November 24, 1999
Kenya Khronicles 2nd Edition: Colon Colony
Although it doesn’t feel much like Thanksgiving here, I have very much for which to be thankful. Especially when I am absent from those I love, I realize how important they are to me. I am speaking of my children, my family and my friends. You know who you are, and I miss all of you very much. And being here, in Africa, makes me realize how much we have in the United States, and how much we take for granted. Access to free quality education is what every Sudanese boy asks for when I ask him what the most important thing he needs right now is. Without exception. An abundance of well paying jobs is something that doesn’t exist in many developing countries. Water. The refugees here plan their day around the water schedule and the food distribution times. The camp is situated in the middle of a wadi, a dry riverbed that floods during rains, but is dry most of the time. Food. Each person gets 4 kgs of food every 15 days.... maize, oil, beans and wheat flour... that’s it. If they sell a portion of it, they can buy goat meat once in a while. Medicine. There is a shortage of good medical care and access to it. 26,000 children die from malaria each year in Kenya. That’s 72 children per day!
That’s my short list. It goes on and on as the gratitude for experiencing this kind of lifestyle is great. I went to a Parent Teacher celebration today at a kindergarten in the camp. Such cute 5 and 6 year olds singing and dancing, with admiring parents looking on. And last night with the moon still practically full, and a clear sky, I could hear the sound of singing and drumming coming from the camp, as I dozed off under my mosquito netting.
Speaking of medicine, and the topic of this Khronicle, I have started taking a medicine for amoebatosis, or something like that. I have had diarrhoea for a week now and finally had a test and discovered what it was, so I feel better now that I know the enemy I am fighting. They are colonizing my colon, those cunning creatures, crawling across my cavities, cavorting and carrying on so. I casually consumed the caplets of complex chemicals, cutting their escapades to the quick. So, hopefully, I will be rid of them soon. It has not slowed down the work, however. Otherwise, I feel quite healthy.
I feel a certain compulsion to complete as many interviews and best interest determinations as possible before I leave. I have only 13 working days left, so I am beginning to feel the self-imposed pressure to keep my attention to the task. Here are some excerpts from an article that describes the “Lost Boys” with whom I am working.
“Since June 1993, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese government have been at war in Southern Sudan. The war, together with tribal conflicts and record famines has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people. Half of those people died in 1988 alone when the famine was exploited as a political weapon. Half of the victims are Sudan’s most vulnerable population, its children.”
“In the chaos of war, at least 20,000 Sudanese children have been separated from their parents. Most are boys between the ages of 12 and 25. From 1987 to 1992, these children have trekked enormous distances over an unforgiving wilderness half the size of Europe seeking refuge from the fighting. Hungry, frightened and weakened by sleeplessness and disease, they crossed from Sudan to Ethiopia and back until the war forced them to move again, farther South, to the parched North-western plain of Kenya.”
“Many children died enroute. They were the lucky ones. Many of these children were born in war. They are war’s children. The war in Sudan , more than any other single circumstance has shaped their lives, their emotions, their attitudes and their futures. Vulnerable and defenceless, they have lived with hunger, thirst, anxiety, insecurity, military domination and an acute sense of powerlessness for most or all of their young lives. Many have neither seen nor heard from their parents for as many as eight years. Many doubt that their families are still living.”
“These young men have seen their countrymen fighting one another for reasons they scarcely understand. They have seen dead and mutilated bodies. They have seen people die of starvation and thirst. They have been forced to abandon friends and relatives on the roadside as they fled the fighting. Many of them are still haunted by the traumas they suffered. They cannot sleep at night, nor can they concentrate on their school work.”
“Virtually every child who survived this harrowing exodus has a story to tell. Many harbour deeply embedded memories of hunger, exhaustion and murderous attacks by invisible gunman and wild animals (lions and hyenas).”
I have the honour of hearing these stories, 5 times a day, 5 days a week. This must have some positive karmic consequence for me. It is difficult sometimes. But the boys still manage to smile on occasion and give God the credit for keeping them safe “along the way.” These are the words I use and the words they understand when I ask them, “Now, tell me what happened to you along the way.”
I pray that God is keeping all of you safe along the way, as you celebrate Thanksgiving with those you hold dear. Please pray that these “lost boys” live long lives and grow old enough to tell their grandchildren about the olden days when they wandered through the desert of war, and survived but for the grace of God.