Joel and I have settled into somewhat of a routine in these early days of Sudan. We’ve unpacked our bags and are getting to know the people around us. Other than getting used to daily temperatures in the mid-high 30Cs, we are enjoying life.
We live in a little, yellow, one-room, grass-roof, tukul (house). It is about 3×4 meters inside with a 1.5×4 meter screened-in porch. Inside we have a bed, mosquito net, a small round table, a chair, a bed-side table, and a shelf. In the porch we have 2 comfy chairs and 2 bikes.
Our tukul is on the guesthouse compound of the Diocese of Rumbek, whom we work with. Within this compound there are about 15 other tukuls, a dining room and kitchen, 2 bathroom/shower buildings (with 3 toilets and 3 showers each), and a storage building. There is running water 24 hours a day and electricity for 3 hours each evening when the generator is turned on, from 7-10pm.
There are other people on this compound, called Pan Door or House of Peace, who, like us, live here long-term. Our neighbours are Ugandan, Kenyan, German, and Slovakian. We form an “accidental” community (as opposed to “intentional” community) and have fun eating together (mostly Kenyan-type food) and hanging out with each other in the evenings, comparing stories and advice from the day. Most of our neighbours also work for the Catholic Diocese here in Rumbek, but some work for other NGOs in this part of the country.
Other people come to stay at Pan Door for shorter times but can add new stories and adventures to the mix. Currently there is a German couple here who call themselves, “the first tourists of Southern Sudan”. For more than 30 years, they have spent their vacations driving across Africa and a couple years ago, after the war officially ended, put southern Sudan on their itinerary.
Pan Door is on the edge of Rumbek which is the capital city of the Lake State. Rumbek is a spread-out, low-lying city that could get mistaken for a small town. But there are city-like things as well: an airport, prison, hospital, government offices, a major shopping area, internet cafes, hotels, and restaurants (where you can find exotic things like pizza or injera).There are motorcycle taxis, and matatus (crowded vans) that can help you get from one place to another. There are people, goats, dogs, pigs, cows, and NGO vehicles that try to share the roads and ditches. When you ask someone from here how many people live in Rumbek, they will laugh at you, like you are telling a funny joke. To give you an idea of why this might be a difficult question to answer: the recent census of southern Sudan reported that there were 2 million people in the entire south; according to the Catholic church’s estimates, there are about 2.8 million people in Rumbek Diocese alone.
Joel and I are working for the Diocese of Rumbek, a Catholic Diocese that covers an area about 40% of Italy’s size (we compare it to Italy because a lot of the fathers here are Italian). Within the diocese there are people from 20 different nationalities. For the last week we have been part of the annual Assembly which brings many of the people who work for Diocese together to talk about the work being done and to make plans for the coming year. It has been good to meet people from many of the areas we hope to be visiting in the coming months. We are still very much in the learning phase of life here. And by “learning”, I mean meetings. We have another week of Assembly here in Rumbek. Then Joel and I will be heading to Juba for Justice and Peace Coordination meetings, followed by a Peacebuilders Training Course. After all those meetings we should be overwhelmed enough to settle into … something.
The concrete things we know now are that Joel will be helping coordinate some civic education workshops throughout the Diocese and that I will start doing some work with HIV/AIDS. We are hoping to work closely together with a Trauma Healing Centre and with the Women’s Desk.