Hi all. Just want to share a brief update on Liasor's time in Ethiopia as he endeavors to do research and develop partnerships for Uduk Hope Inc. He just completed a long journey from Addis Ababa to Assosa and is resting up before some big meetings tomorrow. He plans to visit Tongo and Sherkole refugee camps and at least one other camp where Uduk people and other Blue Nile refugees currently reside.
Liasor spent the first week and a half of his trip in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Here are a few updates and praise reports from his time there:
So over the past 13-14 hours Liasor traveled by van from Addis Ababa to the town of Assosa (which is the area where he was born in a transit camp called Langkwai). This will be his first time back in this area since his early childhood, and I have to admit I truly wanted to be there with him during this return. His taxi driver friend was not able to come with him on the long journey, but he was accompanied by his new bodyguard. Liasor also got in touch with two Uduk students who live in one of the camps outside of Assosa, one of whom is a close childhood friend. These two students traveled from Assosa to Addis yesterday to meet Liasor in the capital and then accompanied him today from Addis back to Assosa. I'm so happy Liasor has found such great connections and support from friends new and old!
Liasor, his bodyguard, and his two student friends just recently arrived in Assosa today and they are resting in a hotel there for the night. The trip took longer than expected because of youth protests along the border that blocked some of the roads. Tomorrow, Liasor will meet up with one of his uncles and they will go together to the ARRA office in Assosa to request access for Liasor to enter the camps and to conduct research, create partnerships, and potentially build an Uduk Hope team in each camp.
Liasor is nervous about this meeting with ARRA. While he is confident that they'll grant him entry to the camps because he has family there, he is still nervous about whether ARRA will approve his work and research. Please be praying for the officials to be receptive to the work Liasor and others of the Uduk diaspora are attempting to do to support their people and other Blue Nile Refugees through Uduk Hope Inc. And please pray for Liasor's continued safety and for the safety of each and every person he meets. We praise God for all the wonderful connections and friendships Liasor has developed. He hasn't been without great support since he arrived and first entered his hotel back in Addis.
Liasor will have limited internet connectivity once he enters the camps. He'll most likely be able to use apps like Facebook and Whatsapp, but he might not be able to video chat as often as we'd like which is most difficult for us personally so keep us in your prayers as well.
My quick personal updates now that I'm back in the USA: I had a lovely week and a half in Cleveland, Ohio with my side of the family. It was so refreshing spending time with my parents and siblings and extended fam. Tomorrow as Liasor heads to his big meeting with ARRA in Assosa, I'll be traveling back to Rochester, NY where I have my own big job interview. I'm looking forward to seeing Liasor's side of the family in Rochester and connecting with everyone there. See you all soon!
Happy Saturday! I'm back in the USA and Liasor is in Ethiopia, but I want to share some reflections on our last week in Oxford and Liasor's journey in Ethiopia.
I started writing this post while flying over beautiful sights of Greenland and the Labrador Sea! I had embarked on a long journey that started with a 2 hour bus ride from Oxford to London Gatwick Airport. From London I flew to Reykjavik, Iceland for a quick layover, and then it was on my second flight from Iceland to Boston that I got to see the beautiful views of Greenland. I flew with WOW air, a new airline that features purplish-pink aircrafts and incredibly affordable prices.
The last leg of my trip involved a third flight from Boston to Cleveland, Ohio (my hometown) to spend time with my parents for a couple weeks. Liasor had his own long whirlwind journey from Oxford to London Heathrow Airport, then to Hamad International Airport in Qatar, and finally he arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We had originally planned to go to Ethiopia together, but as I mentioned in my last two posts, there’s been recent unrest in and around the refugee camps we planned to visit. We received multiple messages from family in Ethiopia saying they believed this wasn’t the best time for me to visit the camps. So we decided Liasor would go forward to do research and establish partnerships for Uduk Hope Inc., the nonprofit organization we are currently leading which supports Blue Nile refugees and others in the region (many of whom are friends and family). We believe Liasor will be much better suited to navigate traveling between cities and the refugee camps to accomplish this work in this otherwise uncertain climate. It was such a hard decision for us both (the last thing we want is to experience long distance again!), but God has paved the way and has already opened many doors for Liasor to do this important work (from dear friends gifting us with plane tickets, to important meetings being set up for him with organizational leaders both in England before he left and in Ethiopia once he arrived).
Liasor gave me the following update this weekend: In the first days, he had a chance encounter at his hotel with the leader of an international organization interested in Uduk Hope's education efforts. Next week he will have a meeting with the leadership of that organization, as well as meetings with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a university in Addis that a few Uduk contacts attend. He is doing well and asked for continued prayer for his upcoming meetings and for his safety.
I am praying for more doors to continue to open in Ethiopia that could hopefully lead to partnerships for Uduk Hope. I’m also praying for successful research to determine how Uduk Hope can support refugees in the Ethiopian camps along the South Sudanese border similar to how we have begun supporting the people in Doro Refugee Camp on the South Sudanese side of the border. Most personally, I want Liasor to stay safe.
Although Liasor and I are in different places and our time in the U.K. has come to a close, I want share a bit about our final week together in Oxford, England, where we were working for the past three months.
In the last week we did as much as we could to wrap up our translation/archival project with Dr. Wendy James before taking off. Much of the work will continue remotely and there’s a great chance we’ll meet together again with Wendy in 2018 either in Rochester, NY or back in Oxford to continue the work we began. We made a lot of progress translating songs on video from Bonga Refugee Camp from 1994 and 2000, and I got to complete a catalogue to organize and categorize the many hours of footage. Liasor began translating songs and conversations from Uduk communities from the 1960s as well. I personally learned so much this past summer with the opportunity to dive into this work and be surrounded by the language and the history. Some of the topics Liasor translated discussed tough subjects like the loss of life and displacement from home. Others were more lighthearted, like love songs or songs poking fun at others. It was very reflective, engaging work that I look forward to tapping into again. In the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing some of Wendy's videos with our family and larger Uduk community in the USA.
This summer, I got a lot of personal work done: I took an online course that I've been wanting to take for over a year now; I redesigned my personal website and blog (check out the different pages!); I began planning for some exciting ventures for 2018 which I’m currently writing grant proposals for; and I reflected on my next career steps and how to plug back into language learning when I return to Rochester. I also got TONS of rest. I think I slept in almost everyday of our time in Oxford, apart from the times when we had early morning meetings or church.
I’m also so thankful for the church family we found in Oxford. Our last day together in the city fell on a Sunday and we heard a very powerful message at church, ending the summer-long series on the Sermon on the Mount. Sunday’s message was about the need for obedient, habitual commitment if we desire to excel at anything in life, including our walk with Christ. To build a spiritual foundation that doesn’t shake when the wind and the storms come (because storms will come in each of our lives), we have to be in the habit of daily constructing our foundation (through reading and putting Scripture into practice daily and through committing to communities where we are growing and loving one another). And none of this should be out of a legalistic desire to simply follow rules and commandments, but rather out of the wonder of the love we have been given and the fact that we have a Father who wants us to know and grow closer to him and to those around us. The church community prayed for us, for our futures, for Uduk Hope, for the struggles the refugee communities are facing, for recent events all around the world, and they prayed for Liasor and me during our time apart. They also asked for ways to support us and our work. The love we felt was overwhelming and it was a very emotional Sunday.
My good friend, LaVonia, also came to visit which brought great fun to an otherwise busy last week in Oxford. It was wonderful catching up and sightseeing with her. We got to show LaVonia our daily lives in Oxford and our favorite places to hang out. One of the best moments was when we took LaVonia to our favorite pub, Rose and Crown, for great conversations together.
We originally planned to visit Ireland and family in Germany, but those trips didn’t work out in the end. I was especially disappointed about not making it to visit my uncle and family in Germany, like I usually do each time I'm in Europe, but I'm determined to save up and make that trip happen next summer, Lord willing!
Now I’ll spend the next week in Cleveland, Ohio while Liasor spends the next week in Addis, the capital of Ethiopia. From then, I’ll travel to Rochester, New York to pursue some career opportunities there and connect with family, and Liasor will travel on to Assosa, Ethiopia (the area where he was born, in a transit camp called Langkwai). In Assosa, Liasor will begin planning to visit the refugee camps close by.
I’m so so thankful for the past three months that we had in Oxford. It was such a sweet time all around. We got to work on an engaging project, build relationships with great scholars and friends, and get to know a new city together. We also got to go on our Spanish honeymoon a couple weeks ago (although this whole time in Oxford felt like an extended honeymoon to me)! I miss Liasor so much, and I can’t wait to see him in December (it seems like an eternity away). In the meantime, I’m looking forward to spending some great time with both our families and making my next career move.
Thank you very much for thinking of us and praying!
P.S. Here are some beautiful aerial night views of Boston and Cleveland. (The first two photos are Boston and the others are Cleveland. In Cleveland you can make out Tower City and Progressive Field). :)
Liasor and I have been back to work in Oxford for a little over a week now, but we wanted to share some photos and reflections after a wonderful honeymoon vacation in Spain.
Rewinding back to when we were planning our wedding a few months ago, we really loved the idea of going to Spain for our honeymoon because 1) we had met each other in Spain and 2) we had never been back to Spain together since then. But financially, it just wasn't a possibility at the time. We looked at other locations closer to home, but nothing affordable was panning out. We weren't sure what we were going to do about a honeymoon, until one of our close friends gifted us their lake house in the Finger Lakes region of New York for a honeymoon week. We were so blessed by that gift, and I experienced the beauty and the peace of the Finger Lakes for the first time.
We still held onto the idea of one day going on a belated Spanish honeymoon, but we figured it wouldn't happen until maybe a few years down the line. When we found out about our current opportunity to work abroad in Oxford this summer, we were overjoyed and decided that we would try to save up and still make a trip to Spain a possibility (since it would be relatively closer and cheaper to travel to Spain once we were in Europe). And this month, we made the trip happen!
We started out with a week in Granada, the city where we met. (For the story of how we met, check out our wedding website here). During our time in Granada, I took a day trip to Córdoba (where I taught for a year from 2013-2014) to visit former colleagues and friends. The year that I taught abroad in Córdoba was the first time Liasor and I experienced international long distance. (For former blog posts on my time teaching in Córdoba, check our my travel page here). Finally we ended our Spanish honeymoon in the beach city of Alicante, a city that Liasor had visited before and wanted to experience again with me.
It was so great to take a break from cozy, chilly Oxford and soak up the sun and <extreme> heat of Spain.
Here are images from our 10-day vacation.
Our time in Granada was so sweet. I really enjoyed walking through memories: from taking our old route to school together to meeting up with former teachers and church family members - our hearts were completely full. We even accidentally ran into my former host mother, Camila, who was taking a walk in my old neighborhood. It was so good to run into her! She immediately took us to her house and we had a lovely evening laughing and catching up together. She and her family vividly remembered Liasor and how he used to meet me at the front door of their apartment. They were thrilled that we are now married.
Oh Córdoba. The city where I grew so much on my own. It was good to be back and meet up with people I care about, but I realized that I have less of an emotional attachment to this city. After a long, hot, full day of meeting up with friends and colleagues, I almost felt relieved to head back to Granada. When the bus pulled into the station and the driver announced that we were back in Granada, I felt a strong sense of familiarity rush through me. Homecoming. Back in the city of my love story. Even though I lived in Córdoba for a longer time than Granada, this trip allowed me to reflect on how much more Granada means to me and how much my time in both cities contributed to my life narrative. In Granada, I had been much more plugged into a church family, which is one of the main ways Liasor and I grew closer back in 2012.
The pictures below show my favorite tea shop in Córdoba where I used to go when I needed to get away from it all, the street that I lived on (called Mucho Trigo, which means 'a lot of wheat'!), and the door to my old flat.
We ended our trip with a few days in Alicante, Spain on the beach. It was so nice to finally make it to the beach after a mild summer in Oxford. Overlooking the beachfront in Alicante is the Castillo de Santa Barbara (castle). Liasor and I went on quite an arduous hike to get to the castle, and later we found out that there was an elevator that most tourists take and we also found out that there was an easier route to the top that we had missed. But our longer, harder trek allowed us to witness some of the most breathtaking views at sunset.
Now we have one more week in Oxford.
In my last post, I mentioned that there has been unrest in the refugee camps along the Ethiopian/South Sudanese border which we were planning to visit. Because of that unrest and uncertainty, we've decided it will be best for Liasor to go on to Ethiopia alone while I return to the States. I'm saying a special prayer for Liasor's safety as he heads to Ethiopia. I'm also praying for open doors for partnerships and meetings on behalf of Uduk Hope Inc. I'm proud of the work he is doing, and just this past weekend Liasor got the great opportunity to present at the Society for the Study of the Sudans U.K. 2017 Symposium held at the University of London. He was the first person from the Blue Nile region, and more specifically the first Uduk person, to present at this conference. He spoke on the complex relationships that affect the state of the Blue Nile refugees and offered thoughts on the way forward. It was a moving and powerful speech. Liasor was only notified of this opportunity to speak a week in advance while we were on our honeymoon in Spain! He did a great job no matter the time constraints, and I know he will continue to fight to find ways to stand up for and support the Uduk people and other Blue Nile refugees. I recorded his presentation and I will either try to post the video in my next blog post or he will post the video on his personal Facebook page.
There will definitely be challenges ahead since we'll be spending several weeks apart so I am truly thankful that we were able to spend such a beautiful time together in Spain and I look forward to savoring this last week together in Oxford.
Happy Monday! Just want to share a few updates on our time in Oxford.
Over the past few weeks, Liasor and I have been working on translating a few T’wampa songs that Wendy James collected when the Uduk people were in Bonga Refugee Camp in Ethiopia in 1994. Liasor has been doing the translating and I’ve been working on organizing and editing the translations once they're in English. It’s been fascinating work primarily because Liasor was living in Bonga Refugee Camp at that time, and he was super young then.
In addition to working on the songs, we've been looking through videos of Wendy’s time in Bonga Refugee Camp in 1994 and I got to see footage of Liasor’s preschool classroom. Liasor was definitely in that classroom, but neither of us could make him out because there were a lot of kids and the video was taken at a time when they were all playing, so we couldn’t nail down faces. It was so moving to see Liasor’s classroom and playground and get a glimpse of his life at five years old. I’m hoping to come across a video where we can see young Liasor up close. I also got to see Liasor's awesome preschool teacher from 1994. She’s an Uduk woman named Martha who has done many amazing things and currently helps run one of the refugee camps in Ethiopia where some Uduk people currently are. Maybe when we go to Ethiopia in the fall we’ll get to meet up with her. It's been a great pleasure working with Wendy to label and organize video clips like this one.
We got to meet a wonderful scholar who came into town to meet Wendy. He is a linguist studying the Koman language family, which T’wampa is a part of. He taught us a cool way for me to learn the tones in T’wampa (T’wampa is a tonal language so saying a word in different tones can completely change or obscure meaning). He showed Liasor a way to help me recognize the tones through whistling. It’s a very simple trick, but it has been incredibly helpful for me. Granted, we spend most of our lives speaking in English or occasionally Spanish, but I am determined to learn T’wampa too.
We also connected with a professor of international education and refugee issues through a chance meeting (we stumbled into an academic building and ended up explaining our interests to the staff at the main desk, and they set up a meeting with this professor!). She took us out to lunch and we talked at length about our interests and work and heard about her incredible work. She gave us advice, then she gave us access to one of the university libraries so we could look at relevant books. She also helped us do a little research on academic programs that might be of interest to us in the future. She was incredibly kind and helpful!!
In other personal updates, I had a wonderful birthday two and a half weeks ago. At first it started out as a rainy day, but rain begets cozy moments so it was all good. Liasor and I went to a couple amazing restaurants and we also went to Liasor’s favorite bookstore, Blackwell. We looked through some great literature on education and ESOL and Ph.D programs and bought a few books. It was perfect, in the nerdiest sort of way. We ended the evening punting on the Cherwell River with amazing views of the University Parks. I didn’t know what punting was before coming to Oxford, but essentially it’s boating in a flat-bottomed boat called a punt and using a pole to push against the riverbed to propel the boat forward. It’s very physical work, but lucky for me Liasor did all of the punting. It was very beautiful, sweet, and quite romantic!
Another MAJOR update: We finally made it to the church that I researched a few months back. It’s called Trinity Church Oxford and it’s a very multicultural, multi-national, gospel-centered community. And it’s a small church, where people really get to know each other. After attending last week's service for the first time, we were already invited to dinner with other awesome couples and were invited to upcoming events. We felt so welcomed and I’m excited to get to know the members there. Yesterday we went back to the church, and the warm welcome continued. Everyone we met so far has an awesome story, and many are doing inspiring work or research connected to the University of Oxford or other amazing organizations.
We also made it to the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford where there was a special exhibition showcasing the drawings of Raphael, brought together from various international collections. We also got to visit the Ancient Egypt/Ancient Sudan/Nubia exhibit which was wonderful. I’ve begun dreaming of one day seeing the Nubian Pyramids of Sudan in person.
The past few weeks have had many highs, but there were also some low points. I mentioned last post that our family has experienced loss related to violence in Doro Refugee Camp in South Sudan. We are continuing to pray for that situation and for our family. I'm continuing to pray about how to help Liasor through that grief.
I've also been tempted a lot lately to compare my life to others' and to the photos I see or to articles I read that tell me where I should be in life by age X. I know full well that I should pay no serious attention to these things, and I know we only see snapshots of each other's lives and often life is much messier than what we portray, but sometimes I'm surprised by how easy it can be to measure my life by human standards instead of by God's standards. I'm challenging myself - like I did last summer - to search for moments of thankfulness and to celebrate the moments that do feel picture perfect, while also being open and honest about the not so beautiful moments with those who care, giving thanks even in pain. And I'm striving to keep my eyes fixed on Christ and what He says, and not on what the social sphere will inundate me with. I got really stuck in a rut yesterday, worrying about what jobs we'll have when we get back to Rochester in December and wondering about future career choices and where we'll live and blah blah blah. Then right when I needed it most, God gave me a great reminder in church yesterday about not giving in to my worries. He has provided everything we need, and not only that, He has given us jobs right now in a different country with the amazing opportunity to work and travel. How do I so quickly leave the wonder of the here and now and fly away to some land of overwhelming anxieties? So last night I updated my list of 1000 gifts, gifts for which I am thankful. I felt so much peace and I was reminded not to compare and covet, but rather to trust. And to give thanks with however much or little I have. Today I am thankful for:
-the simplicity and comfort of clothes drying on a line
-a mild summer that allows me to wear my favorite layers
-a great start to my 26th year of life with Liasor by my side
-our cozy family of two figuring out the routines of life together
- Sainsbury's Spanish Honey and Ginger yogurt
-finally submitting edits for our wedding video
-finding a gym, a Zumba class, and a hip hop dance class nearby
-the smell of fresh rosemary while cooking
-dreaming big dreams of potential endeavors that I hope to undertake in 2018
-the existence of Uduk Hope which serves as a medium to support our family in refugee camps
-video chatting with family
The verse that was highlighted during Sunday service was Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
As I mentioned in the last post, you've heard a lot from me. Below you can hear Liasor's thoughts and heart regarding the last four weeks.
It has been about a month now since my wife and I left Rochester by way of Cleveland, Ohio for this part of our adventure. To me it still feels like just a couple of days ago. In the time that we have been here, a lot has happened. I am still hard at work for Dr. James (Wendy) translating her research, as Christine mentioned in an earlier post. Christine has been offered work by Dr. James as well to help type up many of the things that I am translating and the old notes that Dr. James never got a chance to type up herself. We received news of the passing of my mother’s brother, my uncle, and are learning a lot about leading an organization like Uduk Hope Inc. remotely. We recently celebrated Christine’s birthday and are now in the process of finalizing our plans for weekend trips to Ireland, Germany and to our honeymoon vacation to Spain before heading to Ethiopia. So yes, a lot has happened and it has been and continues to be an emotional rollercoaster but also a learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
My Job: Translations
I am hearing first-hand accounts from multiple people, from the 1960s to the year 2000, about life in Sudan and constant forced migration of the Uduk people due to civil war. These individual accounts tell of how the Sudan government sent soldiers to the Blue Nile, home of the Uduk, to destroy every part of their life and livelihoods. Dr. James' research is particularly interesting, because it was done in interview format. The most interesting part of it all is the fact that Uduk people in many different places tell a similar story without her having to guide the questions. In many of the tapes, she would just turn on the camera and record as people had their natural conversations, then if she did not understand something, she would follow up with questions. For me, it is like having found a treasure map where X has been marked and I know exactly how to get there. I am on my way to that X which is fully understanding the breadth of my people’s history more in depth than I could at any graduate institution.
Doing this work is helping Christine, Dr. James, and I have a deeper relationship. We spend many hours watching videos, sorting out titles and learning the language through conversation and recorded songs. About two weeks ago, we met a gentleman from the West Coast of the United States who came to stay with Wendy so that I can help him with a few grammar points for his Ph.D. in Linguistics. His research was the most interesting thing that I have personally seen. He is comparing the language family called the Koman languages of which the Uduk language (T’wampa) is a part. We saw and discussed many similarities between these languages. His theory is that the Koman languages all came from one original language, and by understanding the similarities between today's few Koman languages, we can reconstruct the original language. It is so interesting that I have asked him for a copy of his book once he publishes it next year. We are very grateful for the opportunity to be here with Wendy and to meet many awesome people in academia.
Sad News from Doro Refugee Camp.
As many of you may know from an Uduk Hope newsletter update, there has been continuous violence in and around Doro Refugee Camp which we visited last summer. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the army that fights against Sudan to see the Uduks and many others return to the Blue Nile region, had a major disagreement in the structure of their leadership. The SPLM-N declared that their leader and his immediate commanders are no longer representing the interest of the people because they are turning down several peace deals. As a result, they forced the leader Malik Agar out of power. This caused widespread violence in many refugee camps where supporters of Malik Agar attacked anyone they thought was responsible for this. My mother’s brother was in his plantation farming with his son (my cousin) on a regular day as he has always done since the people fled from the Blue Nile. As they were farming, a group of soldiers attacked them. To save his son’s life, he distracted the soldiers as my cousin ran away. My cousin later confirmed that his father died, but before the family found out I received a call with the news. I knew that this would be hard on my mother because she had just lost one of her best friends to this same violence two weeks prior. I called my mother and let her know.
There isn’t a single Uduk family in the United States, Canada, Australia or in East Africa that hasn’t personally experienced this kind of pain, dating back to the 1960s. In my lifetime, the people have been forcefully displaced at least 6 times, meaning on any random day bombs start to fall and many people run their own way to save their lives. These are the stories that I am currently translating, of how people are burned alive in their homes and churches, of how children are left behind, of how hunger and war continue to leave people without families. Some 60 years later, the same pattern continues to emerge. I feel the sadness of my people’s story and experiencing how it has affected my own family, someone ought to do something about it. The argument is that the SPLM-N is that someone. I leave for God what is God’s. Despite all this pain, I continue to translate for my own understanding with the shared hope of Dr. James that the younger generation will not forget where they came from.
Christine’s Birthday and the Future
It hasn’t been all sad though. Oxfordshire is one of my favorite places in Europe. On Wednesdays and Sundays, there are many open markets across town. An open market is a public market that is outside where there are many things to buy. We found a gym and signed up for it so that we could exercise and feel good about our health. But to be honest, we haven’t been going that much. Hopefully that changes soon. It was Christine’s birthday not too long ago. Birthdays are usually easier to plan in a city or town that you know like the back of your hand. Though I have been to Oxford before in 2012, I had no idea what we were going to do for her birthday. Christine, being the smart one, knew this. She was a champ about it. We started out going to the city center (downtown) where we bought some things and had a great lunch. We spent a lot of quality time together in a bookstore getting excited about our knowledge base and research. Then later that day, we went to a boat house where I attempted to guide the boat on a tour. It was cute, but I wouldn’t do it again just for the fun of it. That proved to be more of a workout than 3 visits to the gym. Christine really enjoyed it and for me that is all that matters. Now that we have settled in, we are thinking about our near future goals.
Currently we are trying to figure out dates for our trip to Germany and to Spain. We intend to visit family in Germany for a weekend and spend a week in Spain celebrating our marriage where we first met. Before all this, we are thinking of a weekend trip to Dublin, which is not very expensive. We only wish the other two trips would be the same but going to Spain is very expensive so we are saving money for it properly. I am most excited about Germany because I have not been there yet. Christine will be the veteran this time around. We also found an awesome church family in Oxford which reminds me a lot of Heart and Soul Church, our home church in Rochester. The sermons are powerful, the community is diverse, and people are really interested in making a global impact through prayer and deeds. The most wonderful part of traveling worldwide is connecting with God’s holy church and the body of Christ. His love is not limited to one geographic location and we are experiencing that now in hard times and in good times. I miss having a guitar readily available like I did in Rochester, but YouTube worship is good so I am thankful for having access to internet and for being able to easily communicate with family in the United States and in South Sudan. In the next blog, I'll share a little bit about our Ethiopia plans and give further updates on our life here in Oxford.
I pray blessings on you and your family as you read this update.
I’m currently listening to my United Pursuit playlist (one of my favorite bands), still in my jammies. It’s a lazy morning, which gives me a great opportunity to get some writing done!
I cannot tell you how life-giving this past week has been! Both Liasor and I were fighting some serious jet-lag (which was only intensified by all the flight delays during our journey last week), but I think we are finally becoming somewhat acclimatized. We’ve been getting loads of rest, and we’ve been venturing out into the city of Oxford more and more. And oh yeah, major update: we finally got our luggage last Thursday! What a relief because we were starting to get really creative with outfits and laundry.
Since last post, we have a few more wonderful updates:
Firstly, I am now working too! I know what you’re thinking: Last post I mentioned that I needed a break from the full-time work routine after feeling run-down. What happened to that, right? Well, that’s still the same. No full-time work here. But I’ve been blessed with the most incredible arrangement. Let me explain...
This past week, I’ve been accompanying Liasor to Wendy Jame's house (Wendy is the scholar and friend who has arranged for Liasor's summer work). I mentioned in my last post that Liasor is helping to sort out some old archives and recordings which shed light on the history of the Uduk people. Much of the material comes from Wendy's earlier work as an anthropologist in the southern Blue Nile region along the Sudan/Ethiopian border. Each weekday evening, she and Liasor review the transcriptions and translations that he is working on and they discuss edits, working hours, and new developments. I have been tagging along, trying to absorb some of the material and the language. Some of the recordings are very light-hearted and include music and songs. Others are full of heavier content, describing the horrors of war, displacement, and loss of life. I have been humbled hearing stories about the Uduk people through their many movements and this has been an opportunity for me to learn a lot. At the beginning of last week I began to feel like there's still so much I need to learn and I wasn’t sure where to start. Maybe Wendy sensed that, because she unexpectedly suggested a wonderful proposition. She asked if she could hire me as well to type up her handwritten field notes from over the years (the ones in English of course) and help transcribe some of her recordings that were conducted in English. I told her I would be more than happy to help. This will give me the opportunity to learn more about the discussions she and Liasor are having and be a more active part of our meetings. I’m truly honored to do this. I’m planning to spend a couple hours each weekday on this work.
Wendy James also gifted me with each of the books she has written regarding the Uduk people, which include excerpts from the stories that Liasor is translating, provide details on a lot of Uduk history and culture, and trace the more than 20 years of the Uduk people's displacement and movement from one place to another. She also gifted me with recordings of the Uduk Primer language books being read aloud, the same ones I started studying last summer with my two T’wampa teachers in Doro Refugee Camp. So not only can I continue to go through the language books to learn T'wampa, but I can listen to them on audio over and over, to help with pronunciation. I’m happy and humbled to not only be able to follow along with the work Liasor is doing, and discuss it with him and Wendy, but to also receive some great resources to learn more.
Being a part of this work is also important because I know these stories mean a lot to Liasor and to his family - to our family. Only through reflecting now am I seeing that the Lord has given me incredible opportunities to learn more deeply about the Uduk culture, first through becoming a part of Liasor’s family over these past 5 years, then getting to live with his extended family in Doro Camp last summer, and now through being a part of this project which gives me access and a deeper understanding of Uduk history. This work is also helpful to us as we think about strategic plans for Uduk Hope Inc. And in everything, I've found plenty of time for my personal projects, time to explore the city, and time to think.
This work has also increased my desire to do a personal ancestry study for my side of the family. I had wanted to do this for years, but after our visit to the National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. last week I was given resources from the museum's ancestry library to do a deeper search. So that might be another project I start over these next few months.
Outside of work, Wendy took us on a great tour of the city center of Oxford on Saturday to see the grand span of spires and university buildings, hear some of the city’s history, and to note some shops and cafes worth visiting. It felt great to finally make it to the city center! She also drove us to Kidlington, a suburb of Oxford to see where things are situated. It was a lovely morning tour, besides the swarms of tourists in the city center (at one point Liasor and I got out of the car and were engulfed in a group of tween study abroad students from somewhere in the E.U.). It was actually kind of frightening haha. Yesterday evening, Liasor and I ventured back out to the center city when it was much calmer, and we got a few great photos.
Liasor and I have begun to find a rhythm of life in the city and we’ve tried a couple of great local restaurants and have visited a couple grocery stores to find our favorite. We also created a working budget (our Faith and Finance class would be so proud). Now the key is to stick to it. I’ve been cooking a little bit more, but I've also been enjoying some wonderful pre-prepared meals from our local grocery store that just need to be popped in the oven. Sing praises! And they’re actually tasty and filling for Liasor, hallelujah! I’m still working on my cooking repertoire. I think I’m a decent cook with a couple killer recipes up my sleeve, but I’m not super consistent in feeling motivated to cook. I’m working on that. Liasor is a great cook in my opinion, but he doesn’t enjoy cooking either. So we just kind of take turns and that seems to be working for now. But these pre-prepared meals have freed us up for some good productive work time and a couple Netflix binges. One of my favorite shows just dropped a full season on Netflix, and Liasor has notified me that Game of Thrones just came out again last night on HBO so I may have to start watching too if I still want to hang out with him on Sunday nights/Monday mornings. And also Ed Sheeran is in the new season, and he's been one of my favorite singers since 2012, so that's incentive.
I’m also excited because I think we may have found a church to attend. A couple months ago, I researched a church called Trinity Church Oxford; it’s a Gospel-centered community that's a part of the City to City Europe network (which is connected to the Redeemer City to City network started by NYC Pastor Tim Keller). We tried to go to the evening service yesterday, but no one was there and the church building was locked. I'm guessing that they only have evening services during the school term when the university is in session. So we'll have to try again next week in the morning time. I’m excited to visit and hopefully develop a church community away from home.
I’ve been doing my own personal bible study, and the following verse has been on my heart lately:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Whether helping to restore someone lost in their own follies and mistakes or supporting someone who has experienced a lot of external pain, how do we carry each other’s burdens? This hit home for me because quite a few people in my life have experienced a lot of pain and suffering recently, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I can comfort them and love them well. There’s no singular answer, so even amidst this great time in Oxford, I’m praying to learn how to shoulder my friends’ and family’s burdens as they have done for me countless times. Please say a special prayer for our Uduk family members in South Sudan. I mentioned in my last post that violence recently hit Doro Camp and the immediate surroundings, and the results of that violence have caused our family great pain and a weighty burden. We’re hoping for changes in that area and for peace for the people.
Life is full of hills and valleys, as our new favorite song describes so well (see the links below), but we believe next week will bring some more joyful moments. We’ll get to meet a visiting scholar coming into town to see Wendy, and then my birthday is on Wednesday (#26!). Wendy is giving us that day off so I have to figure out what I want to do for my birthday. At our wedding back in April, we had a date jar where guests could write fun date ideas on popsicle sticks. We couldn’t bring the jar with us on this trip, but we grabbed a handful of the popsicle sticks to get started with all the cool suggestions. I may have to consult them for birthday ideas.
We also found a fitness center that is within walking distance from us, so we’re looking to join this evening and I’m planing to attend a lyrical hip hop class a little further out in the city tomorrow. Can’t wait! So there are quite a few things to be joyful about and look forward to.
You've heard a lot from me this week, but next week Liasor will share some of his thoughts on our time in Oxford, the work he is doing, and the things that have been going on regarding family and friends. Stay on the lookout for that.
Thank you again for your prayers and for thinking of us!
Our summer 2017 journey has finally begun! We are currently in Oxford, England after a long whirlwind journey. We will be in Oxford for the next three months, then (newest development!) we will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for an additional 2.5 months.
Our journey started a couple weeks ago when we left our jobs for the time being, packed up all our belongings and put them into storage, and left Rochester with two suitcases each and a personal item. As much as we love home, we couldn't pass up the opportunity for another adventure now that it has come our way. I'm excited to live more simply with less possessions over the next few months (although there are quite a few wedding gifts I'm excited to reunite with when we return).
Our plans in England:
Like I mentioned, we will be living in Oxford, England for three months. My husband Liasor (it feels great to say my husband! #newlyweds) will be working on a translation project for an anthropology professor emeritus of the University of Oxford who is also a family friend. She lived for many years with the Uduk people of Sudan (which is the group Liasor is a part of) and she collected many stories and oral histories. Her recordings describe the daily life, history, and culture of the Uduk people. Liasor will be translating these recordings from T'wampa (the Uduk language) to English. These recordings date from the 1960s to the early 2000s and cover narratives from before, during, and after the Sudanese Civil War, describing life at home in the Blue Nile region and life displaced. Liasor has already been translating some of these recordings remotely, but this summer we're excited that he can work on this project full time.
My plan is to rest! I applied for a few jobs in Oxford because I initially wanted to work too. I was accepted to one position as an English as a Second Language teacher for international teens studying in Oxford, but the organization wasn't able to provide me with the necessary work visa sponsorship that I need to legally work in the U.K. So for now I will be focusing on some personal passion projects (like blogging, language learning, editing our wedding video, and strategic planning for Uduk Hope Inc. which is an organization that I help Liasor lead that focuses on supporting refugees in East Africa). I also downloaded a list of diverse dance classes around Oxford and I'm so excited to potentially start dancing again. For those who don't know, dancing is a primary passion of mine that I've somewhat neglected this past year. I'm also hoping to learn more about cooking, meal planning, and budgeting since we'll be living much more modestly without me working.
It's actually quite freeing to take a break from full-time work. It'll give me the opportunity to assess where I want to go next professionally. If you read any of my blog posts from last summer (when we were living in Doro Refugee Camp in South Sudan) I was so excited to have left the stress of grad school at that time and move at a slower, more life-giving pace. I wanted that climate of reduced stress to continue when we moved to Rochester. However, this past year in Rochester was far from restful, to say the least! I'm thankful for all of the learning experiences I had while teaching full-time this year and the logistical management that wedding planning taught me, but I am beyond exhausted mentally and physically, and there are so many things that make me uniquely Christine that I haven't invested in recently. So perhaps God has a plan for this period of time without a job, because I have a tendency to be an anxious, stress-prone workaholic. And that's not healthy. This past year I feel like I experienced panic attacks and high stress situations continuously amidst so much work, lack of clarity professionally, wedding planning and transition, and my whole being screamed for rest. Well, I believe rest has finally come in the form of a new adventure. What a paradoxical beauty, finding rest in adventure. And what a gift, because the Lord knows how much I love adventures, traveling, and languages! (Speaking of languages, I'm hoping to listen along while Liasor does some of his translations so I can learn more T'wampa. Fingers crossed!)
I want to focus on being present, growing spiritually, reflecting on this past year, and giving up streams of thankfulness because God has been good in our lives even at our hardest moments and even in the midst of tragic news regarding our family in Doro Refugee Camp. It would behoove us to pray and to seek God as we think of ways to be of support to them and others in Doro where violence has recently hit. Which leads me to...
Our plans in Ethiopia:
In October we'll leave Oxford and fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I'm super excited because it's been a long-term dream of mine to visit Ethiopia. Until a couple weeks ago, it didn't look like traveling to Addis after Oxford would even be feasible due to finances and logistics. However, thanks to an incredible gift from a close friend, we are now definitely traveling to Ethiopia, and we won't just be passing through but staying from October to mid-December. Liasor and I are humbled by this gift and opportunity. The purpose of our time there is to make some strategic connections and partnerships on behalf of Uduk Hope Inc. For those not familiar, Uduk Hope is an organization started by Uduk members in Rochester, New York who desire to mitigate the challenges that their loved ones face in refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia. Liasor is currently running the organization and I help to support by serving on the Board of Directors. Last summer, we spent six weeks in Doro Refugee Camp visiting family and completing research to determine the organizational strategy of Uduk Hope. Since then, we have synthesized a lot of the research and have been meeting with a social entrepreneurship institute in Rochester to help us further develop and design the organizational scope and makeup of Uduk Hope. We currently have a few programs in operation that focus on needs that were expressed during our summer 2016 research. But now we are continuing to refine and design Uduk Hope, and this trip to Ethiopia will greatly help with that. Our goal is to develop partnerships with a few key organizations and institutions in the area and to do a lot of strategic planning. We will not be returning to Doro Refugee Camp or South Sudan at all during this trip, because there is too much unrest and insecurity. We'll primarily stay in Addis, the capital of Ethiopia. Please be praying for our connections and meetings, and for a smooth trip.
The highs and the lows of traveling:
Once we left Rochester in June, we traveled to Cleveland to visit family for a couple days. It was super nice to see everyone in Cleveland and spend a lot of quality time together. Then we flew to New York City after long delays in the Cleveland airport. We arrived in NYC tired and exhausted, only to rise early the following morning for a day-trip to Washington D.C. to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture with friends for the 4th of July. It was a wonderful experience that would require an entire separate post to fully describe. What a great museum; I highly recommend it to everyone. We'll have to go back because we were only able to see a portion of the exhibits. We spent a couple more days in NYC then we took off for London with a layover in Reykjavik, Iceland. Our flight from New York to Iceland was delayed by four hours, and two of those hours were spent sitting in an unmoving airplane waiting for a long line of other planes to take off. So we ended up in Reykjavik, Iceland later and longer than we expected, because our connecting flight had already left by the time we arrived. We were rerouted to a new flight, but when we finally flew into London, we found out that the airline left our checked bags back in Iceland! We were told that our bags will be shipped to us in the next couple days so please be praying for that. We were already sufficiently stressed, and then it took us a while to figure out how to get to Oxford from London because we arrived late at night and the bus we needed was no longer running. In the end we decided to take a taxi to Oxford.
Finally, after so much movement and stress and exhaustion, we arrived in Oxford last night and we couldn't be happier to settle down for a little bit and sleep.
Where we are staying in Oxford:
As part of Liasor's working arrangement, we have been provided with a lovely garden house during our time in Oxford called "The Annex". I had no idea what a garden house was before this trip, but essentially it is exactly what it says it is. It's a house in the backyard garden of someone's estate. We love our home for the summer! It's small, cozy and surrounded by nature.
I already had one embarrassing blunder trying to figure out the stove in our home. Below the stovetop, it has both an internal grill and an oven and I didn't recognize at first which was which. (I was so accustomed to the typical American stove which only has an oven below the stovetop). After playing around with some knobs, I figured out that the oven is the lower of the two and now all is good. Oh, silly American moment.
We cannot wait to explore Oxford. Liasor has visited before so he's super excited to show me some of his favorite (or should I say favourite) places and discover new ones together. Today we got a brief tour of some nearby streets and we got to visit a couple shops. I still haven't been to the city center yet, so hopefully that will be tomorrow's adventure. Oxford seems like a very bike-friendly city (I've seen countless bikers already). I'm sort of hoping to rent a bike for the summer because I LOVE biking around town! I biked nonstop when I lived in Cordoba, Spain and I biked a bit when I lived in NYC, but that was kinda scary.
Anywho, I'm looking forward to spending some great quality time with Liasor this summer and hopefully we'll find a great church and make some new friends. We are also hoping to take a belated honeymoon trip (maybe back to Spain where we first met), but time and expenses will tell. Either way, I plan to keep my blog updated regularly so I'll keep you all in the loop. Thank you for your prayers and support! A special shout out to our family for giving us a place to stay in Rochester and Cleveland after we left our apartment and stored all our things, and for spending a wonderful time with us before our long 6-month journey. We made it to Oxford safely and we love you all! Until next post!
Hello from Rochester, NY and Cleveland, OH. We are back in the USA with quite a few updates. Liasor's voice is recorded in blue and Christine's is recorded in red.
Here are our reflections from the last three weeks in Doro Refugee Camp:
On a rainy morning, we sat around a table in the company of a few cousins and a reliable radio signal. As the music filling our house mixed with the rhythm of the rain outside, we consumed multiple rounds of coffee along with porridge made from the vitamin meal bars that had been delivered that morning. We entertained ourselves with good conversation and by trying to guess which song the DJ would play next, each of us doing our own secret dances to tunes from all over the continent and abroad. We probably danced the hardest to the West African beats, all of Taylor Swift's singles, and the local hits. This was one of my favorite mornings and I remember praying that the rain would never end. We all pulled our sweatshirts tighter round as the rain cooled the breeze blowing into our open door. We watched the rain fall and thanked God for hot drinks made from roasted beans on open fire and for the meal bars we mixed into the coffee making espresso-flavored delight. Cozy moment, please stay...
By afternoon we were drenched, but not by waters from heaven, but by our own sweat from the sweltering sun. It was rainy season, but wet mornings like this one were few and far between. Hot days and dust-filled winds reigned in Maban County over the last weeks. We were all praying for the rain's return.
The last weeks in Doro were full of special moments like the one above, so we want to recount a few more of them and give full updates regarding the work of Uduk Hope Inc.
Uduk Hope Updates | How We Used the "GoFundMe" Funds:
From our very first day in Doro, we set out to select a team of people to help run Uduk Hope from within the camp. We are happy to announce that 8 people were appointed to the Uduk Hope Doro team. We chose 4 men and 4 women, some of whom had expressed interest well before our trip, others who had come forward this summer expressing their passion for the work of Uduk Hope, and others who had been recommended by community leaders. Each individual had begun helping in big and small ways throughout our time in Doro, so it was a natural transition to add them to the team. We will introduce them to the Uduk Hope Board of Directors in the USA and then add their names and profiles to the Uduk Hope website.
Since the last post, we also held our first food distribution with the money we raised through GoFundMe on behalf of Uduk Hope. This distribution event came about after months of prior planning.
Back in January 2016, we along with Rev. Brian Babcock of the Rochester Connection began to think about the best ways to have a food intervention during our time in Doro Camp after learning that there was a food crisis happening at the time we were planning to visit. Ultimately, our trip to Doro came about as a result of these meetings where we had deeper questions about what was happening. A few of these questions included: Why is there a food crisis when organizations that provide food are in the camp? Is it a method of delivery issue? Or simply a shortage of food from the outside? When we spoke about these things, it became apparent that we couldn't help everyone in the camp with food, simply because of lack of resources to do so. We didn’t have trucks or airplanes to buy and deliver large quantities of food or to pay for their transportation costs. So we shifted our focus saying, what we may need to do is figure out which families are most in need and see if we can help provide those families with enough for a month's supply of food. Since we did not have a team at the camp to help us with these questions, we decided to go ourselves to conduct what was initial research.
Months before going, we decided to open a GoFundMe account where people who were interested in donating for food purposes could do so. We made a total of just over 700 dollars from that campaign thanks to very generous donors.
While in Doro Refugee Camp, we immediately discovered that our plan to find families that were most in need would not work. We held a meeting with the elders of all the Uduk churches in Doro camp. There used to be 7 big churches but now there are about 20 due to increased population and lack of space to seat everyone. In this meeting, we thought about the best ways that we could reach many people with the small amount of money that we had raised. Remember that in our last post, weeks before, we had 4 focus groups with community members. One thing that we learned was the hunger crisis was affecting every family and not just some. We will be publishing a final report of the causes of hunger, how people have dealt with them, and their suggestions on how to mitigate some of challenges. Because of our newfound knowledge, we had to shift our focus from targeting specific families to hosting as many as we could. When we agreed on this with the leaders, we purchased 5 goats, about 8 bags of sorghum, oil, salt, sugar, tea and coffee. On Saturday July 9th we used $500 of the amount we raised to host a huge meal for 819 people!
It was an all-day event. The materials were equally distributed to the churches and each of those churches decided who would prepare what meal. On the day of the gathering, a team of young men and women were chosen to prepare tea and coffee for all in attendance. We were able to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone who came out.
We decided to go through the church to organize and advertise this event primarily because of the church's big role in the community and because of the recommendation of many community members in our focus groups to hold the event through the church.
The remainder of the GoFundMe money will be used for a second future event targeted at school-aged children. We chose one school at random and our plan is to provide the children in attendance with food during one school day. Since we are no longer in Doro, we have tasked the 8 people of the new Uduk Hope Doro team to carry out the plan. We held meetings with the Doro team so that we can all be on the same page as far as communication, accounting, record-keeping, planning, implementation, and evaluation. I'm so excited that the Doro team will carry out this plan so that people don't see Uduk Hope solely as Liasor, Rumthus, and I. Moreover, we have been telling the community about the Uduk families and others in the USA who are also on the Uduk Hope Board and the work they are doing. I look forward to reporting on how the school food event goes in the coming weeks.
Let us put things into perspective. Yes we were able to feed a lot of people with the money that we raised through GoFundMe. As good as that was, it is very small when looking at the total population of the camp. Doro camp has slightly over 50,000 people of different ethnic backgrounds and represents a myriad of cultural diversity all of which experience hunger. We are praying for more lasting, structural solutions to the hunger crisis. We are thankful that we got to share the amount we had, which you all helped us raise money for. We can't say thank you enough! It was incredible to see over 800 people come together to cook and serve one another.
Uduk Hope Updates: Research Developments
The primary purpose of our trip shifted from food support to research early on. Research is important so that we understand the actual causes of hunger and other issues in Doro camp and to help develop an organizational strategy for Uduk Hope Inc. Since research was our number one priority, we did just that. Having called together 4 focus groups during our stay, we were able to hear stories from people who live in different villages. We learned that food is distributed based on family size, that families do not get the full amount of food that they used to and are expected to make up the difference through farming. Likewise, we learned that conflict between the host community and the refugees perpetuates the hunger crisis. When in times of peace, this would not be the case. Additionally, because families do not have enough clothes to wear and salt for their food, they sell some of what is distributed to them in order to find clothing and salt. Still others whose food runs out before the month ends borrow food from those that have food and when the day of distribution comes, the borrowers have to return what they get which creates a cycle of hunger and borrowing. This naturally leads to the question of what is to be done now?
For the Uduk Hope team, the next year or so will be dedicated to creating and supporting projects based on what we have learned. The above mentioned things are related to food only, but there are a variety of other important concerns that we learned that also inform which projects we will be focusing on from now on. Since Uduk Hope Inc. is a nonprofit organization, we will be doing a lot of fundraising to increase our ability to support projects. Emphasizing relationship building in the form of partnerships with colleges, churches, professionals, and high schools will be the next phase of supporting the people in Doro Refugee Camp. Supporting how? The hunger crisis which I mentioned above is a result of many different factors. Instead of coming up with solutions for people in Doro, the people in Doro have given us their own answers that they, along with support from others in America and elsewhere, can help implement. We will explore ways to operationalize solutions that people in Doro have proposed through partnerships with schools and churches.
We also developed a good relationship with the regional director of Samaritan's Purse in Doro and we spoke to him about potential partnerships as well. We will continue conversations with him after leaving Doro.
Our original plan was to speak to officials of every organization in Doro, but due to the abrupt change in plans we had to alter our strategy. We still have the contact information of the director of CRA (the South Sudanese governmental refugee agency) which grants permission to all organizations hoping to operate in the camp, and we are also having one of our Doro team members acquire the contact information of the head of the UNHCR office which delegates what each organization does in the camp. Our hope is to communicate with these two high officials from here in the States to learn more about what each organization in Doro is mandated to do and to get the contact information of the directors of all the other organizations to reach out to them directly via email. Before coming to Doro, we weren't able to do this because we didn't know who to contact. But now, we should have all the information we need for such communication. So while it would be better to speak in person to officials from each organization, this backup plan is the next best thing. Besides, we found out that many of the organizations in Doro have also evacuated due to the insecurity in Juba and growing tensions between the Maban and Uduk people in Doro. So even if we stayed til August, we might not have been able to speak with each organization as we planned.
In addition, our team got to observe a teacher-training through an
organization called Save the Children. We saw teachers from various schools being trained in statistics and assessment methods. The trainers (who were from Uganda and Kenya) were amazing. I took so many notes from them that I want to incorporate into my own teaching practice.
Aside from Uduk Hope updates, we want to take this time to share some other things we are really thankful for and that we will greatly miss:
Tea Shop Afternoons:
Liasor and I passed the last few afternoons in a few small tea shops in the open marketplaces in Doro. At the tea shops, we were able to treat 5-6 people to multiple rounds of coffee, tea, and snacks for less than $5 USD. They also served amazing Ethiopian cuisine. We brought different people with us to thank them for their hospitality and to treat family members who worked hard hosting us. We all LOVED the hibiscus tea they serve there as well as the black tea with milk. YUM! The tea shops easily became my favorite places in Doro.
A Couple Parties to Remember:
Three weeks ago, one of Liasor's uncles (who is incredibly sweet) treated us to an amazing day. First, he came to our house with fresh cow's milk that he heated in a kettle. He served it to us with sugar for breakfast and it tasted like heaven. I don't even like milk normally! It was like eating ice-cream flavored tea. I told Liasor, "Is this the type of milk God was referring to when he mentioned the land flowing with milk and honey?" Liasor was like, "For sure".
His uncle drove out to a market far away to get special items for a meal he was planning. Then he took us to his house where we had two amazingly-seasoned lamb stews and a tasty chicken stew. We were so stuffed we couldn't eat the dinner he made for us later that day (which was a rice and lamb stew dish). He also gave us soda pop (a scarce commodity in this camp) and made us feel like the most highly esteemed guests. I learned so much about hospitality that day with Liasor's uncle. He put so much work, money, and time into that day and I was so appreciative. I've also learned a lot from him about teaching, as he is a teacher at one of the schools here.
My Birthday Party: I had a wonderful birthday on July 19, which started with a coffee shop date with Liasor and ended with a celebration with over 100 people from the family and the community. I've never had that many people celebrate my birthday before ever in my life. One of the pastors also spoke and delivered a powerful message about family, growth, and community. It was such a special day, complete with a cozy rain storm that caused us to rush barefoot in the clay-mud to get from a friend's house to make it in time for my party at home. I've never been one to enjoy playing in the mud, but I had such a good time walking between tall stalks of corn, sludging through the clay and laughing with Liasor, cousins and friends about our muddy plight. We had to quickly wash our feet and legs before joining the many guests who came for the birthday celebration. Basically it was a birthday for the books!
Church & Humbling Perspectives:
One thing that was incredibly inspiring and humbling for me was hearing the perspectives of the church community in Doro. Many people are not thrilled to be living in a camp setting, but many have also pointed out the silver linings and the blessings of such difficult situations. I've heard many women and men at the church speak about how God has used this refugee situation to bring small blessings, such as receiving a little more support for the children's education which wasn't as strong before people fled their homes, coming together with other groups of people from around the region and from abroad, and receiving the opportunity to understand the most important and essential things needed in life. Hearing people speak about hardship in this way has brought me to my knees in awe and reflection. What are ways that I can see God move in the hardships of my own life? Would I even be able to have the same perspective if I had gone through what some of my friends here have gone through? I only pray that my faith would be as strong. I learned so much everyday from everyone in Doro, and I'm excited that I got to grow closer to a couple of Liasor's cousins who have become dear friends.
One close friend is Liasor's cousin Rebecca who is a little younger than me. She speaks some English, and my T'wampa and Arabic were slowly beginning to form coherent phrases, so together we were able to have semi-conversations which were mostly reliant on nonverbal communication like laughter. She is getting married soon and her wedding is scheduled to happen in August. We would have been in Doro for the wedding if it wasn't for our change in plans. I'm super excited for her, and I wish we didn't have to miss it. Rebecca and I have bonded over discussing marriage and wedding planning and from doing each other's hair. She's taught me how to make coffee from scratch and how to sing songs in Arabic and T'wampa. I miss her dearly.
My T'wampa Teachers!!:
Liasor spoke with two of his family members who are teachers in Doro and they agreed to teach me T'wampa using the children's language books. I started out on Book 1, learning to pronounce the different sounds, and it was so hard for me (the struggle was real). Over the last two weeks, I met with both teachers each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was exhausting work, but so worth it! My plan is to continue going through the books with Liasor in the States.
As I was finishing this portion of the post, things came full circle as we had yet another rainy day huddled inside with hot drinks. Well, it was more like an intense torrential downpour. But still, the rain was the perfect bookend for our time in Doro, as rain meant time spent close together. I hope the rain continued after we left so the family can enjoy the cool weather it brings and so that the corn and tomatoes growing in the yard can finally come in.
Thoughts on Leaving and the Journey Home:
While we were in Doro Refugee Camp, conflict erupted in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This is what we know: There was an official meeting between the president and the vice president of South Sudan who were fighting each other not too long ago in South Sudan’s civil war. President Salva Kir invited Riek Machar back to his original position of Vice President, ending the civil war well before our plan to go into South Sudan. During this particular meeting, the VP's guards were attacked and killed. When news personnel came into the meeting to ask who orchestrated this, they both said it wasn’t them. President Salva Kir delivered Riek back to his people safely, according to high level officials. The attack caused widespread violence throughout the city and other parts of South Sudan. Meanwhile in Doro Camp, we were in peaceful times. At the same time, we heard that conflict was erupting in all the major cities around us.
When our friend and pastor, Brian, got word of this, he initiated communication with me and my team. He recommended that we leave immediately. At that time, the inhabitants of Doro including ourselves had no fears of the conflict in Juba reaching us. Christine and I spoke with the regional coordinator of Samaritan's Purse, the organization that listed us as missionaries and sent us from Juba to Doro on their airplane. The regional coordinator encouraged us to be ready to leave at any moment as personnel from Samaritan's Purse and other big organizations were being evacuated out of the country into Uganda and Kenya. I told him that if he and his critical staff evacuated, our team should also be secured seats on that flight. I told him that while taking into consideration the fact that our research was incomplete, that our location was relatively calm, and that we were making good progress with the research. Meanwhile, the death of an individual in the outskirts of town escalated the conflict between the Maban host community and the Uduk refugees in Doro. Taking into consideration the uncertainty of this conflict that was much closer to us, advice from Brian and the regional coordinator for SP, I decided to move forward with an evacuation plan. It seemed like we were in the eye of a major storm that was bringing destruction to every other place but ours and I was not going to risk our safety.
When I informed Brian of this, he worked tirelessly to see to our evacuation. It went something like this:
-We arranged to fly out of Doro on one of the Samaritan's Purse cargo planes. This arrangement was of no cost to us because it was considered an evacuation.
7/22/2016: After very emotional goodbyes and a touching family prayer all together in our tiny house, we flew out of Doro on the Samaritan's Purse (SP) cargo plane. The plane was incredibly small with only about 6 rows of seats, 12 passengers, and all our bags tied up behind us between our seats and the bathroom. Needless to say, it was a very turbulent ride! We stopped first in Juba (much to our dismay!!) to get our passports stamped on our way out of South Sudan. Juba was the last place we wanted to be since it was the center of the current unrest. In Juba, we encountered more problems because we were told that we didn’t have some registration papers that we should have gotten when we first arrived 6 weeks prior. After much confusion, the SP staff member accompanying us helped us sort it all out. We sang high praises as we boarded the plane again away from Juba, and had another 2 hour flight to Eldoret, Kenya. In Eldoret, another SP attendant drove us to a SP compound/guest house where we ate and slept well. But only after we got lost and the attendant almost accidentally drove us to the wrong location, in a sketchy dark area. But praise God we made it to the SP compound and had a restful night there.
7/23/2016: In Eldoret, Kenya our connection with Samaritan’s Purse ended. From the USA, Brian arranged for us to be picked up by Free Methodist Church (FMC) contacts and driven to Nairobi. So early that morning, a driver came for us to take us on a 5-hour drive from Eldoret to Nairobi, Kenya. The drive was spectacular! We saw a lot of countryside, full of lush green and rolling hills. We spotted wildlife (quite a few zebras and antelope) and ate the most delicious grilled corn from vendors along the way. It was such a scenic, peaceful road trip. I am so thankful we got the opportunity to drive through that area of Kenya.
Once in Nairobi, we met with our FMC contact, Mike, who set us up with a hotel. We also had a great dinner with him and some friends who had been working in the Nuba Mountains with a Bible quizzing team. Liasor had participated in Bible quizzing as a young child in Rochester, NY and surprisingly he realized that his former coach’s son was sitting with us at dinner! It was such a cool connection.
7/24/2016: We went to Mike’s church in a town called Karen outside of Nairobi. The service was amazing and it was children’s Sunday so we got to see the young kids perform skits and songs and it was a very moving experience. We also heard a powerful message from Mike’s wife.
We got to explore a little more of the city and all three of us absolutely LOVED Nairobi. Both Liasor and I agreed that we could see ourselves moving there. We got to check out an awesome shopping center and some great restaurants. Nairobi has a lot of things to do much like NYC and I loved seeing so much diversity. I also admired all the fashion and hairstyles. It was a GREAT day in Nairobi for us.
7/25/2016: We woke up at 1:00am for an early flight. We flew from Nairobi to Cairo (about 4 hours), then ran through the Cairo airport to make it to our connecting flight to London (about 5 hours), then rested and ate before our final 7-hour flight to Toronto. When we finally landed in Toronto, we were incredibly exhausted and each had experienced our share of stomach issues. We were so relieved to see our friends Brian and Carol who picked us up from the airport and drove us for about 4 hours to Rochester, NY. When we finally made it to the Dima/Daniel household, we passed out.
7/29/2016 I was driven by Brian and Carol to my home in Cleveland. I'm finally functioning again after a few days of jet lag and fatigue that restricted to me to the bed and couch. It's so good to be productive and writing again!
All of this would not have been possible without Brian’s hard work and people who donated a lot of money to shift our original tickets. Our original flights were on August 15 from Doro and on August 19th from Juba to Cairo to Toronto. With the changes that Brian made, we flew out on July 25. These are big changes for international flights and cost a lot of money. Special thank you's to those who helped us get out safe by caring and being generous.
I'm super sad we left early because I was at a place where my relationships with everyone were just getting stronger. So many family members shared emotional words with me and expressed great joy that we got this time together. I know it was also especially difficult for Liasor and Rumthus. I can't even fully process all my emotions yet, but I'll try to sum them up with this list: thankful, inspired, hopeful, touched, joyful, sad, not ready to go. Now that I am back home, all the things I need to do (like find a job) are looming over my head. I already miss the peace and rest I experienced while in Doro and I'm going to fight hard to avoid the stress that surrounded me over the last two years while I was in grad school.
Now that we've gotten some much needed rest, our plan is to reach out to the remaining organizations that we didn't get to talk to in Doro. Then from there we will need to prepare a presentation for the Uduk Hope Board of Directors and together create a strategic plan for the organization. We also need to introduce the Uduk Hope Board to the Uduk Hope Doro Team via Skype.
Liasor is also presenting on short segments of our trip every Sunday at his church for the next few weeks. (Stop by and visit Heart & Soul Community Church if you're in the Rochester, NY area! I'll also be speaking this coming Sunday!).
Personally, my next step to is apply for jobs in my field (please someone hire me!), and plan a wedding, and make some life decisions, and reflect more on this incredible summer. But we can't forget to continue getting rest! Please Lord, remind me of the rest and peace You gave me in Doro. Help me not to fall back into my workaholic, stressful ways. I have a feeling this next season of life will be more restful and more focused on relationships and personal/spiritual growth. Can't wait. :)
Thank you all again for your thoughts, prayers, and support this summer. If anyone is interested in staying informed about Uduk Hope updates, feel free to contact me or Liasor, or check out the Uduk Hope website (www.udukhope.com).
Christine and Liasor
P.S. Check out the videos below for some songs and special moments from our time in Doro.
Above: Playing charades before a soccer match.
Above: Teaching Naruto signs to a cousin nicknamed Dei. Dei is deaf, but that has never stopped him from learning and doing amazing things.
Christine's favorite song is the Arabic one below:
We are finally in Doro and have been for about four weeks now! It was such a journey to get here, but we made it! I want to go ahead and apologize for the length of this post, but there's so much to say! Feel free to skim, completely skip, or to read this post in its entirety. So much has happened between leaving Juba and now so we took the time each day to record our experiences.
Getting to Doro:
We were supposed to fly out of Juba to Doro on Wednesday June 8th, but after getting a ride to the airport from personnel at Samaritan's Purse and checking in to our flight along with workers from various other organizations...our flight was canceled. We thought the cancellation was due to rain, but it was actually due to conflict in Maban County, where Doro Refugee Camp is located. This was a huge predicament for us because we had already checked out of our hotel, and our plane tickets through Samaritan's Purse were only good for that day. It had taken so much for us to acquire those tickets after corresponding with many different organizations over the past few months. Moreover, Liasor and Rumthus' family were expecting us that day and were preparing a huge meal for our arrival. They were very disappointed when we told them the news. To top it all off, Rumthus wasn't feeling well at all and hadn't been able to eat so far that day, so we were sufficiently stressed. Luckily, we had arranged for our big suitcases to arrive after us through a separate United Nations (UN) flight, so we only had our carry-on bags to lug around.
We found the same taxi driver who helped us when we first arrived in Juba and he drove us back to our hotel where we checked in for one more night, much to our budget's distress. Rumthus went straight to bed after taking some antibiotics and Liasor and I walked over to the Samaritan's Purse office where we were relieved to get new tickets for the next day and new letters of sponsorship from their staff so that we could board the plane, free of extra charge. (To get this letter, they listed us as missionaries.) We also were able to meet up with Liasor's uncle again and he took us to the bank to get more South Sudanese pounds to spend in Doro. It was excruciatingly hot in Juba that day, so after our errands I was ready to pass out from heat exhaustion and I slept the rest of that day until waking up to leave for Doro the next morning.
The flight to Doro the next day was an hour late, which made us nervous that it would be canceled again. We prayed super hard and finally boarded the small UNHAS plane that would take us to Doro. The whole ride was super turbulent which made me grip Liasor's hand for dear life. Rumthus was in much better health that morning, but she said that the flight caused her stomach to somersault again. Rumthus was so excited to see her family, and I still recall how she stared out the window with great anticipation. Once we landed in Maban County, we had one last hurdle we had forgotten to plan for. Everyone on our plane got off the flight and jumped into UN trucks that drove them off in separate directions, far into the distance. Everyone except us. That's when we looked at each other and said, "how are we getting from this runway to the camp?" Perhaps we should have arranged for a Samaritan's Purse truck to come for us. Either way, we stood there stumped, until a gentleman walked up and told us in Arabic that he had been sent to take us to Rumthus' family in Doro Camp. I was very thankful for Rumthus' Arabic speaking abilities and the bit that Liasor still has, as they determined that this man was telling the truth. The question still remained though, how were we getting to Doro? Walking? The gentleman motioned to a few of his friends with motorcycles, and we rode away to Doro on the backs of their bikes.
It was both exhilarating and terrifying, riding through the reddish dirt of Maban, taking in the sights and the greenery. The weather was so much cooler than in Juba, and a refreshing breeze followed us throughout our ride.
Doro At Last:
Finally, oh finally, after having set out from Toronto 5 days before, we arrived at Doro Refugee Camp. We first sat and had tea with a gentleman who is the leader of the Uduk people in Doro (the commissioner). He greeted us and discussed the current state of the camp and the Uduk people living there, speaking in T'wampa, Arabic, and English.
Then, like out of a dream, a couple of Rumthus' siblings walked up to see her. The reunion was very emotional. Her siblings led us to the part of the camp where the rest of her family was and the next hours were full of embracing and tears. I met so many people and tried my hardest to remember names but had to ask again and again over the next few days. I felt so humbled to be a part of this emotional reunion for Rumthus, but a part of me also felt that Liasor's siblings should be here instead of me; that they should also share in this moment with their mom.
It's been so great meeting so many people in Liasor's extended family and seeing how connected they are and how emotional Liasor and Rumthus have been for all relatives both close and distant. Being here has made me reflect on my own experiences and family and wonder why my heart isn't as pressed by not being closer to my extended family. I realized that my family (including those far removed) isn't any smaller than Liasor's, but perhaps I could do more work to be better connected to everyone. For some reason it seems so much more difficult in the States. But that's something for further reflection this summer.
Before coming to Doro, Liasor collected pictures from Uduk families living in the USA (in New York, Michigan, Utah, Nebraska, Arizona) and from families in Canada. Here in Doro, relatives of these families have traveled to where Rumthus' family stays to retrieve these pictures and gifts. Liasor also brought pictures of his siblings and dad, and I shared pictures of my family as well. Everyone has been so welcoming to me, and I feel at home with the family. Liasor warned me that I would be a celebrity for a few weeks, which I was nervous about because I don't like too much attention. And he was right. So many kids from around Doro have come to take a peek at this strange new person (me) who is staying with Rumthus' family. They've come and watched when I brush my teeth and when I head to the bathroom, which has been very uncomfortable for me, but I recognize I'm new in the camp. I wave and smile at all the interested children to show them that at least I'm a nice stranger.
Liasor's cousins and a few other family members came together a few months ago when they found out we were coming and built us a beautiful clay home similar to the others in the camp. They put so much work into our house, painting the outside and decorating the inside like a princess fairytale. There are cutout flowers adorning the ceiling and the mosquito net around my bed is a frilly, pink tented net. Rumthus and Liasor have nice white mosquito nets around their beds. The words "Welcome" are written in chalk on the wall, and the metal roof keeps the rain out. We also have a big front door with a lock and key that bolt shut when we leave out. I love our home!!!! It's so cute and comfortable. The only uncomfy part is that sometimes it gets really hot inside, which makes it hard to sleep at night. Our house is so secure, but has less ventilation than some of the other homes. It has finally started raining more (the rain came late this year) which has cooled down our abode.
During rainy season, it starts getting dark early on in Maban County, around 7:30pm. Every evening here, once dark, there's a bonfire and everyone living in our area (mostly family) comes and sits around talking, telling stories, laughing, and singing. It's my favorite time of day. I've seen more stars during this time than I've ever seen in my whole life. I must look like a child staring up at the sky for hours in awe. I wonder if this experience is similar to what my father and his brothers witnessed growing up in the countryside of Selma, Alabama in the USA. Every now and then I experience things that are reminiscent of what my father has described from his childhood.
On one of our first nights around the bonfire, a huge group of children gave me a hymn book with songs in T'wampa, and taught me a lot of them. Liasor also joined in and helped teach me. It was such a great, special moment. Liasor and I also taught the kids a worship song in English, because according to Liasor, at church the next day the pastor would ask us to say a few words and sing a song for everyone. So we chose the song "Amazing Love, How Can It Be". We taught it to the kids and recorded it for them on our iPad so they could practice. They were all excited to sing it with us at our first church service three Sunday's ago, but of course I got sick that morning and Rumthus stayed home to take care of me. So only Liasor went to church, and I was so disappointed. I could hear the Uduk choir singing from my house that morning. Many people here sing with beautiful multi-part harmonies so maybe by the end of this summer I'll be one step closer to being able to harmonize. Liasor has been trying to teach me to harmonize for the past 4 years and still I struggle.
Two Sundays ago I finally made it to church and we were called to sit up front in the pulpit to greet everyone and sing a song in English, like Liasor predicted. We decided to sing a different song than we had planned - we chose "How Great Is Our God" - so Rumthus could join with a song she knew. That Sunday was also Father's Day and there was a huge celebration after service. We celebrated all the special men in our lives and Liasor's cousins had taken me to buy a gift for him at the market. I bought matching necklaces for us and gave it to him in front of everyone in the church (we made a huge circle full of clapping, and one by one ladies, young and old, went in the middle to present gifts to their fathers, brothers, lovers, and sons). Later that day, I also got to call my dad which was special.
The next day, there was another big celebration for World Refugee Day. The festivities were held in the distribution area and many people came out from all over the camp.
My biggest struggle, as expected, is language. Quite a few people speak English especially leaders in the community, children who've learned it in school, and Liasor's cousins who are looking after us. But, of course, as should be the case, the family mainly uses T'wampa, the Uduk language. It has been a challenge missing out on funny jokes and on important discussions, but that has been more motivation for me to continue learning and to put to use the bit of T'wampa I already know from spending time with Liasor's family in Rochester, NY. Learning a language, especially through immersion, can be exhausting though, so as much as I hate naps I've become a regular napper here. My knowledge of Spanish has been helping me A LOT because both Spanish and T'wampa have a lot of Arabic in them! (A great portion of Spain was once under Islamic Caliphate rule and T'wampa has borrowed quite a few words from the Arabic in this region). So there are many similar words in Spanish and T'wampa by way of Arabic. It's the coolest thing and I've been having a lot of nerdy language moments while in Doro so far. Ahh, so much happiness.
Okay, humor me. Here are two examples:
The word "soap":
The word "sugar":
Both Spanish and T'wampa have directly borrowed vocabulary from Arabic!! Liasor, who also speaks Spanish, once mentioned that it was a lot easier for him to learn Spanish than English when he first moved to the USA, and not just because of similar vocabulary, but also because of similar grammatical structures. I've also noticed some aspects of the grammar that are very similar to French too! I'm smiling right now from sheer language nerd excitement. I told Liasor all this, and he was like, "yeah that's great, languages are connected". Haha. But it's so much deeper ahh!
But yeah I'm trying to learn T'wampa, and it can be easy to feel left out at times since I don't know a lot of the language at this point. But I know if I'm diligent, it'll come little by little. So while I sometimes miss out on conversations, Liasor and Rumthus have been absolutely amazing about translating for me when they can.
Background on the Situation in Doro:
The people here always mention that Doro is not their home, of course, since they were pushed out of their homes and have lived in and out of various refugee camps over the past few decades due to wars within Sudan, between the two nations of Sudan and South Sudan and then the civil war in South Sudan. The original home of the Uduk, the Blue Nile State, they can no longer live in because in 2011 when Sudan split into two counties (Sudan and South Sudan) the border was drawn without taking the Uduk people's home into account, maybe because they are a minority group and didn't have a voice in the border decision. So the Blue Nile region remained within Sudan (north) and not a part of the new nation of South Sudan. That's why the Uduk people are considered refugees in their own country of South Sudan, and not just "internally displaced people's" (IDPs), which is the title given to people displaced within their own country.
Thus, the Uduk homeland is now in a different country, although they identify as South Sudanese. There are Uduk people still living in various refugee camps in Ethiopia as well. The elders here told us that the homeland, the Blue Nile, is only about a three hour drive from Doro Camp. Some of the Uduk people have walked back to the Blue Nile to cultivate their fertile land in order to supplement the small rations given by organizations in Doro. But in Blue Nile they are apparently being bombed by people in Sudan (north) for "illegal immigration" to that area. (We actually heard the bombs in Blue Nile the other day.) So alternately, the Uduk people have tried to cultivate on the land in Maban County where Doro is located to supplement their food rations, but there is great tension between the Maban people and the Uduk, and apparently the Maban don't want the Uduk cultivating on their land, let alone living in Doro which is on their property. Many Uduk people said they have been attacked when they try to plant and collect wood outside of Doro in Maban County. There are small areas within Doro Camp where the Uduk can cultivate, but people have said that it's not enough, which has led to the current food crisis. The rations from the organizations are small and there's nowhere to plant and grow food to supplement. Of course, there are many sides to any story so we look forward to talking more to the many different stakeholders in this issue.
Life is difficult here in the refugee camp, especially because of the food crisis. Before coming, we read news articles and heard from family members that people are eating grass due to the food crisis. Now, we have experienced firsthand the stew that families make from the wild plants growing here that normally aren't used for eating. This stew supplements all our meals. Moreover, we've learned that it's difficult for people to buy food from the market because of a scarcity of jobs in the camp. We made sure to contribute our personal funds to help feed Rumthus' family and ourselves during the entirety of our stay, so that our visit doesn't drain any more resources.
Which leads me to updates on our exploratory project for Uduk Hope Inc.
Uduk Hope Inc. Updates
As you recall, Uduk Hope Inc. is an NGO started by Uduk members living in the United States interested in supporting their communities living in refugee camps. Within our first few days in Doro, we already held four focus groups!! For those who aren't familiar, focus groups are like guided conversations for research (like group interviews). One of Liasor's cousins has great connections in Doro, so we sat down with him to make an outreach plan for our Uduk Hope research, and within hours he told us he had three focus groups set up for us, and a fourth came a few days later. So far we held a focus group with church leaders and elders, another with young men, another with young women, and a fourth with elder women. About 20-30 people came for each one, and 60 women came to the last one! The church played a huge part in getting people to come out by disseminating information about the focus groups to everyone. The discussions have been incredibly powerful. We've only been able to talk to Uduk people so far, so hopefully we'll be able to talk to people from the seven other communities in the camp, as well as with Maban leaders who are part of the host community. Doro is divided into three sections (A, B, and C); the Uduk live in C and that's where we are staying, while the other seven communities are within A and B. As mentioned, the camp is nestled right within Maban county so the Maban people live all around Doro, outside the camp. Nevertheless, Maban people hold the majority of leadership positions within the organizations in the camp, which is also causing tension. Liasor and I have decided to write a joint report after our time here because we learned so much already in our focus group conversations. We'll share the findings from these conversations at the very end of our trip. The information we gathered from these discussions will definitely affect the conversations we hope to have with each of the organizations here in the camp.
Liasor attended a huge food distribution two weeks ago where he was able to connect with a few of the organizations that operate here. The next day, he took me to the food distribution area as well and it was a very impactful experience. There were so many people lined up who had been waiting for over 5 hours for the humanitarian organizations to pass out food and various other supplies. One of the supply trucks didn't arrive so after all those hours of waiting, quite a few people were turned away and told to come back the next day. We got to speak with many people waiting in line, and we also got to speak with officials from the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), DRC (Danish Refugee Council), and Samaritan's Purse. Many people asked us which organization we were with and it still felt new to me to say Uduk Hope. One staff member of Samaritan's Purse mentioned that with the increased refugee crisis around the world, all organizations are feeling a pull on their resources, and food provisions in Doro have consequently decreased by 30%. It was hard walking through the distribution area seeing people who had been waiting for hours, knowing that we were just passing through. I'm still processing that experience and thinking over the challenges of living in a refugee context. We ran into a few of Liasor's family members there at the distribution, which was also tough but led to great conversations.
We got to meet with the commissioner again, who is the leader of the Uduk people in Doro, and told him more about Uduk Hope. He shared so much wisdom with us and we took copious notes. We talked a lot about education and teacher training, and we discussed many of the challenges including choosing a curriculum, deciding on the language of instruction, figuring out certification and teacher salary, and confronting the challenges of teacher retention, all while knowing that Doro is a refugee camp meaning that it is not permanent and at any point the people could move to another context in a different nation where all of the aforementioned decisions will have a huge impact. But we keep in mind that although refugee camps are not permanent, the current average life of a camp is around 17 years, which is a good portion of a child's schooling years. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation with the commissioner and he expressed great excitement to hear of Uduk Hope, especially since it was conceived and started by other Uduk communities.
We also met with the governor of Upper Nile State (the region that we're in), and we were so thankful to the commissioner who set up that meeting. Liasor spoke very eloquently about the work of Uduk Hope and his passion for supporting his people here. I also got to share a few words, which were translated into Arabic. The governor gave his approval for the work of Uduk Hope and expressed his happiness that Uduk families in the USA have come together in this way to offer support to people in Doro. To formally operate in Doro, Uduk Hope needs permission from the CRA (Commissioner for Refugee Affairs) and also the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But for now, we are happy that the governor knows what we are trying to do and approves of it. We also had a similar meeting with the commissioner of Maban County.
In the past seven days, we've had two big breakthroughs. Our biggest breakthrough was a meeting with the director of CRA (Commissioner for Refugee Affairs), our first organization! The CRA is a part of the South Sudanese government and oversees all organizations in the refugee camps in South Sudan. This organization even oversees the UNHCR. The meeting went incredibly well and the director (who is one of Liasor's childhood friends) promised to set up more meetings for us with all of the organizations in the camp. This was huge! The director also described to us the process to have Uduk Hope operate in Doro, which may require an additional trip to Juba to complete the necessary organizational paperwork. We are still discussing how to get that paperwork done in Juba. Please pray for guidance as we move forward meeting with various organizations through the director of the CRA and as we decide whether one of us should fly back to Juba to complete legal documentation for Uduk Hope to operate in this country. There is a possibility that Liasor's contacts in Juba may be able to acquire the paperwork for us so I'm praying for that alternative.
The second breakthrough was a meeting we had with a grassroots organization called Youth Peace Initiative, formed by 7 people from the different groups present in Doro. The organization is focused on youth development and their projects are aimed at 4 refugee camps where people from the Blue Nile are living (Doro, Jindrasa, Batil, and Kaya camps). This meeting was very fruitful and allowed for a lot of idea sharing. We are looking into ways to potentially establish a partnership with this group.
Apart from our meetings, we are also preparing to use the funds we raised through GoFundMe to buy and provide food for as many families in Doro as we can. We are still determining the best, most fair, and most far-reaching way to do so. We'll keep everyone updated on how the funds will be used.
Besides starting our research, these four three weeks have been focused on connecting with family and getting to know people, which hasn't left us with much free or personal time, but for the best reasons possible. I'm so overjoyed that we get this time with family and that Rumthus has had the chance to catch up after so many years. She told me she's now emotionally exhausted from meeting with so many people, but she also seems content.
I've said a lot, so I've asked Liasor and Rumthus if they want to share anything here through the blog space. Liasor's thoughts are written below:
I hardly have time to make sense of all the different emotions that go on in my heart and mind. At all times there are a few thoughts that consistently dominate my mind. The primary ones are: our safety, drinking water, and location. These are important for their own reasons. On any given day we could go to someone's house, a different church, a community meeting or an NGO meeting. That is one part of my daily equation. I imagine Christine and my mother have their own equations. The other parts are my extended family asking me for what I don't have, which makes me very sad, learning new things that I should retain, my personal health and logistics for everything.
I'm continually amazed at how much people want to be part of this venture of Uduk Hope Inc. For example, in about an hour's time we were able to organize three full focus groups on our first week. Three full groups of 20-30 people from all the villages/groups of the Uduk people. And then a fourth focus group of 60 people the following week! The church leadership is prepared to help us in any way, and this is true of the commissioner who is in charge of the Uduk people here. We have met with the commissioner about four times already and plan on meeting with him many more times because we have better access when he is around and he is willing to do that with us. So far we have explained to people through the church and our commissioner the purpose of our visit and have begun meeting with groups in order to better understand needs and context. The remainder of the work will depend solely on us because we control our own schedule. Sometimes that is difficult because we don't know at all times who we should be meeting with. An example of this is our recent knowledge that other organizations exist that were not listed on the United Nations Doro Camp website. The most important of which is CRA, which is the Commission for Refugee Affairs. Without their permission, no organization would be active here, not even the UNHCR. It would have been really nice to know this information before coming here. Nevertheless, we work with what we have and it is not a detrimental condition. The Lord has been good to us. At this very moment, I am experiencing some sort of stomach ache. I thought after my mother and Christine had gone through their own individual stomach issues, I had gotten away without one of my own. I am pretty sure that I will get over it soon, Lord willing.
There are so many things happening here. We have learned some very important things in our focus groups that help explain the current food crisis. The food crisis would normally end at around the beginning of July when many people's personal crops produce fruit. But this year, with a couple of limitations, I fear that it will continue. On the part of the bigger organizations, funding continues to be a problem and affects the local community gravely. I got a chance to visit the distribution center the other day. Normally there are two locations but because of recent conflicts, all of the ethnicities excluding the Maban are being serviced in one place. This month, there was a week long delay in the distribution of oil and beans as part of their regular distribution package. Salt has not been distributed for many years. Distribution is for a month long basis, meaning that the food is expected to last for a full month, though depending on family size it usually lasts about two weeks. We will be getting the exact measurements later on. The general rule for distribution is, as I have heard, based on family size. If there is someone who lives by his/herself they get very small portions. According to the commissioner, these people most likely already borrowed what they need to survive during other months so that when they receive their portions, they have to return it to the person from whom they borrowed.
Rainy season is actually nicer than we thought. On the days when it does not rain, we pray hard for it. The level of hot that it gets here is too much. In Rochester, we would say, but it's dry heat right? No humidity? Then it's not that bad. This is a big lie people. Dry heat is not fun either especially when it is in the 100 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. But recently, within the last couple of days, it has been very cool. Our hot clay mud house, which looks very nice, has been perfect. We pray it continues to be like that in the coming weeks. I am foreseeing some difficulties in our last days here though with flying out if rain is at its highest point. All we would need to fly out is one dry day. Let us pray and hope that it is the 15th of August.
Let me mention a little more about our work.
When I started writing my portion of this post, it was on the first week, now on this part of the paragraphs, it is about the third week. We recently completed our meeting with CRA. A close friend of mines from childhood is one of the leaders of CRA. He briefly moved to the USA to complete his BA in Chicago. This meeting was very fruitful. We learned about the NGO registration process, options of partnering with an organization or starting our very own office, legal documentation and more. It turns out that we need a Certificate of Incorporation from the South Sudan government in order to operate within South Sudan as an entity. This certificate is to be applied for at the Ministry of the Interior in Juba and it takes about two to four days. Along with this, Uduk Hope Inc. would need to open two bank accounts in Juba. One with South Sudanese Pounds and the other with USD. When we have our certificate, we can choose to partner or do our own thing and choose whatever location we want to be in. Today is July 1st. When I began this paragraph it was the 30th of June. On this first day of July, we met and will have a second meeting with the commissioner of Maban County which is a big deal. Our UNHCR and CRA contact Yawusa Daud has made possible many connections for us along with the commissioner and is making his vehicle available to us as well for meeting with those contacts.
Now Christine says that she has never seen me laugh so much in my whole life. So it will be good to list a couple of things that make me happy here.
Despite an incredible amount of need both in my family and the community at large, there are things that make me very happy. I know that I will be missing some for sure, so don't forget to ask me again later when I get to the States.
Family: I am seeing a lot of the same faces that I saw in 2010 when I visited Blue Nile. All the little cousins are now teenagers and I am seeing people for the first time ever that are both young and older in my family. But a lot of the joy that I experience has to do with how my mother interacts with her older sister and many brothers and their kids. These are family members that she has not seen in 18 years, and others since 1985 when the Civil War started in Sudan. Words can't express how happy everyone is to see their older sister/aunty Rumthus. They ask her, you haven't changed your name have you? How did you get so thick? You still speak T'wampa right? At the same time, many kids call her and Christine Ethiopian. A second thing that makes me happy is seeing Christine's incredible effort to speak T'wampa. All the ladies in the family love hearing her speak it and learn it with them. Christine was so excited one day when she learned to say, " I am going to shower" that she ran to my mother to tell her and got caught by the hair on a thorny tree. I know I shouldn't have laughed but that was so funny to me and she was laughing too so I can say, I am laughing with you, not at you. Thirdly, I usually make it my business to play soccer wherever the Lord takes me on this earth. I have enjoyed learning new skills and playing with the Chali team here with a group of young men that are very good at playing team soccer. Though I feel beat up by the heat and new conditions, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. Lastly, I can't help but plan potential projects for Uduk Hope Inc. for future references in light of everything that we are learning. We are blessed with good health, we are eating well, we are safe and just tomorrow July 2nd, our family will throw us a huge party. These are some things that constantly bring me joy as well as living the simple life without the complexity that development brings.
Christine and I transcribed my mom's perspectives below:
There are a lot of things...people are very hungry and people don't have anything to wear. There are a lot of things...it's not easy for me.
Favorite moments: Seeing my sister and brothers and all the family that I miss. That was my favorite time, but at the same time there were tears.
Hopes for the rest of the time here: I just hope they can get something, like they can have something to help them. I hope they can have something to eat, but it will not happen. I'm happy to see my sister and brothers and my brothers' wives and all of the family that I left for a long time. I'm happy to see them even though it's very hard for me to see them naked. I'm still happy because I'm seeing them.
I hope when we come back to the United States, there will be something greater than before to help the kids here. The kids are running around because they don't have anything to hold them together. I think it would be very helpful if we do something to give a little money for the teachers to keep them in school. Like a daycare. Because those are the things that I know. If kids have something to do, I don't think they would run around like this and do crazy things like this. I wish that I could help them right now, but I can't. It's just too much. Even my sister's kids, I can't help them the way I want. It's not enough for them.
Christine Speaking Again:
As Liasor mentioned, on June 2nd, which was this past Saturday, the family and community held a huge gathering for us to celebrate life, family, and joy even amidst hardship. Exactly 619 people came out to join in the celebration! We will be sure to provide pictures and videos either in the next post or at the culmination of our time here.
Before ending this post, I want to add that our experiences in Doro are only representative of our experiences in Doro and nothing more. Our experiences aren't representative of all of South Sudan or Sudan, and definitely not representative of every country in the African continent. I think it's important to highlight this point - that our experiences are not the "African experience" - because there is no single experience of such a diverse continent. There are places on the African continent that are much bigger with faster growing economies than my hometown, and there are places with completely different climates, cultures, pastimes, industries, histories, opportunities, challenges, stories than what we will see in Doro. Even what we experience in Doro isn't exactly representative of what we would see if the Uduk people were home in Blue Nile, not living as refugees. Our experiences are also not representative of every refugee situation, as each context will have differences, although some challenges may be salient. I just add this disclaimer, as we don't want to cast dangerous and reductive generalizations of anyone or anything.
I'm not sure when I'll post again because our internet situation is unpredictable at best, but I hope to write more soon. Thank you as always for the prayers and support.
Christine, Liasor, and Rumthus
As I'm writing this, we are preparing for bed in our hotel in Juba, South Sudan after having left Cairo, Egypt. The past 3 days have been such a blur, but I'll do my best to describe the first part of our travels. I apologize in advance for this long post.
We left early Saturday morning (June 4th) from Rochester, New York for Toronto, Canada where our plane would depart. Our dear friends Brian and Carol graciously drove us to the airport. There were no lines in the airport so we checked in our bags quickly (with no charges!) and went straight through security without any problems. After a big second breakfast, we boarded the plane. Many naps, a few airplane meals, and three movies later we finally landed in Cairo Egypt at 5:00am (11:00pm EST). Everything had been smooth sailing...until we got out of the plane. During our 22-hour layover in Cairo, all sorts of confusion broke loose.
A week prior, I had arranged for us to have a guided tour of Cairo. I had always dreamed of visiting Egypt, so I cannot describe my excitement when Liasor told me he found a flight for us with a full day layover in Cairo. (Insert emoji with long steam of joyous tears).
Anyways, I got right to work saving extra money and researching ways to see the city during our layover. I have a couple friends who live in Cairo, but they wouldn't be in town that day. Luckily, I found an amazing - and legitimate - tour company which would send a guide to pick us up at the airport at 5:00am, book a hotel for us and take us there to rest, then return to our hotel 7-8 hours later to take us on a multi-site tour of the city. It seemed so perfect.
When we landed in Cairo and exited the plane, we descended an escalator searching for a sign with our names on it. Nothing. We then proceeded to walk around and wait in that area of the airport for 45min in hopes of uniting with our tour guide. We came across a desk that handled travel accommodations and we inquired about our tour and hotel. The attendant at the desk had our names on a list and said he'd take care of everything. We thought he was connected to the tour company, but later we found out that he wasn't. This attendant was giving everyone on our flight complimentary hotels and meal tickets as an agreement with the airline due to our incredibly long layover. He took our passports and boarding passes, and we happily awaited our "tour guide" to take us to get some rest.
Another 45 minutes later, we were still waiting. Finally the attendant called for a huge group of passengers from our flight to follow him. "That's strange," I thought, "many people from our flight signed up with the exact same tour company!" Silly me.
The attendant didn't return our passports or our boarding passes for the next day's flight. He didn't even say where he was taking us. We were ushered to a drop-off area outside the airport where we waited for another 30 minutes, without any information. Finally a bus pulled up to take us to a hotel, and we piled in. We asked the stoic attendant when we would get our passports and boarding passes back and he told us that we had to wait and not to worry. We, however, were extremely worried. At the hotel, it took a while to get checked in and we were almost falling over from exhaustion. It was in that moment that we finally realized that we were not being taken care of by the tour company and that we were in a totally different hotel than the one we had arranged with the tour guide via email.
Long story short, it all worked out because if we had gotten our hotel and meals through the tour company we would have spent a lot of money, but instead we had those things covered by our airline unexpectedly. So we got a free stay at a fancy hotel and three great meals on the airline's dime. Still, I was rather disappointed sitting in the hotel, thinking that we had missed our chance to see/tour the actual city of Cairo. And without our passports we were a little nervous to leave the hotel alone. In our hotel room we found a wifi signal (God bless it) and I discovered that I had quite a few missed emails from the tour company asking where we were and saying that our tour guide was still waiting on us in the airport with our names on a sign. Mind you, this was 3 hours later so I started freaking out. I have no idea where our tour guide had been earlier because we spent so much time searching for him when we first landed. Liasor and I concluded that he had either arrived late or had been hiding.
I emailed the guide back saying that we would sleep for at least 5 hours and then contact him again about whether we could still arrange for the tour. We just couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. Liasor, his mom, and I all passed out for a few hours until we woke up suddenly to our hotel phone ringing incessantly. It was the tour guide calling! I still have no idea how he knew which hotel we were staying in or what our room number was, which was really concerning. But then again we knew his company was connected to the airport and our airline. On the phone, the tour guide said he could still take us on the tour despite the confusion earlier, and after Liasor spoke to them for a while (because I couldn't even open my eyes, let alone talk on the phone), we arranged to meet him in the hotel lobby that afternoon.
Fast forward (because I'm boring you all by writing too much): So it all worked out and we went to see the Giza pyramids, the Sphinx, downtown Cairo, and the market. Rumthus, Liasor's mommy, got to ride a camel for the first time, which she said was pretty terrifying. I agree. I didn't want to ride a camel this trip after having painfully done so for two hours in Morocco two years ago. Plus, the camel rides always feel so touristy to me. But our guide convinced us to at least take a photo in front of the pyramids with his friend's camel.
Cairo was such a beautiful, lively city. I loved hearing all the history and stories our guide shared with us. It was great seeing firsthand things I had only read about in school. We had a wonderful time. We also visited a perfume museum and bought some lavender, mint, myrrh, and golden watel, which we're all super excited about - well probably Rumthus and I more than Liasor.
Even though we were having an amazing time, we were still concerned about our passports and boarding passes which were still in the possession of the airport attendants. Our tour guide even mentioned once that he had our passports which confused us, but I guess he only meant he knew where they were (??). Finally, we were informed that we would get our documents back right before our flight, and the same would be true for everyone else who had a long layover through EgyptAir.
When we got back to the hotel, we had a lovely dinner outside and then slept for a few hours. We woke up around midnight and got ready for our next flight. Despite not being told much information, we figured out how to catch the shuttle bus from our hotel back to the airport and retrieved our passports and boarding passes from a desk near the entrance (to our GREAT relief!). We were with many other passengers also heading to various locations in East Africa and they also were super relieved about their passports.
We made some awesome friends in Cairo during all the layover/hotel confusion. The first friend we made was a gentleman who continued on to Juba, South Sudan with us. We also befriended a sweet woman heading to visit her family in Asmara, Eritrea. We bonded with her early on in all the airline confusion. We shared our last meal with her and had great conversations full of laughter!
We had some pretty stressful moments during our time in Cairo but I'm so glad we saw the city and that I'm here with Liasor and Rumthus. We had some great laughs through it all.
Our tour of Cairo was absolutely breathtaking and I wouldn't mind moving to Cairo. I love the city's energy. I'm not sure if Liasor feels the same right now, but mostly because he took on the bulk of the stress during our time in the city. Between the two of us, I'm more of a planner; I enjoyed setting everything up for our time in Cairo before arriving. But Liasor is more of an executor of plans and he is also better under pressure, so he took the lead on figuring out everything once my plans were actually in action. Despite some stress and crazy moments, we (mostly he) figured out what to do and we had a great time!
Currently we are in Juba and have been here for 2 days. Tomorrow we'll fly to Doro Refugee Camp. Our hotel in Juba is really nice and we are two doors down from Samaritan's Purse's office where we picked up our U.N. tickets to Doro and dropped off our checked luggage. Ever since we made it past the Juba airport, things have been smooth again. But only after the Juba airport, because going through the Juba airport was extremely stressful for all three of us:
When we landed in Juba two days ago, we got in line to handle customs/immigration papers and to have our visas stamped, but some of the airport attendants took us out of line to help us get our papers handled faster. They brought us to the front of the line where we were scolded for cutting and told to go to the end. The long line went all the way out the door and so we started over in the back of the line, sweating profusely, only to have the same airport attendants snatch our passports and papers from Liasor and direct us out of line again. This time when they took our passports they went away somewhere, promising us that they could help us faster. We were all stressed especially after the passport fiasco in Cairo, and Rumthus was pretty angry with the attendants. But it all worked out in the end because they did succeed in getting our visas stamped somehow, found all our bags for us, and helped us get a taxi. Our taxi driver was pretty awesome and helped us get our bags in the hotel, and then took Liasor to run some important errands.
But I digress. We've just finished eating dinner with Liasor's Uduk contacts in Juba, including one of his uncles. They ate with us at the outdoor restaurant at our hotel and we had great conversations. It has been incredibly hot in both Cairo and Juba, but today it rained so it was so nice outside. We're entering South Sudan during the rainy season so we'll see many more wet days.
We're all so anxious to get to Doro tomorrow. We've each had our share of stomach aches today, probably a combination of excitement, jet lag, airplane food mixed with new cuisine in two countries, heat, and exhaustion. But we're feeling better and having a great time. Thank you to everyone again for your thoughts and prayers. To my family, I'm doing alright and I'm sending love your way! The next time I write, we will be in Doro at last.
P.S. We haven't been able to upload pictures from our tour in Cairo yet, but will try to share them when we do. :)
The day has finally come! After many months of planning, writing proposals, applying for grants, and praying we are headed to the airport! My fiancé Liasor Dima, his mom Rumthus, and I are off to Doro Refugee Camp (on the border of South Sudan and Ethiopia) for 10 weeks!
Our trip has a couple goals. First, and most personal, we are visiting Liasor's extended family living in Doro. It's been over 16 years since Liasor's mom has been back to the region, so this will prove to be an emotional time. Anyone who knows Liasor's story and that of his family knows how special this time will be. Personally, I am so excited to meet more of Liasor's family who will soon be my own. :)
For the second goal of the trip, Liasor and I are conducting a project which is connected to my Master's thesis and to a non-governmental organization (called Uduk Hope Inc.) that Liasor is currently running. Uduk Hope Inc. was started by community members in Rochester, NY who have loved ones living in Doro Refugee Camp, as a way to offer support to their family and friends. We want to help Uduk Hope determine the best way to offer that support. Thus, this trip is not a humanitarian aid trip, but rather an exploratory trip in which we are seeking to better understand the context and the conditions in the camp. We will be speaking to representatives of the 13 different organizations in the camp, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Programme, and Samaritan's Purse, to inquire about how Uduk Hope Inc. can be of any support. We will also be speaking to many of the people living in Doro Camp to better understand their perceptions of the services provided to them and to elicit their ideas on how to improve things. Our hope is to synthesize all of these conversations into a strategic plan of intervention for Uduk Hope Inc. At the end of the trip, we want to be able to pinpoint the exact ways in which Uduk Hope can be of assistance, potentially through partnering with one or more of the organizations or initiatives already there. Additionally, we raised funds to distribute food supplies to people in Doro during two big celebrations in the camp. Thank you for everyone who helped us raise support for food distribution!
Please keep us and the people of Doro in your thoughts and prayers!
We have an 11 hour flight to reach East Africa. Our first stop is Cairo, Egypt where we will be spending the night before continuing on to Juba, South Sudan. I arranged for us to have a fun tour of Cairo during our long layover there. Then once we get to Juba, we'll be taking a United Nations flight to Doro Refugee Camp. We're praying that all goes well at every stage of our trip.
I'm so excited and nervous and can't wait to share our journey with my family and friends through this blog. One of my personal goals is to learn more of Liasor's first language (T'wampa) and to pick up some Arabic as well, God willing. I'll let you all know how that goes. :)
I'll try to update my blog regularly once I figure out our internet access in Doro. Check back here for more information and thank you for the prayers.
To learn more about Uduk Hope Inc. please visit http://www.udukhope.com