In preparation for mission, I wasn't sure when this reality would all hit me. That moment came in a rush of tears as we drove in from the airport, through the village surrounding the Salesian compound where I now live. Roads made of dirt and sand were lined with mud huts one after the other, with families gathered around outside, and many, many beautiful children, smiling and waving as we drove past. I looked up at the most breathtaking sky and understood, with my entire being, that Jesus is here- in the perfect scene that enveloped me. He lives here, and now, so do I.
I have spent my first week in South Sudan in the village of Gumbo, right outside of the capital city, Juba. My departure for Maridi, the village I will live for this upcoming year, has been postponed for a few weeks while the priest in charge of the Salesian community Maridi is on retreat in Kenya. Right now my site partner, Caitlin, and I have joined the ranks of Tom and Luke, our brothers in the Salesian Lay Missioner (SLM) program, in their site in Gumbo. The other two SLMs in South Sudan, Dan and Steve, traveled in with us and left earlier this week for their sites in Wau and Tonj. The community life here in Gumbo is exceptional- living here on the compound there are three Salesian priests (though two are gone for retreat at the moment), one deacon, three brothers, five Pre-Novices, one volunteer from another program, and the four SLMs. On the neighboring compounds live nine religious sisters. In such a short amount of time, we are like already one big family! Laughter is shared constantly.
While I wait to leave for Maridi and begin work in the clinic, my responsibility here is to study Arabic and tropical medicine. Fr. Ferrington has found us two great teachers from the local community! Mr. Michael is a secondary school teacher here, and is teaching us Arabic for two hours a day, six days a week. It's is really challenging! Your prayers have been all channeled into graces to learn how to communicate here. It's a very slow process, but it's been fun and beneficial to be able to practice with everyone around me- especially the kids. I think they are tired of me sharing the same few phrases- "Hello! Good morning! How are you? What is your name? How old are you?" They are the best teachers though! Michael's wife, Miss Cecelia, is a medical doctor, and she is teaching me about how the tropical diseases are diagnosed and treated here. She has been an invaluable resource. Plus, I get to play with her three month old baby while I learn!
The children here are as full of life and energy and joy as you can imagine. Singing can be heard across the fields and plains at almost any time of day, and a great amount of dancing consequently ensues. Every day after school lets out, literally hundreds of children gather in the fields front of our home for oratory. From toddlers to teens, they play anything from soccer to volleyball, and they do a lot of singing! It's a perfect opportunity to spend time with the kids. They laugh pretty hard at my attempts to dance like they! As my studies this week have allowed a little extra time in my schedule to spend with the children than I may have once working in the dispensary in Maridi, I have elected another apostolate here in Gumbo- aiding Sister Antoinetta, the teacher of the "Little Angels Nursery School". I love it so much! The fifty Kindergarten-aged children in the class are learning their letters and preparing a performance of songs and skits for parents day at the end of September. I have been to class every morning, and then to the convent for Pepsi and a snack with Sister Antoinetta after class. It's a joy.
A hodgepodge of other things you may want to know:
*The food is fantastic- I really love it... and am possibly gaining weight?! No major sacrifices yet in that department. It's definitely different than American food, but quite good.
*There are a lot of bugs, but they're just kind of around and not really a big deal. Two spiders stand guard in my bathroom and keep the little bugs at bay. I might name them soon.
*I have been informed that I will have malaria within the month; everyone gets it frequently here, and treatment is usually uncomplicated. My health is perfect at the moment, but I assume this will be short-lived.
*The fruit is heavenly- papaya, passion fruit, guava, bananas (unlike anything in the US), apples, and more to come I'm sure. All these things grow in the yard and we eat them at the end of every meal. It's amazing. No mangoes yet, but I cannot wait for that day. So far the passion fruit wins favorite.
*The weather is nice! It's technically their "winter"- I've even heard some joke about it being so cold it might snow. It's comfortably 75-90 degrees during the day, a little cooler at night, and it rains a bit every few days. I have seen winter jackets on some, and mothers keep hoods over their babies' heads this time of year. Supposedly 110 degrees or higher is normal in the summer months of December through February, so I'm enjoying this while it lasts!
*Many people speak some English, but everyone here speaks Juba Arabic. While English is spoken in school, many of the children really don't understand us Americans because of our apparently "heavy" accents. While I am working on my Arabic, I have really taken to Mother Teresa's quote: "Every time you smile at someone it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing." I have shared a lot of smiles, because many times it is all I have to give.
The title of this post entirely summarizes this experience thus far. My heart has been so joyfully and beautifully overwhelmed by my present situation. "I can't believe I'm here!" has been replaying over and over in my mind for the past week- in many ways it feels like a dream. I still cannot believe I am actually here. My heart might explode! I honestly and truly could not be happier.
|Welcome to Juba!|
|Some children playing in the oratory outside our home|
|The South Sudan SLMs: Luke, Dan, Steve, Grace, Caitlin, and Tom|
|Our amazing view|
|With my new friend, Brother Jackson!|
|Passion fruit :)|
|The 5 Pre-Novices singing us the "Welcome" song |
|Little Angels Nursery School|
|In the village|