31 May 2012

hors d'oeuvre

"In many ways, we are empty people.  We live to be filled with food, drink, companionship, contentment.  And this side of paradise, we never are completely satisfied.
The psalmist tells us, however, that we do get a taste of what is to come - an hors d'oeuvre to the final banquet.  We learn that both the preview and the eternal feast are gifts from a gracious God.
Therefore, the psalmist urges us to live with hunger.  Refuse to demean the emptiness of the heart by trying to fill it or flee from it.  Neither succumb to pious happiness or cynical disillusionment.  Taste hunger as the pang of anticipation that arouses the heart to savor the meal that awaits.  Relish every good morsel of His grace - in a delicious dinner, in a well-crafted song, in a hilarious joke, in all the other tastes of the wedding banquet.  Let even the prayer over your nightly meal be as much a cry as a grateful thanks for the taste of what is to come... 
The revelation of God's goodness in the midst of our suffering leads us to service and worship.  In a sinful world, we are surprised by His concern; we are amazed at His grace."
~ Allender & Longman The Cry of the Soul ~

 Last week friday, 5 of the 6 singles on our team piled into the Land Cruiser and drove to Juba.  Scott had been summoned to preach on Sunday and despite several attempts at convincing him to put it off one week, I failed and he stayed in Mundri.  So, Larissa, Melissa, Bethany, Caleb and I piled backpacks, trunks for groceries and a few empty propane tanks into the team vehicle, leaving the Masso family to hold down the fort, and set off for the "big city."  

The first ever Juba half marathon and 5/10k road race was being held on Saturday and a few of us were of the opinion that running is enjoyable and that in the sweltering heat of South Sudan this would fall in the category of "fun" :)

I did not happen to be one of these.  Shocking, I know.  BUT I love a good sporting event and minus the short skirts, pig tails, and pom-poms Melissa and I made pretty darn good cheerleaders.

We all stayed with a friend who happened to have enough beds for us all since all his housemates had moved out in previous weeks.  We ate, we drank, we read, we talked, we watched a movie, there was ice cream, there were naps, and well, there were mosquitos in record numbers (lest you think we had been transported to a utopian paradise).

Not sure what it was...the change of scenery, the distance from pressures and failings, not sure, but it was one of the least "empty" moments I've experienced in South Sudan...maybe you would even call it feeling "full."  It gave me my own image of what this portion from a book I recently finished seems to be referring to...the food the drink the laughter the relationships...hors d'oeuvres to the final banquet.  It was mostly down time, time hangin' around, nothing particularly exciting to "write home" about, but the tastes of fullness were delightful.

I've lived most of my time in Mundri with hunger pangs...not for food, we eat quite well in fact, but for relational connection, for work I am well suited for..."suffering" is a strong word, but in a season of struggle this weekend in Juba was the experience of surprise at God's concern and grace and a reminder of the value of living with hunger.

15 May 2012

all in a sunday evening

time travel
anti personnel explosives
Garden & Gun
we know how to do variety here at WHM S. Sudan.
we started our weekly Sunday evening time of team worship and prayer by praying for Michael, who is a self defined time travel enthusiast - one term I don’t think I have ever used to describe myself.  But see, that’s the beauty of this team thing...Michael is fascinated by time travel and is a dreamer, a visionary : time travel threatens my death grip on reality, the here and now, and ask me to come up with creative ideas about how things could be different than they are and I’ll draw a total blank - but need to implement some grand scheme you’ve come up with to change the world? I’m your girl.
This team I’m on here is rich.  Rich with gifts of creativity and vision and intellect and compassion and mercy and the list goes on.  It’s an humbling honor to be a part of it.  But I wouldn’t want to do this life in any other way - yes, we grate on each other’s last nerve, yes, we often see things from entirely different perspectives and approaches, yes we are very very different people but we each contribute immensely to one another’s lives and work and the lives and work of those around us - mercifully imaging facets of who God is that we would not be able to alone.  Now if I could only figure out what it is I contribute to the mix...
After our trip through visionary time travel accompanied by a few worship songs, Boris-the-lonely-South-African joined us for dinner.  Boris works for a company contracted by the UN to do de-mining activities...in this part of the world, that means going around and finding or using the community’s leads on the locations of potential explosives, determining what kind of explosive it is, whether it has already exploded or has yet to explode, and then either disarming or exploding the explosive in a safe-ish fashion.  He had all kinds of stories about friends losing hands and lives in this line of work that has taken him all over the world.  His family lives in S. Africa and he sees them for 2 weeks every 3 months. 
He used this term “anti-personnel” explosives a few times before I inquired about it.  It just seemed like a funny term to me.  Call the thing a bomb or a mine but don’t try to dress it up nice by calling it an “anti-personnel” anything...in my experience, personnel is used when describing a group of employees, it’s an official word used in official contexts to describe official activities - it’s a term of formality/respect. In my mind, the primary purpose of a bomb or a land mine is to destroy things...usually including people’s lives - not very formal or respectful it seems to me.  Turns out, the term is used to differentiate explosives that are used for killing people from explosives which are used for destroying tanks....anti-personnel and anti-tank...still an interesting use of words it seems to me.
Boris says most of the explosives they’re finding in the Mundri area are things that have been “chucked from airplanes” (a direct quote) but failed to explode when they landed...which, to be honest, is quite a sobering reality.  My day to day experience here in Mundri thus far does not often harken me back to the reality of the very recent history of this place.  The very recent history that includes “anti personnel” explosives being “chucked from airplanes” - most of which I can only imagine DID actually explode on impact...the absence of the care that Boris described in their process of safely attempting to disarm/explode these things, and the MANY lives that were lost in the process...I saw something recently that gave a number somewhere in the vicinity of 1 or 1.5 million lives lost in the civil war here between the Sudans...it lasted about 2 decades all of which occurred entirely within my lifetime.  My language tutor reminded me today that Wednesday is a public holiday honoring the day that the SPLA split from the forces of the North and became a rebel force... “It’s the day the SPLA went to the bush,” Alex said.  Hm.  Different spin on the idea of a “holiday.”
So, Boris wowed us with his dramatic stories of disarming explosives - it’s not just any day this is the topic of conversation at our dinner table.  Scott and Boris headed home and we all moved to the “more comfortable seating”... there was clarinet-ing going on by our very own Liana Hope, accompanied by her father on the guitar, there was an intense-ish rubber band war, and then there was me, lounging around wondering “what’s tonight’s actiiiivity?”  Bethany came back from sending an email, she and I chatted about nothing while dodging rubber bands, and I reminded her she needed to bring out this magazine she’d been talking about since returning from the US - Garden & Gun...who woulda thought such a publication would be found in the hands of the cultured Miss Bethany Ferguson, but it’s true.  And who woulda thunk the cover would have a red/white checked table cloth with a scrumptious BBQ sandwich deliciously displayed in the middle...not I. 
She had mentioned several of the articles in random conversations and I was kind of intrigued by what this publication would be like.  The byline is “The Soul of the South.”  Now, really truly I am a Yankee.  Caleb talked about a road trip he took with his sister across the south and of the places he mentioned I had only been to Atlanta and Memphis...pretty sad.  But maybe that’s why this magazine is intriguing with it’s stories about southern urban renaissance and pieces written by Emmylou Harris...a cultural education of sorts, I suppose.  As I read a few articles, looked at some pictures, chatting as I went along about what I found, tucking it under my arm as I headed to bed I was reminded of something...I do have another life...there is another life in which I have interests and experiences and things to talk about...it just has little to no overlap with my current life station!  
Whoever thought I’d thank a publication called Garden & Gun for reminding me of a bit more of who I am :)  Encouragement from the most unlikely of places.  Hey, I’ll take it.  All in a Sunday evening.

13 May 2012


A bit out of season but just as happy as ever :)

“Heidi, if I can do it, you can do it.”
This is what my mom told me when I was a junior in high school and considering pursuing nursing but doubtful that I’d be able to hack it.
“Remember Who’s in your boat!”
This is what my mom called after us as we ran out the door to school in the morning.
“Just have fun out there!”
This is what my mom used to yell from the sidelines at my softball and soccer games (while dad, sitting next to her, yelled “keep your eye on the ball!” or something of the sort:)
“I’ve got too many birds on my wires”
This is what my mom says when she’s got too many things rumbling around in her head.
This is what my mom said when she greeted a church full of folks at a seminar in Bundibugyo...(the morning greeting is pronounced “oh-ligh-yo”)
“Are you drinking enough water?”
This is what my mom says every time I talk to her on the phone, and when we reported to her feeling sick when we were small.
“How’s your heart?”
This is my mom’s other go-to question on the phone - after she has determined whether I am adequately hydrated or not.
“It’s ok to cry.”
My mom on the appropriateness of emotional expression.
“Just call me smooth Sue.”
My mom dreaming she’s someone else :)
She’s got the best mom-ears in the world - whisper at the door to their bedroom that you’re having a bad dream and she’s awake and out of bed in an instant - meanwhile dad is still 3 sheets to the wind...although I think maybe she’s outgrown this skill with lack of opportunities to use it for, say, the last 15 years or so.
We fought most about 2 things: me practicing the piano and her brushing my hair (take notice of the differences in our hair the next time you see us together...ouch ouch ouch!)
She has this incredible ability to see things from other people’s perspectives - and have it lead to an increased measure of compassion for them, even if they behave unbelievably hateful towards her.
She loves to camp.  Loves, loves, loves, to camp.  Tents, lean-to’s, cabins, rain, bears? bring ‘em on.
She loves to have her kids all together.  It doesn’t happen all that often anymore, well, for obvious reasons, but she just soaks up every minute.
She’s got classy taste in most things.
She frequently gets home from the grocery store and realizes she’s left an entire bag of things she bought there at the store...it makes her blood boil but I think it’s hilarious :)
She’s a GREAT cook even though she hates to be in the kitchen.
You can tell when she’s been baking - every cabinet door is open and there is flour on every surface of the kitchen.
She loves being a Family Nurse Practitioner (from womb to tomb as they say :).  AND she’s pretty darn good at it, too.  You have a bazillion chronic diseases, no job, no health insurance, no money and no support system? She’s your woman!
She’s quite a lady and I love her very much.
Here’s to YOU, mom.  Hug from afar!

12 May 2012

I wish you could see...

  • my friend, who Caleb astutely pointed out is not actually my friend seeing as I’ve never spoken to him and don’t know his name, who is either Dinka or Mandari (I can’t exactly remember which way the scaring goes on his forehead...I think it’s in a V so I think he’s Mandari), and wears these amazing striped pajamas around town, drinking tea on cool mornings, buttoned all the way up to his chin and the pants only come down to his shins because he’s so darn tall...makes me smile every time
  • the brilliance of the blue sky and white clouds today as a contrast to the bright new greens of the first weeks of rain this season
  • the South Sudanese smiles I see everyday
  • the red stains the mud kick back from my bike tires leaves on my clothes...reminds me of the line from Blood Diamond that talks about how the soil is red because of the blood shed...not actually true but an interesting metaphor for the effects of war on a place...
  • the shades of red that my face has turned when I get off my bike at 10am as I arrive at my morning Arabic lesson
  • the draw of attention my arrival at the duka/tea shop for my arabic lesson as all the men sitting there turn and watch my blonde approach
  • the giant brilliant green chamelion (sp?) that crossed the red dirt road in front of my bike this afternoon - so incredible!
  • the 70’s Catholic Sunday School image of Jesus that is displayed at the front of the church I’ve been going to - along with the clock that ever reads 5:35, the stuffed pink sheep that hangs among the chinese new year decoration leftovers and the christmas tinsel and kitenge scraps that hang from string down the middle of the church aisle to add a bit of color to the place :)
  • the looks on the faces of the kids as I walk through the greeting line after church and shake everyone’s hands...fear, glee, hesitation, perplexion (I think I made that word up), you name it and it’s written as clear as day all over their faces
  • the juxtaposition of the traditional dress of the Dinka, Mandari  (short shift-esque dresses that end signficantly above these very tall men’s knees) and even Massai (woven plaid cloths wrapped as clothing) men around town with the jeans and t-shirts and way-hip-er-than-I haircuts - both kinds of men with the dramatic facial scarring that is part of their tribal traditions...reminds me of where again it is that I live :)
  • the “chalice” of communion “wine” (actually a wine glass decorated with painted lines around it like the sun tea jar my mom used to use in the 80’s) filled with Fanta orange
  • the pastor’s stole with the classic Pittsburgh Steelers/Pirates black and gold motif - black stole with big gold crosses embroidered at both ends (maybe my dad would wear robes if they could be black and gold :)
  • the cute little 3-4 mo baby I held in the market today named Obama who gnawed on my hands for 20 minutes or so....precious!
  • the gentle care that blind people here are given (there’s a lot of River Blindness around) as they’re carefully led around by children or their sisters/neighbors
  • the tall dark Dinka man walking around town with a black t-shirt with huge white block letters that read “F*ck you, f*ckin’ f*ck you” or something like that...American english reaching the world at it’s best...I don’t think he had any idea what it meant...or shall I say, I hope he had no idea what it meant...and the gasp that came out of my mouth as I read it as he passed me on his way into my tutor’s shop...
  • the stars that were scattered across the clear night sky last night
  • the gorgeous mahogany flowers that litter the path from our compound to our office
  • the "sparkle" of the clean cement floor in the team house after being swept and double mopped - and conversely how dirty it will look tomorrow at this time
  • just how badly my hair needs cut...

08 May 2012


What's Heidi up to these days?  How's everything going in South Sudan?  Why isn't she writing more?  Maybe nothing's going on and there's nothing to write about...

Things in my brain feel frenetic...externally my life is not at all that way, I'm not at all running from place to place with no time to think...but what's going on inside does not at all match what's going on outside...it makes sense, but it doesn't obviously match.  There's a lot going on up there...still watching a lot, listening a lot, trying to process what I'm taking in, still the new girl.  It has been hard for me to sit and write in this season...hard to synthesize it all into thoughts...hard to turn the thoughts into words (written or verbal!)...hard to talk to people on the phone, hard to talk with people here in person, hard to write...so be patient, if you would.  Know that there's fodder for about 16 blog posts bouncing around in my head...not being able to synthesize things into thoughts makes me feel very discombobulated...one of these days I'll be able to think clearly...until then - have patience :)


Rumor:  South Sudanese/Sudanese refugees fleeing to Kenya
Reality: - Kakuma Refugee camp (Kenya) approximate population: 94,000 (most from Sudan and South Sudan)
          estimated daily new refugee registration: 100
         maximum capacity: 100,000
         estimated date for reaching capacity: 2-3 months 
              - UN reports planning to open new camp: Kalobeyey
        location: 25 km from Kakuma
        maximum capcity: 80,000

              -  estimated ADDITIONAL refugee population already settled in camps in S. Sudan and Ethiopia: 144,000
             -  distance from South Kordofan/Blue Nile (conflict hot spots) to Kakuma = at least 500miles (as the crow flies 
                VERY sketchily estimated from google maps).
When I think about 250,000 people, I think of upwards of 6 baseball stadiums at maximum capacity...I think of 3/4 of the population of St. Louis City or the vast majority of the City of Pittsburgh... 
When I think about walking at least 500 miles, I think of having to walk across Pennsylvania and Ohio combined + some...and based on my road experiences here in rural africa I feel like maybe even doubling the “as the crow flies” distance might be a more reasonable estimation of walking distance....which would mean a walk longer than the drive from St. Louis to Philadelphia (from the Mississippi River to the east coast!!!!).
How’s that for perspective?
I know it’s hard to know how to read about 250,000 people (many from Sudan and South Sudan, also from Somalia and Ethiopia) who have fled from violence/famine in their home places to massive camps in other countries and know how it might affect someone you know living in another place in that country/region.  I know that when you hear words like “impending war” and “UN peacekeepers” and “refugee camps” there very well may be flashes of scenes from movies like Blood Diamond or threatening images from news broadcasts you’ve seen that come to mind.
First you need to know that my life, and the world I see everyday, is nothing like either of those.  I live several days of travel from any of the “hot” spots along the border between S. Sudan and her neighbor to the north.
Second, in my mind that shouldn’t change your concern for the events of this conflict you’ve read about, or heard radio spots about, as you sit or move around town in the perceived safety and comfort of the US of A or wherever you find yourself in the world.
I know nothing of the lives of the people in Blue Nile or South Kordofan.  I know nothing of what it would be like to WALK from the border of Sudan/S. Sudan to Kenya in fear for my life and the lives of my family.  When I try to imagine, I picture scenes from movies...dusty or muddy roads filled with lines of people walking slowly with their heads down for as far as you can see...isn’t it amazing how Hollywood has affected so much of our perception of the world?...well, at least my perception, I suppose I should speak for myself...but in my experience thus far, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the UN outposts I’ve seen, the remnants of such situations, feel nothing like the movies...while some of the stories no doubt mimic the plot lines of movies and the UN tents are still white with big black block letters on them, and while I do think there's a place for hollywood to make movies about world events, there’s something missing...something I can’t quite put my finger on.  It just feels different.  It feels real.  
When you can smell the white tarpauline tents as you walk past them, leftover from past  peace initiatives, when you can see each wrinkle on the face of a woman telling her story of exile, when a friend asks her about whether she liked the experience of flying when she talks of the plane she and a few hundred others were flown back home on after the war, when you see the corners of a building beside otherwise disheveled heaps of stones and bricks overgrown with vines where a school used to be...it feels different.  It feels real.  
And then I head back to my desk and there’s a stack of Arabic flashcards waiting for me, and a computer screen full of emails to respond to, and dinner to prepare, and the reality escapes me yet again.  Even here in Mundri, the reality escapes us...escapes me.  Sometimes I’m shocked of the news I hear about what’s going on in other parts of this very country...
You may know that the politics are far from simple, neither Sudan nor South Sudan is without blame, the conflict runs DEEP...you should also know my numbers are VERY rough estimates from lots of different sources and I am far from an authority on international political conflicts or anything remotely related (don't go forwarding this around like some authority on the two Sudans' conflict) but I hope they help you think a bit differently about what's going on here.
Maybe the images of baseball stadiums full of people, distances you are familiar with, populations you have seen for yourself, will help it feel more real to you and to me.  Maybe if it feels more real our hearts will be compelled to pray, or pray more often, or think about praying.