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Ants and Elephants

posted in: 2010, Sudan - No Comments

Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

A very simple, yet poignant expression of how the perception of one’s impact on the life of another compels one to action.  This quote also resonates with me on a more complex level. Couched in Mother Teresa’s statement was her innate ability to look directly in the face of systemic poverty and see the eyes of a starving child. It was her capacity to hear beyond the critiques of her humanitarian approach in order to listen to the sheer elation of a paralyzed person receiving love and care. How does someone so unassuming encounter such massive injustices and still find the fortitude to want to make a difference in the lives of so many?

As part of a casual conversation that took place since I have been here in Sudan, a good friend referenced the importance of being able to recognize the “ants” as well as the “elephants.” This statement sparked an intense period of reflection for me. How often in life have we only paid attention to the “elephants” while overlooking the “ants?” The “elephants,” in this case, are the people, places, things, and ideas that capture most of our attention. They are usually the things that we feel bear the greatest impact on our lives, requiring our greatest level of investment. In most cases, we perceive that finding a solution for these “elephants” will bring the greatest satisfaction; or if we fail, bring the greatest possibility for pain, in turn, validating our need for heightened personal investment. READ MORE

The Long Walk toward Community Health

posted in: 2010, Sudan - No Comments

My colleague Gideon and I were exhausted. We had travelled one hour from the CHESS project’s headquarters in Duk Payuel—on a road peppered with pools of water and mud, courtesy of Sudan’s rainy season, which could bring the strongest off-road vehicle to its knees—to Mareeng, a nearby village that normally would take 15 minutes to reach. Just as we reached the outskirts of Mareeng, our vehicle finally succumbed to the condition of the roads and became stranded in a mixture of mud and clay that could easily be mistaken for quicksand.

Determined not to let our travel conditions get the best of us, Gideon and I decided to complete the fifteen minute journey in blazing heat to the County Administrator’s office on foot, so that we could introduce ourselves and inform the government officials of our scheduled activities in Mareeng, before getting to work.  Battling the wave of exhaustion that washed over us as we settled into the office chairs in the Administrator’s office, Gideon and I made our requisite introductions and set out to begin the interviews that had brought us to Mareeng in the first place. READ MORE

A Land of Unorthodox Beauty

posted in: 2010, Sudan - No Comments

Having been in Sudan for close to one month now, I am constantly peppered with emails, all asking essentially the same question, albeit using different phrasing: “How is Sudan?” “What are your initial impressions of the country?” “What are some major differences between Sudan and the United States?”

When I first started receiving this wave of emails I was reluctant to respond to these questions, as I didn’t want to make premature assumptions about the largest country in Africa after only a few days. Now, however, I feel I have gained enough of a sense of Sudan that I can share my feelings on this wondrous nation.

If I could sum up Sudan in two words or less, I would describe it thus: A land of unorthodox beauty. A little background may help one understand why I use these words to describe Southern Sudan. As a nation, Sudan has endured what most observers describe as the longest civil war on the African continent, a conflict that has spanned decades, destroyed villages, broken livelihoods, and torn families apart. In Southern Sudan, a peace accord between the main combatants in this civil war was signed in 2005, which brought about a fragile peace and return to calm in this portion of the country—the dividends of which I see everywhere around me in my placement with IRD Sudan in Duk Payuel, Jonglei State, Southern Sudan. READ MORE

I Traveled 7000 miles to End up Right Next Door…

posted in: 2010, Sudan - 1 Comment

One word: Sudan. Two words: United States. Not much of a difference if you ask me.

Some may feel that it’s crazy for me to assert that Sudan, an underdeveloped country in Sub-Saharan Africa, is strikingly similar to the U.S., a robust industrialized nation quite influential on the geopolitical landscape. But through closer examination, this seemingly absurd claim becomes inherently clear.

Far too often, many individuals living in societies such as the U.S. characterize places like Sudan as distant worlds, only accessible through the hyperbolic depictions of “Tinseltown.” And if not vis-à-vis Hollywood, it is most frequently described within the poverty-stricken context of a post-colonial reality. This is unfortunate because, as I must admit, people around the world are akin to one another more than they are different. Hopefully, a detailed look at my experience thus far will help to shed light on this. READ MORE