our first day was a wonderful entry into life at the village. Traditionally the first day is one of rest, sitting and talking and learning. We experienced sifting Sorghum and some traditional African drumming.
The Dinka tribe make up a large percentage of the Southern Sudanese people. Cattle is the honored and respected commodity, each having its own name and place in the clan. Cory and I were blessed and given our own cows. It was a huge honor but also a bit daunting having to tie down our cattle in front of all the clan elders who have raised them as their daily occupation.
After all the initiations, the sun began to set and the air began to finally cool as we took our walk back to the Tukul.
After some game time with the children, the villagers helped us prepare our mosquito net outside where we would sleep under the African sky, full moon, and howling dogs.
As Cory and I slept outside under our rig we could still hear celebratory drumming and singing through the night marking our arrival. We felt overwhelmed by all the fanfare but looked forward to beginning our work the next day learning about the lives of the women, health care and education.