This was going to be my first trip to South Sudan and this part of Africa for that fact. The stories and rumours of war were rife in the news media across the internet and whether we should make the trip meant careful analysis of news reports and what we had gleaned from CORE’s own contacts in Juba coupled with Darien’s vast experience. After careful evaluation of all reports and receiving a very clear yes from God that we should make this trip, we flew out to Juba via Ethiopia and Nairobi.
The verdant green grasslands appeared as we prepared for landing at Juba International Airport. The site was amazing with the mountain on our right. An excitement had been building and we knew that the peace God had given us was very evident and His timing was perfect for a visit.
The heat hit me as I stepped out of the plane and put my feet on South Sudan soil for the first time. It is an understatement at the least to say it was a culture shock. Everything was very different to what I had been expecting. The way business is conducted in a foreign country will always vary greatly to what you are used to. The transition was swift and we exited the terminal and into life in Juba, South Sudan.
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for life in Juba. It was different and vibrant with a busyness that belied reports of the recent conflict and economic pressures. It was instant information overload as we purchased sim cards and charged our phones. It was comforting to see MTN signage everywhere; it gave a connection to home. I stood there and watched people go about their business giving no hint of trauma from conflict. It was business as usual with each person working hard at eking out their living.
This was to be the thread throughout my trip, resourceful and entrepreneurial people who if they did not find some way to work they would not eat. The most remarkable thing I found as we entered the main street in an air conditioned SUV was the flow of traffic and the reaction of all the drivers. For the amount of traffic and some congestion there was minimal hooting with cars giving way to each other. I think the South Sudanese can give South African drivers a lesson in manners.
Throughout the drive to our accommodation it was a continual flow of business after business, the majority micro to small. Each one was plying their trade doing deals and making sales, too busy to be worrying about the politics and economics. Of course it’s difficult to make a judgement about mental and economic wellbeing from the comfort of an air conditioned vehicle but, there is a spirit of entrepreneurialism I have never seen before.
The aim of the trip was to connect me as CORE’s newly appointed Communications Manager with the vision and focus of our organisation which is to support and serve the local church in South Sudan. To connect with the people and get a feel for the heart and passion of CORE’s founders. To have an understanding of the situation and to bond with the people and country. The other role was to assist in gathering video footage through interviews with potential scholarship candidates for purposes of fundraising and creating awareness.
Siting on the banks of the Blue Nile River interviewing potential candidates was a surreal experience. The Nile River was a major river of the Bible and we had learnt about it as children. Now I was sitting there assisting in the process of bringing scholarship students to South Africa to further their education. Watching intently as fishermen plied their trade with skill and dexterity crossing this massive river back and forth. I couldn’t believe that I was at last sitting there.
I think the most important aspect of the trip was connecting with South Sudan and some of its people. Watching our taxi driver facing the daily challenges of life made me realise how important it was to be grateful for my own situation. I have never been through a conflict and have no understanding of the challenges faced by people in order to eat and have a place to lay their heads at night.
Returning to South Africa with this newly acquired knowledge and heart was a life changing experience. You cannot look at your own situation without responding differently and seeing things clearer and with a different perspective. Being part of an organisation that is playing its part in the vision and plans God has for South Sudan is a privilege and there is the realisation the he chose me to be part of this at this time.