Hey everybody- since I haven't had good internet access, I haven't been able to post updates for the last 3-4 days, but I still wrote them in the hopes that we would get it! So here we are- here's a couple of entries for you:
January 1- written from Rumbek, S. Sudan
Howdy all- bear with me on this post. There's a lot of ins and outs, but some remarkable things have happened today!
We got up this morning well rested from staying in an air-conditioned room. I had Al-Jazeera piped through on the television and fell asleep to it. Right now there is apparently a huge flood in Australia as well as a church in Egypt was bombed and a bunch of people were killed. Last time we came we were in Sudan and heard about the earth quake in Haiti. There's always a weird surreal feeling when you hear about this stuff and you aren't safe at home.
Juba feels like it might as well be Baghdad- there are a lot of Arabic people there as well as every sign is in Arabic, and the primary language spoken there is a form of Arabic (called "Juba Arabic"); so it is a unique experience. The thing that strikes me is that the Dinkas, Mahdis, Acholis and other tribal types seem to blend in with and get along with the Arab people there beyond the vested interest in commerce that they have in common. With all of the talk having to do with the referendum and the southerners wanting separation, I thought the place would be fraught with tension. However, it's a pretty nice place and I'm sure we'll come through there again (apart from when we go back drive the Land Rover through there).
We were highly impressed with our new friend Johnson Malek. He strikes us as the type who will go far and be involved in highly important affairs someday. He showed up to the guest house with a walkie-talkie as he is still in the SPLA in some capacity. He showed us great kindness and has a real heart for his people back in Cueibet.
So we were dropped at the bus park where we arrived yesterday and got onto our Land Cruiser transport. We opted out of taking another coach bus because we knew this trip was going to be long and extra dusty. Besides, it didn't cost much more. Our driver was a Ugandan guy coming from Kampala. There were four other passengers on the bus- I sat in the front and Jason and the rest crammed in the back two rows. I felt bad but they told me to sit there, so who was I to argue? There was a girl from Coast Province (Mombasa) in Kenya so we got to talking to her over the course of the day.
First of all- the different checkpoints you have to go through in each town are ridiculous. It's a given that you are going to kick some cash to the traffic cop or soldier manning the place, which drives me nuts. However, there were a couple times where the guy came up to the car and just waved us through after he saw Jason and I- we told the other people in the vehicle that it was Khawaja (Juba Arabic for white person) magic. It didn't take long for them to warm up to us- especially Jason. I spent most of the time listening to music and thinking about how long the trip was taking. One of the funniest times during the trip was when we pulled up to the checkpoint as you enter Rumbek and the guy blew his whistle as we were driving by so we stopped. He swaggered up to the vehicle in a manner suggesting Little Man Syndrome, barking out "I want to see all of your papers." When he saw Jason and I, he just said "OH" and then pointed us on. We laughed heartily. Jason informed the driver that he owed us for all of the times that we had gotten him through a checkpoint without having to pay.
Sometimes regular, random people try to ask you about your business and ask you for money there. One guy tried to do it at one stop but we all told him to get lost and he just walked away. The funny thing was that the traffic cop who the driver slipped the money to took the cash and walked away while we were getting harrassed by the other jackwagon.
The drive took FOREVER. We finally got rolling at about 9 AM and rolled into Rumbek at 7 PM. The sun had been beating on us for the whole day- my left arm is beet red. I finally ended up taking my DiveMaster hat and strapping it on my arm just to protect it from the sun. As Jason puts it- we feel like Mike Tyson has been kidney-punching us for the whole day. The road from Juba to the "halfway" point of Yirol is about 4 or 5 hours, and it is pretty fast driving. However, the stretch from Yirol to Rumbek is only about 50ish miles, and it takes FOUR FLIPPING HOURS. Apparently that area was bombed heavily during the war and the road hasn't been maintained as well. It was virtually impassible in some areas save for the fact that we were in an off-road vehicle.
When you factor in the heat, the rough ride, the fact that you've been traveling in some hot bus or plane or car or motorcylce consistently for hours over the past 8 days, and then multiply it by the fact that you are a grouchy khawaja who is on the last leg of his travel, you can get pretty impatient. As we were pulling up to the bus park in Rumbek, our driver told us not to "let anyone try to take our papers, don't show anyone your passport or allow them to grab your luggage, etc." We had also read about a khawaja who came to kRumbek after we were there last and some guy tried to intimidate him into giving him money right as he got out at the bus park. So we were tired, gross, in pain, and now we were ready to swing at anyone who even looked at us the wrong way when we got off the bus.
However, as usual, right when we are at our wit's end, things get nice and easy. Our contact, Shadrach, a son of the head police chief in Rumbek, met us there and escorted us to a tuk-tuk (a cool little motorized trike that can haul three people) and we were whizzed away to the hotel that we were going to stay in.
After the day we had, we would have probably slept on the ground if we knew it was secure. The hotel we were taken to (suggested by the Coast Province girl on the bus) was your average concrete room, open air windows with one light bulb and a communal bathroom. We didn't care- we were planning on getting some food and then laying down to get the day over with. We got the rooms and left to go to the restaurant across the street which was housed in another, much nicer, guesthouse. We asked and they didn't have any more food, so we resigned ourselves to just having a soda and water and then crashing back at the rooms across the street.
However, while we were in the bar watching the soccer match and drinking our soda, a young Dinka Gok greeted us and thanked us for coming. He didn't even know who we were and we didn't know him, but he was very thankful that khawajas were coming and was thankful for all that America has done for Sudan. Yeah, that's right, we've done a lot for Sudan- and for all of you total Bush-haters out there, it was his administration that helped broker the Peace Agreement and begin the work to end the suffering for these people. I'm just sayin.... Editor's note: sorry, I just saw this and I was really tired when I wrote it. I don't want to get into these discussions on this blog. Jesus would be neither a republican, democrate, or American anyway... :)
OK, now that I'm off of my soap box: Jason decided to inquire about the rooms at the nicer guesthouse to see how much they cost. Everything in Rumbek is very pricy so we expected hundreds of dollars. We wanted to find a place to stay the day before we leave so as to not have a rushed situation to drive two hours to the airport. The Kenyan lady working there showed Jason a room. I heard Jason and the young Dinka Gok guy talking as Jason was coming back- as it turns out, he is from Abiriu which is where Pastor Samuel Maciek stays! This sparked an immediate friendship; we introduced ourselves to him- his name is William Mayor Maker (Mie-Yor Muh-Kerr).
We decided that we would use a bit of our personal money to transfer guest houses and I am typing this to you from that place. It is NICE, and very affordable. When we got here and got settled in, William came back to our room and as we were chatting with him, we then found out that he is the nephew to James Ater (co-director of Hope Sudan Charity Organization) and not only do we have a new friend, but as far as the Dinka Gok are concerned, we have new family!
How awesome is it that every time we come on one of these trips that the Lord works out some magical way of us running into Ambassadors, new connections and new friends and family who show us such tremendous kindness? We are so thankful for the way things have gone over the past week. It has been rough, but at the same time it has been like relaxing and floating down a peaceful stream- that hurts your butt.
SO we are set up here in Rumbek and waiting for Tim, Charlie, Awan, Mike and Aim to arrive here tomorrow morning where we will pick them up in our transport and then it is ON.
January 5- written from Cueibet, S. Sudan
It has been a good last couple of days since we have been at our destination. Monday we picked all of the guys up from the Rumbek Airstrip. It is always great seeing your friends on the other side of the world. We first met Pastor Samuel Maciek and a couple other friends at the airstrip while we had a nice cold soda and waited for the others to arrive.
Awan Ater in particular definitely shines in his home land. We had to go to the hotel while we waited for our vehicle to be worked on previous to us taking it. While waiting, several people greeted Awan including Ambassador Paul Malok Macuei, whose card shows an address in Bulgaria. Awan has quite the life story, but he is basically the godfather in this area, as he was the teacher to many of the people who are in government these days.
We finally got our vehicle and began the trek towards our place. We stopped at Pastor Samuel's place in a town called Abiriu (pronouced "uh-BEER-eww") and had a cup of Bun (prounouged "boon-" Sudanese coffee). We were able to meet Samuel and Debra's new baby boy, Imannuel Benbai Maciek. Very cute.
We made our way to our destination, a brand-new school compound that was built outside the town of Abiachuk (uh-BEE-uh-Chook). The place is pretty nice. The church people greeted us in the pitch-black night under the brilliant starts. We sang and shouted with happiness. They had cooked some chicken and bread and we all took time to speak to them and talk about how much we had been waiting to see them. We were HOME!
Tuesday morning was our "rest day," which you typically take one rest day right when you get here because everyone is pretty out of it. Jason got some sort of stomach bug that kept him up and my back has been hurting, but we aren't letting it get us down. The other guys are adjusting well and things are good. After a good discussion with Samuel about his vision for this year and much coffee, Aim showed some of the young Dinka boys some highly impressive soccer skills.
We took some time to go to the market in Rumbek and buy some huge bags of beans and rice. The market is always interesting- I was much more bold with the camera this year and got some cool footage to share with everyone.
While we were at the market, there was a massive dance party in Abiachuk that Tim, Mike and Aim attended. All of the young Dinka men were in traditional garb and doing their traditional dances. Mike got in on some of the action and we have it on tape! Tim tried but they told him to sit it out- he had a camera to run anyway!
Today (Tuesday), we have come to Cueibet (SHOO-ay-BET) town and have met with the new county commissioner, Mayom Malek. He is a towering man- probably about 6'10" if not 7 feet tall. We were welcomed by him and his staff and discussed the needs of the local people as well as our specific goals.
We then visited the Diakonie Camp, which is where we have stayed every other time we have come to Sudan. The camp is a very nice group of concrete buildings that has hosted medical teams over the past years. Diakonie, the company staffing the camp, has ended their contract at this place and are now looking to fund the place but with completely indigenous management. We have a desire to fill these positions and have the camp function as a base of our operations as we expand more with Hope Sudan Charity Organization. Awan Ater, director of HSCO, is willing to function in a management capacity over here on a full-time basis. This is definitely something to pray into with us.
We will be staying at Diakonie tonight and tomorrow night as we prepare to go to Lang Dit, the birthplace of Awan Ater. There will be some serious partying- unfortunately, many bulls will probably lose their lives as traditional custom dictates. We will have plenty of pictures of the celebration (no worries, we won't post anything grisly) and I hope to update from the Diakonie camp again before we leave.
Friday, Saturday, and Monday, we will be doing training with the young leadership of the congregation we partner with here. Sunday will bring a massive celebration at the church- we are eagerly anticipating. The Sudanese know how to BRING IT. They all compose their own worship songs and dance like you wouldn't believe. I have a high-quality sound recorder to capture it this year.
Very little has changed around here since we have been back. Right after we left last January, there were inter-tribal clashes and fighting between the SPLA (Sudanese Military) and the Gok tribes in Cueibet town which resulted in the loss of some lives. Prior to that, everyone had been disarmed save for those in the military, but this year we have noticed that there are some civilians who have their Kalashnikovs strapped on again. However, things are highly peaceful and there are no problems. President Salva Kiir has mandated that there are to be no clashes as the referendum draws near.
I was given a Referendum tee-shirt by John Kur before we parted ways and have been wearing it today. Several young men have asked me why I am wearing it and what are my reasons for supporting separation. At first I thought it wouldn't be wise to wear it, but after asking them, they appreciate it and just want to make sure I know the reason for it. Imagine that- knowing what you are talking about. Something us Americans should think about. It's a place where what goes on politically actually affects your life, and people genuinely care about it; unlike us, who vote in the presidential election and don't pay attention to anything else for the next 3 years.
So cool to be here. I hope everyone is having as good of a time as we are. It's flippin' hot here and I doubt I have ever been this tan. I hope to update you all soon on things that are happening from here. Wednesday, we leave Rumbek for Nairobi to hang out for a couple of days. Jason, Awan and I will head to Mombasa around Thursday or Friday of next week and the other guys will head back to the States. Have a great rest of the week and I hope that everyone is well!
Randall and the boyz