Blog Post 5: First Day in South Sudan, January 14, 2013 10:02pm - Dana Plair

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Driving over South Sudan, you could see desolate land for miles, mostly dry, dead grass with a scattering of trees. It bore the face of war. Undeveloped and stripped bare. My heart resorted to prayer. This song spilled from my lips on behalf of South Sudan, proclaiming that this will be their song of praise up to God: "Your grace is enough More than I need At Your Word I will believe I wait for You Draw near again Let Your Spirit make me new 

And I will fall at Your feet I will fall at Your feet And I will worship You here I will worship You here

Your presence in  me Jesus light the way By the power of Your word I am restored I am redeemed By Your spirit I am free

And I will fall at Your feet I will fall at Your feet And I will worship You Here I will worship You here

Freely You gave it all for us Surrendered Your life upon that cross Great is Your love Poured out for all This is our God

Lifted on high from death to life Forever our God is glorified Servant and King Rescued the world This is our God"

Arriving in Juba International Airport was a test of patience. Our connecting private plane was nowhere to be found. I visited the airport gift shop run by an organization called The Roots South Sudan, empowering women to provide for themselves and their families using the arts.  I spoke with the woman running the store, many of the beadwork and jewelry was her own. This reaffirmed the vision I have for the women in Werkok. To start a savings bank and see them trained to use their skills to start their own business. Teaching them how to fish for a lifetime.

I used the rest of our layover time to  read up on the history of South Sudan, as told in the book, They Poured Fire On Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan. The stories of first hand accounts from the evil atrocities done by the government supported janjaweed militia. It brought tears to my eyes. I had to push myself to read on. I would recommend you read it for yourself, my summary cannot do it justice.

Four hours after our arrival, the private plane arrived. Thirty minutes later, we drove out to the airstrip. We loaded the plane and the pilot prayed for our flight and work to come. Just before the plane fully taxied and turned onto the runway, it swerved to the right with a screeching stop. Steel grinding upon pavement. The U.N. workers pointed to the tire in an urgent sweep of their pointer fingers. The pilot got out to confirm that it was indeed completely flat. Thank God they caught it! Where would we be if not for His grace!

Landing in Werkok, we were greeted by a crowd of smiling children. A welcome party fit for kings and queens! What a joy it was to see them:) I immediately took to hugging each of them, taking pictures and showing them their beautiful faces on the screen. How they loved this!

They huddled around me to watch the plane take off to return to Juba, cheering as it flew away in the clear blue sky. I adored them already. We would have so many fun moments ahead of us.

Walking toward the village, I took video of two girls pumping water from the well like a seesaw. Once they discovered video, they all wanted a moment on film. Even the older women. The children flocked to me wherever I went, posing for pictures, laughing and listening closely to my words to repeat them back to me. "Smile," they'd say, as that was always my preface  before pictures.

They had such bright eyes, wide and curious. Children so talented and kind. We met up with two boys playing with homemade tonka trucks along the way. They'd used scraps of sheet metal, cardboard and blue tea-light candles. I was captivated by their ingenuity, little engineers in the making. One of them had a string attached and I challenged him to race it for me. I filmed him as he ran up the path before being stopped by one of the women. She rallied the children to return to pumping water and leaving me to go along my way. I greeted her, showing my respect and said farewell to the children.

I took so many photos before I finally arrived at the hospital compound. I greeted everyone with a handshake and a hug, when they initiated. The South Sudanese are so kind and inviting. They welcomed me right in.

By late afternoon, I had met most of the MCH staff, toured the grounds, greeted patients and was sitting with five women having girl talk, as one of the younger women played with my hair.  I promised to give her the yellow dress I was wearing. I told the older woman that I would find something for her. I brought sewing kits for the women and I told them I want a dress like theirs.

They taught me how to say "hello" and "goodbye" in Dinka. I waved and used my new goodbye greeting as I journeyed to the main yard. One of the young men took me to see downtown. Though undeveloped, it still offered three shops and a small chess club. I challenged them to a match later in the week. They accepted. I know they'll probably beat me, but I'll give it a fighting chance;)

I saw the tukel houses made of mud, sticks and reeds. There were two schools, primary and secondary. I saw the commissioners house, a community center and two churches, one is shaped like a cross. There was a blazing fire in the distance. This was to clear the tall grass, for security reasons. They keep the grass low in order to see any intruders afar off. Remnant defense strategies from years of raids, attacks and massacres.

I saw so much potential in this town. There was an empty shop built with simple tree-limb posts that the women could use to sell craft items. I found out they have great skills, like making lasas, mats and tukel art.

We walked back to the compound as the crescent moon rested nestled in the sky, ending the night eating dinner under the stars. With nature surrounding us, I smiled at the contrast of New York City and its sirens compared to Werkok and its crickets. I'd prefer a symphony of music over horns any day.