The last time I arrived at Juba International Airport I was shocked at the dilapidated and chaotic manner in which immigrations and customs control operated. They were using a ramshackle building next to the large skeleton of a terminal that has sat unfinished since way before independence in 2011. This time I was surprised to find that even that dilapidated building was now under construction. So what they were using now were Rub-Hall tents. The first tent had a container on one side with little windows in it and this was passport control. “Welcome to South Sudan.” The man said to me as he stamped my passport.
Then the passengers are shuffled into an overcrowded tent number two where the newly arrived are required to wait in the 90 degree heat for a dirty old pickup truck to bring the bags from the plane. A mad scramble begins while everyone tries to push and shove their way to their luggage and then somehow get one of the officials to look at it so we can be cleared. “Welcome to South Sudan,” the customs official says as he writes SS with a piece of chalk on the outside of my luggage to show he has formally checked the contents.
Sr. Dorothy and Br. Bill greeted me with a very friendly “Welcome to Juba” and took me directly to the Solidarity office in the capital. We had a good meal and caught up on all the happenings since last I was here 18 months ago. I was supposed to fly out the next day but all flights were cancelled for some reason. This is a frequent problem with travel in South Sudan. You just never know what will happen so you plan extra days in advance to make sure you get to where you want to go on time. Two days later I return to the airport tent city to clear through for my 90 minute flight to Yambio in the Western part of South Sudan.
Sr. Margaret Scott was waiting on the rudimentary, gravel runway and gave me a warm hug and smile. “Welcome to Yambio.” she said. It was good to see her again after 18 months. She hadn’t changed a bit and was her usual energetic and upbeat self. We chatted away during the 20 minute bumpy ride along the way to the college. Not one inch of the dusty roads of Yambio is paved. There are huge crevices everywhere and Sr. Margaret has to turn the truck this way and that to avoid the deep gullies. It is the dry season and super find dust infiltrates every inch. Literally, everything is covered with the fine dust giving a reddish tint to every structure.
At the college, I was touched by all the people who remembered me and said, “Welcome back to Solidarity Teacher Training College.” The nine religious brothers and sisters who live and work in the college were all smiles and hugs as we exchanged greetings. Some of the students remembered me and they too welcomed me back.
I had carried rosaries and crosses as little gifts for the staff. The staff were all so glad to see me back. I gave each of them little rosaries and crosses. The next day many of them were wearing the colourful beads around their necks. All of them gratefully thanked me as I met them along the way. One of the cooks says in broken English, “We happy to have you back. Welcome!”
That night as I lay in my little bed I thought of what Jesus said to his disciples, “…look for a worthy person in every town …and stay …until you leave.” I thought of all the “nice welcomes” I had received and I felt truly blessed. These suffering people are so generous and grateful that I would come from so far to be with them. Yes, I think I will stay in this place for a while sharing the Good News. Welcome Back Indeed!
Solidarity Teacher Training College is run by a group of international religious from various congregations and institutes. Our college has 15 tutors from 9 different countries. There are 125 students from all over the nation and a few from Sudan in the north. The compound has classrooms, a library, a computer room, dorms for women and men, a cafeteria and several warehouses. The religious staff have their own house and everyone has their own room.
Sr. Margaret Scott is the Principal and she has a very difficult challenge. She has to house and feed over 140 people every day. She has to constantly be on top of problems, which may arise due to so many different ethnic groups and tribes living in close quarters for the first time in their lives. She also has to deal with all sorts of challenges like finding petrol, cash from banks, fixing broken vehicles, re-doing the class schedule when a teacher is sick or on leave and many other duties. She does it all with grace and style. She has asked me to assist her in these duties.
The daily schedule is rather regimented. We pray the Liturgy of the Hours at 6:30am. Mass is at the next door parish church….bring your own flashlight and chair. Teachers quickly eat breakfast on their own. Student Assembly and prayer is at 8:00am. 8:30am the classes begin. There are 6 classes every day and we end around 4:30pm. One might have an hour or so to rest but generally there are so many other things to do. Evening prayer is at 6:30pm followed by supper at 7:00pm. Sr. Margaret insists we all attend supper, because it really is the only time during the day that we as a community have relaxing time together. So we sit around in the open air recounting the days stories and gossip. It is a nice peaceful time. We all take turns cooking food and everyone helps with the dishes afterward. Currently, I am the only lay person in the group. Everyone treats me with respect and dignity. I like the community members with whom I live and work.
I am still trying to find my balance here at the college. I have been asked to teach Social Studies to 4 different levels, Religious Education and sometimes I substitute for another subject if the teacher is sick. I am also helping with grant writing, donor relations, documentation, interviewing and tracking all students. I have community responsibilities too. I help cook meals, plan prayer, clean up around the staff house, and every Saturday morning I go with the sisters to the market and carry the heavy bags to and from the vehicle.
My room is the only place for solitude on the campus. I have a private bath with freezing cold showers, which is not bad when the temperatures are over 90 during the day. Surprisingly, the mornings are quite chilly. One of my luggage bags was lost on the way to Africa so it has just arrived in Nairobi. I am hoping someone coming to South Sudan will be kind enough to carry it for me. God willing.
Praise the Lord it is relatively quiet in the country at the moment. The government has run a campaign to incorporate some of the rebels that have been terrorizing the countryside into the regular army. This has calmed the violence in some parts of the country. But, the leaders have a lot of work ahead of them to secure a future for this impoverished country. Corruption is rampant and it is reflected in all sectors of society. God have mercy on us all.
At the moment, I am teaching 16 hours of Social Studies to four different levels at the college. I am also teaching Christian Religious Education to Level 3 and 4. This is because several teachers are out sick. So we are all trying to cover the subjects for them. I am also taking documentary photos for Solidarity. I am also working on some grants for the projects. I also help out at Riimenze Agricultural Project which is another Solidarity project about 2 hours from here. They mostly need help with English when writing their reports and grant propsals. So I don’t have to go there. I simply edit their drafts. Then I help Sr. Margaret Scott with office administration and things that she needs at the moment. In situations like this a person ends up doing quite a bit of everything. She is a very good person to work with Thank God. We get along well.
Once again, I thank all of you for the support and prayers. If you would like to continue to support my mission, please send any donations to:
MARYKNOLL LAY MISSIONERS
P.O. Box 307
Maryknoll, NY 10545
and mention my name.
Love and prayers,