There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and at time to heal, a time to tear down and time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace…
He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Eccl. 3)
[Or if you’d rather hear it sung, The Byrds: http://youtu.be/W4ga_M5Zdn4]
During the ‘cooler’ rainy season, the temperature in South Sudan reaches between a comfortable 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with unreasonably high humidity. Okay, let’s be honest – to a girl who grew up in spoiled Santa Barbara, where the average high is 72 degrees, moved to Seattle, where the sun rarely shines, and now lives in temperate (relatively speaking) Nairobi, these temperatures are far from comfortable. I share mutual feelings with a friend currently working in South Sudan, “It’s so hot that all I want to do is peel off my skin.” All this to say, showering twice a day is not optional.
In this culturally, environmentally, and resource rich country, the pace of work, types of food consumed, celebrations shared, and individual body fat percentage are greatly determined by the season.
Dry Season. Hunger Season. Rainy Season. Flood Season. Repeat.
Seasons are a way of life, and there is a season for everything (including, but not limited to, marriage season and facial scarring season)
I arrived in South Sudan on April 25, about ¾ of the way through the dry season and entering into the beginning of the hunger/rainy season. Since mid-January, temperatures in the country had, as they always do, skyrocketed to a scorching 95+ degrees Fahrenheit, sucking moisture out of every possible living thing (with the exception of my sweat, which constantly flowed).
During the dry season, the once lush, vibrant, green land of South Sudan morphs into a dusty wasteland, sparsely scattered with remaining resilient trees. The deep reddish-brown dirt becomes a light-red/tan to match the buildings, fields, and cows. It’s as if they all blend together as one.
Locals saunter around town, doing their best to maintain strength despite the extreme heat, inevitable dehydration, and lack of proper nourishment. Even the cows appear gauntly, as if shrunken by the harsh environment. Women walk for miles in perfect line formation, carrying large jerry cans of water on their heads, singing and shaking shakers in order to keep up motivation.
As the season wears on, crops, livestock, and even humans begin to wither away. Cows are seen slowly crossing the road in search of grass, weak with malnutrition. Countless women carry large sacks on their heads, braving the heat in the hopes of selling stored crops in town, stopping frequently to rest under the shade of a heaven-sent tree. An elderly Dinka man, marked by his traditional facial scars and towering stick-thin figure, walks past local shops holding a long stick, his thawb blowing in the dusty wind. Families sleep in their beds outside of their tukuls in an attempt to soak in the slightest breeze.
By this point, most all of the harvest from the previous season has either been sold, traded, or consumed. Unfortunately, every year, far too many people have depleted their food supply long before the rains are able to bring new life. The daily routine of two meals a day rapidly lessens to one plus a cup of tea – and life seems to move a.bit.more.slowly. Somehow, energy must be maintained in order to cultivate the very minute that the big rains arrive.
When I arrived late April, the anticipation of rains to come could be felt in the dusty, dry air. The lands were audibly crying out for moisture, a respite from the beating sun. Every afternoon I watched foreboding clouds pile up on the horizon. Then a strong wind, lasting no more than 30 minutes, would blow them away.
Finally, as I lay in Lietnhom, sweating under a mosquito net in my personal tukul, I watched out of the door as imminent dark clouds crept in to cover the sky. Suddenly, every animal in the village seemed to be talking, as if to warn of, or cry out for, the coming rains. In the distance, a steady and resounding drumbeat could be heard – I wondered aloud (to myself of course), “Could this be a rain dance?”
And then it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained. [During this time, FIVE LARGE TOADS decided to find shelter in my tukul.]
The dry season had officially ended.
After a few more rains, families would begin to cultivate their plots (they ensure that the rains are falling consistently before planting their precious seeds).
Once cultivation is complete, the waiting begins. Waiting for new growth, for healthy cows to plow, and for food.
This is when the hunger season is at its peak. As the land quickly changes from bleak to lush, the bountifully green environment can be deceiving to any outsider [I found myself a victim of deception when I visited last July]. Until the crops are ready to be harvested, most South Sudanese families will survive on little to no food.
[Note: As I write this, I am listening to the song ‘Irene’ by one of my favorite bands Beach House. A few lines from this song describe the beginning of South Sudan’s rainy season quite perfectly, “It’s a strange paradise…It’s a strange paradise…”]
World Concern, along with many other organizations, the most famous being the One Acre Fund, are working with farmers across Africa to find innovative ways of storing, saving, and planting during the dry season. This is to reduce the extremity and length of the hunger season.
Since the first big rain, the sky has remained dotted with many menacing clouds, but very few rains.
(There has also been a multitude magnificent lightning storms- which are not so magnificent when they strike your compound, electrocute you, start a small fire, and cause you to throw your computer and hard drive across the room…)
Driving through Warrap state, it is apparent that women and children are now working to cultivate in full force. Many women can be seen working on their knees (the traditional stance), tilling large sums of land. As soon as the cattle gain strength from the incoming vegetation, those who own them will alternate to plowing (a much more efficient, less energy-consuming method).
To many outsiders, the seasons of South Sudan appear unlivable, drastic, brutal, and rather uncomfortable.
To any South Sudanese local, this is life.
2 years an independent country, the people of South Sudan are still celebrating their freedom. Walking through Kuajok (the capital of Warrap state and location of one of World Concern’s offices) with a South Sudanese colleague, he repeatedly described the town as developed, modern, and thriving. Most locals would agree that, indeed, “this is the land of opportunity.”
After over ten years of war, 4 million people displaced, and two million people killed, South Sudan might have a ways to go before the outside world recognizes it as a truly developed country. But one cannot ignore the positive transformations taking place – the peaceful, eager-to-grow society that is South Sudan today.
***The next few blog posts will be dedicated to World Concern’s work in South Sudan and our resilient, creative, motivated, and beautifully complex beneficiaries. Stay tuned!