31 January 2013

"Baby it's HOT outside"

The trees and ornaments and paper snowflakes are long packed away again, the sing-a-long music familiar to all of us in the team house has been replaced by whatever musical craving someone has who felt like listening to something.  The readying of presents and cooking baking and recreating of traditions has been replaced by planning for next month’s crazy travel in/out of the country, in/out of Mundri, handing over of responsibilities to cover for upcoming travel, strategic planning and “cluster” meetings, and questions of why are we here and how best to be collectively and individually faithful to our calling(s).

I have been asked what the holidays are like here, by many who have a hard time imagining spending Christmas in a place where you sweat instead of shiver, where it’s the crackle of the dry sorghum blowing in the afternoon wind that you hear instead of the howling of the cold wind in a snowstorm, where the special beverages are frozen mango slushies with a splash of lime instead of peppermint hot chocolate or steaming wassail from the crock pot.  So, on the last day of January, it's about time to give you a glimpse.

On several of our Christmas ipod mixes here, the song “Baby it’s cold outside” popped up fairly often...thing is, here in South Sudan it couldn’t be further from the truth.  My sister told me it was 19 degrees F in St. Louis on Christmas Eve, it was approximately 90 degrees hotter than that here on the same day.  Every once in a while you would hear someone sigh and sing along with a “Baby it’s HOT outside,” and everyone in the room would twist their brains in a knot trying to imagine the classic American Christmas images we grew up with, from movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, of cutting down evergreen trees while bundled in coats, walking in snow filled streets, ice skating and drinking hot chocolate while hovering by the fire.

Christmas looks different in South Sudan, but we do what we can to recreate some of our family traditions when possible and adopt new traditions for the rest.

We had a Christmas tree - with low energy usage LED fiberoptic lights:

“Snowflakes” in the form of Christmas lights (again, low energy LED's) and paper cut-outs:

The Norwegian “White Dinner” complete with lefsa but with pierogies and chicken kebabs grilled outside over charcoal instead of the traditional baked fish(?):

the whole team at our "white" christmas dinner
We shopped for presents in the market instead of the mall:

we wrapped presents, but with kitenge cloth not paper with santa’s and reindeer:

We cooked Christmas feasts with our South Sudanese friends, involving butchering the cow with meat that is still quivering instead of a trip to the grocery store:

and cooking with firewood over three stones instead of turning the appropriate knob to light the oven to the correct temperature.

the Christmas feast preparations at my church 

and the firewood required for cooking said feast

We made Moru Christmas cookies with friends, involving mixing the ingredients with your hands in a basin on the ground instead of a KitchenAid mixer on the counter:

about to get my mixing on

Larissa cranking the "cookie mill" with a friend laying them out neatly on the greased pan

the oven is in the back on the left behind us heated by hot charcoal on top,  pans of cookies go inside

We gave packages of gifts to friends, walking/biking to their house with the packages in our bike baskets instead of wrapping brown paper packages and putting them in the mail:

We made familiar Christmas sugar cookies but with carefully distributed butter from we flew in from another country (Uganda) instead of Land’o’Lakes from Schnucks:

and an advent wreath with plastic greenery instead of fragrant evergreen clippings from the neighbor’s yard.

There were special Christmas outfits that are borrowed from friends and strategically planned to be as cool as possible, instead of newly pressed and with as many layers as possible to keep warm:

special hair-do’s that are done while sitting on the cement water run-off drainage canal from the borehole next to your friends’ house, instead of in a beauty salon with lights around the big mirror and a hand full of machines to make your hair look the way you want:

hours of washing dishes with water from a 50 gallon drum filled by young girls carrying heavy jugs on their heads from the pump and reusing the previous bowl full of water for watching each bowl under it in the stack and strings from a sugar sack as a scrubbing sponge, instead of a dishwasher where you load organized racks and dump the soap in and press START:

(really I could write a whole blog post just about the dish washing scenario...complete with marriage proposals - and my prompt refusal with the single word “sorry”- and input/suggestions/scoldings from about 4 different women on my technique of what felt like washing and rewashing the same 20 beef-greasy plates with minimal amounts of cold dirty water used to wash the plate before...fun times, fun times :)

a night of Christmas caroling where children run from neighboring compounds to hear our meager attempt at singing, and where women “ay-yi-yi-yi-yi” in the dark during our rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” instead people who are not interested closing the front doors of their well lit and warmed houses:

Viewings of The Nativity Story movie at two local churches, projected outside at dark on a tarp screen:

gingerbread houses decorated with hovercraft and florida 'hood themes:
Andrew & Gaby's hovercraft house
Melissa & I's Florida 'hood house

nativity story re-enactments complete with trophies and genie lamps as frankincense and myrrh:

holiday parties at the neighbor's house complete with men playing dominos and women cooking:

Jenn honing her kisra making skills (Moru spongy flatbread)
St. Nicholas' day (thanks to Bethany) with grass baskets instead of sturdy shoes, and Far Side comics and Christmas Trivia cards instead of coal or oranges:

Crafts with friends (cross stitching instead of knitting cold weather garments):

portraits with Santa and Frosty except with shaving cream instead of a bushy fake hair beard:


and Christmas morning conversations with family that are actually Christmas morning for them but Christmas evening for you, and over a blurry Skype video stream instead of face to face at the kitchen table over hot cinnamon rolls :(

It was all good, really good.  It was a good combination of quality time spent with different groups of people I love.  Hot, yes, but fun, cheerful, festive, meaningful, encouraging, relationship solidifying, tradition building and Christmas just the same.

17 January 2013


No, there’s no security risks, we’re not being evacuated from South Sudan, I’m rather referring to the medical term used here to describe a procedure following an aborted pregnancy (whether elective or spontaneous) to “clean out” the woman’s uterus if she has persistent abdominal pain following the abortion, or is having trouble conceiving when she has been successful in the past.  We call them D&C’s in the USA.

I’ve seen 4 of them in the last 2 days that I’ve gone to the health center.  One for a woman having difficulty conceiving and 3 for women who have lost 2nd trimester babies days/weeks before, and 3 of them back to back yesterday.  It’s been a smack of reality for several reasons.

1) It’s out of my usual pediatric/wound care nursing realm - my only OB/GYN experience was while studying abroad in Israel 13 years ago.  I think getting experience from different angles of medicine is really eye opening.  Usually I get to take care of children who are sick, but survived childbirth at least.  This is caring for women whose bodies could not, or chose not to, sustain life for one reason or another.  Seems like it should be similar but felt very different - and very outside my skill set.

Whether it’s true or not, there’s at least enough prevalence of syphilis here in Mundri
to cause Zebra, the Theatre Assistant/Nurse who does the D&C’s, to blame the 2nd trimester spontaneous abortions on the presence of the disease even though their medical histories including nothing of it...Again, I’m used to treating children, some of whom have STD’s but not as many as I’ve seen in adults young and old here.  The promiscuity evidenced in the prevalence of syphilis is disheartening/maddening depending on the day.

3) The way that women’s usually private anatomy is treated during the procedure like a car being worked on by a mechanic makes every muscle in my body tense up (similarly to Scott’s while we watched Zebra do a couple circumcisions a few weeks ago).  Metal rods and forceps and clamps and such (no idea what the instruments are actually called) being shoved and scraped around inside there is not what our bodies were made for - I’m pretty sure of it after watching that as a woman.  NOT OK.  But that’s just it, death occurring inside of us isn’t what our bodies were made for either.  One in certain instances requires the other.  For some reason the car mechanic approach is easier for me to handle when there’s a scalpel and cutting involved...shoving and scraping things inside natural orifices is just disturbing - kinda like dentistry...

Death is just a hard reality, whether the woman has chosen it for her body/offspring or not.  The 3 in a row thing yesterday made the reality of the loss of life here even more in my face.  And this is after being greeted in the morning by a friend who when I asked what the news was, she told me “akubar mafi, kulu mutu bes” - “there is no news only that everyone’s dying.”  We talked about how it seemed like there were funerals daily (and yesterday I knew of 3) for people young and old, important people and lowly people, everyone here is susceptible, no one can escape this reality.  She went off to bury her cousin-sister’s 9 mo baby who died that morning at the hospital 45 minutes away, and I went off to the maternity ward where Zebra was waiting with an apron, mask and sterile gloves for me to help her face a similar reality, just a different form and  just a few steps removed.

And the reasons go on.  But I rushed home to cook dinner for the team and be a part of a house chores discussion and Bible/book study re. our calling and why we are here in South Sudan and what that and we should look/live like here.  Not even a re-run of the Cosby show could quite shake these realities from my mind...if Bill can’t do it, you know it’s serious :)  But that’s why I’m here, to offer help and hope in the face of such realities,    I pray that’s what I did.