[Earthrise Sound System – Metaphysical Fitness]

I wake up to the sound of gun shots. A bang here and peng there. At first I don’t realize what disturbed my sleep. Consciousness comes reluctantly. Suddenly a machine gun burst close to the house. A pistol answers with 4 shots from the other side. A rush of adrenaline wakes me up and turns on the brain. There is no panic just pure cold logic. I lie flat on my bed, a short look to the window to estimate the chances of being hit by a ricochet. Should be fine. I listen. There are no screams, no bullet hissing, but gun shots. It is liberation day in South Sudan. But it is break of dawn, 6 o’ clock in the morning. Is this normal? I’m exploring alternatives. Didn’t North Corea use a holliday to overrun the country? Yei is the most peaceful area in South Sudan. It has been called a model for the whole country. The fighting is supposed to be 1000 [km] north from here. But the embassy warned of mauroding groups. Last year there was some unrest here in the city.
What else? Wikipedia said that troups of Komi have been active in some parts of South Sudan. Komi could be seen as the christian version of ISIL.
The number of shots fired is increasing. Curiosity turns into stupidity. I open the mosquito net. Only in my boxers I go into the living room and crouch down by the window. Outside dawn is breaking. No person can be seen. I open the front door. Daniel comes from his room. He is not really worried and walks outside. I follow him but take step back when a machine gun is fired just across the river. All is peaceful. Except for the continuing gunfire. In total it lasts from 6 to 7. Then everything is quite again. This part of the celebrations is over. 3 hours later the propeller airplane takes off from the gravel runway to take me torwards Uganda. My one week in South Sudan is up.

image

One day earlier there was the official lying of the foundation stone for a regional training center of Barefoot College in Yei. The commissioner of Yei county and the mayor of Yei are present. Unexpectedly I have to give a speech. With a 5 minute warning only. When I stand up the reporter from the local radio station gives me his recording device to hold. I talk about the concept and benefits of the Barefoot approach, over the huge difference between the mainstream media picture of South Sudan and the actual situation on the ground, over the fascination and admiration I have for the people of Yei and area – at which point I suddenly have a lumb in my throat. I do well. Dr. John a retired doctor from the UK approaches me later congratulating me and engaging me in a conversation about renewable energy and sustainability, education and how they all relate to health.
image

2 days before we have to leave we inspect the available facilities and the building progress. Plans have changed and so there is lots of material for talking. Also we discuss the things that need to be prepared by the nearby communities before the solar equipment arrives. This includes the setting up of a solar committee, a bank account and a building for the rural electronics workshop. Bishop introduces me to some of the work of CWE (Christian Woman Empowerment).

image

In the 3 days preceding the inspection we visit the three communities that have send women to India for training, to become so called Barefoot Solar Engineers. They are easy to recognize. They carry their heads just a little higher, their faces are just a little opener, their smiles are just a little wider and they are fierce. One gives a passionate speech challenging some comon perceptions of the community, but also talking of hope and – as all people we will meet here – of the will, the longing for peace. She talks in the local language but I find myself listening intently, almost feeling what she is talking about before it is translated.

image

On Sunday the first complete day after our arrival we are introduced to the community during the service by Bishop. Daniel gives a short speech. I don’t. They don’t even know I’m there. After initially refusing to go the morning service I joined late and sit in the back of the church. The service is great fun. Lots of singing and dancing and even polonaises, repeately. After the service I meet sister Luisa from Germany. She tells me that she is not the converting type and then spends 45 minutes telling me that the bible is the one true word, that salvation can only be found through Jesus and I will have to make up my mind because after death its over, its heaven or hell.

image

The airplane touches down on the gravel landing strip. Dust all around. The landing is surprisingly soft though. When the propeller motors finally diedown after 1,5 hours the silence seems overwhelming. Some kids hidden in the high grass along the runway stick up their heads and hands. There is a small two room building. Big painted letters say: International Airport Yei. In smaller letters it is explained that this airport was financed by EPC (Evangelic Prespertarian Church). EPC is the local groundpartner for this project. A christian organisation based in Yei set on bringing peace and development to South Sudan. Getting the visas is a bit difficult at first. The clerk has questions. Then a black Pick-Up pulls up. Big letters on the side say EPC. A tall man leaves the car and enters the building. “They are with me.” No more questions. Done. His name is Bishop Elias Taban [2]. I read about him. I imagined him differently. More serious, full of heavy silence. He is not. In the same tone he points out a pharmacy at the side of the road he sums up his life. He has been a child soldier in the first liberation war, an army chief in the second before becoming a man of God, starting EPC, marrying his wife, loosing his only child to a sickness and long before Hillary Clinton became a good friend of his after using an essay he wrote to broker a peace agreement between the north and south [4]. The president is an old army comrade of him. Later we find out that if he would run for presedency he would probably win without even holding a rally. EPC is involved in many activities. Sometimes as mondaine as bringing mobilephones into the country.

image

This part of South Sudan is far from developed but also far from desolate. There is hope, motivation, strength and will. So much possibilities, so much to win, so much to loose. A great responsibility to all involved. How formable things are here I experience first hand. When talking about the development of the country I use the example of the Tanzanian coal mine [3] to illustrate the need to obligate companies to educate the local population so they will be able to exploid and control their resources independently later. Bishop nods. “That is true. A good argument. Good that you are telling me. I have good connections to the government.” The mere possibilty that something I said could find resonance in national politics shuts me up for a while.
The road is like the way ahead for Yei: bumpy, improvised, easy to get stuck during rain, with thick dust clouds but the ground if fertile.

image

—————————————————————————————————————
[1] Fianchetto is a chess move where the Bishop leaves the side of the king or queen to move infront of the pawns supporting them in their moves.

[2] Bishop Elias Taban on Wikipedia

[3] When the biggest coal reserves in Africa were found in Tanzania the mining rights were sold of to a chinese company. Material and workers came mainly from china. Coal also mainly went to China. The money dissapeared in unknown pockets. Tanzania none the wiser.

[4] “Hard Choices” – Hillary Clinton

Advertisements