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Jen Goes Dinka

Last Thursday I watched the beginning of it: Jen's immersion into Dinka.

We had just finished another sweltering day in classrooms, this time meeting with teachers at Akon school, which goes to Second Form, roughly equivalent to eighth grade. This meeting was partly outreach: Gabriel and Diyani were promoting the use of lesson plans, with specific objectives and measurable outcomes, sinch much of the teaching we see here is chaotic. And the half dozen teachers, most of whom had only elementary school education themselves, told us of their frustrations, which were many.

   The physical setting has to be described. The rooms are dark except for the glare from glassless windows. Dingy concrete, doors off hinges. Goats, like the children, come and go. The only recognizably schoolish accoutrement  is a painted blackboard in front, and in the upper grades some desks. The lower grades have no desks. The children sit in the dirt, clutching their notebooks and some UNICEF-provided materials. By the time they reach the upper grades, we notice it is all boys. The girls have disappeared; they are tending babies or working in the fields.

Gabriel Bol's tree

Gabriel Bol approached the tree slowly. I lingered behind him with the camera focused on him. On his first visit to Ariang a few days ago, the elders would not let him approach the tree. It had to be a separate occassion, they said, accompanied by its own rituals.

Gabriel was born under this tree and his placenta is buried there.

His mother is buried there as well.

Gabriel Bol's tree

Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center

Gabriel Bol approached the tree slowly. I lingered behind him with the camera focused on him. On his first visit to Ariang a few days ago, the elders would not let him approach the tree. It had to be a separate occasion, they said, accompanied by its own rituals.

Gabriel was born under this tree and his placenta is buried there.

His mother is buried there as well.

Where are the guys?

David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

Here 'on the ground' in South Sudan, the ground is very very wet. It is a sea of mud. Yesterday afternoon a torrential rain accompanied by fierce wind blew down the tent where I had slept the first three nights in Akon. Wind slashed at trees and blew open the door of our tukul, everything lit in a greenish milky light and water sheeting two or three inches across the WHO compound where we are staying. I would guess eight or ten inches fell in the space of an hour.

Where are the guys?

   Here 'on the ground' in South Sudan, the ground is very very wet. It is a sea of mud. Yesterday afternoon a torrential rain accompanied by fierce wind blew down the tent where I had slept the first three nights in Akon. Wind slashed at trees and blew open the door of our tukul, everything lit in a greenish milky light and water sheeting two or three inches across the WHO compound where we are staying. I would guess eight or ten inches fell in the space of an hour.

   We don't know where the three guys are: Chris/Koor, Gabriel/Bol, and Sam/Garang. They were walking home from Arien, Bol's home village. The three women and I had gotten a ride with Abraham, who wears a bunch of hats - driver, state minister of finance, and missionary. An expert driver, with an unerring eye for contours in the rutted tracks that could spell the difference between smooth going and a  bone-jarring jolt or worse, Abraham drove for the Sudan People's Liberation Army. The offroad experience shows. This is mostly off-road. There are no real roads here in South Sudan. How a driver diserns which of several braided tracks to follow, while tooting away goats and cattle and avoiding newly planted sorgham patches, is beyond me.

"Tradition" and who we are (continuation)

David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

I followed the woman in her bed.

The bed, built of clunky orange wood and strips of leather, was being carried by four people, one at each corner post, at quite a fast walk. It was all I could do to keep up. As Garang and I hurried after her, the import of Koor's project suddenly loomed before me. They were no longer abstractions, no longer twenty neatly wrapped packages boxes that we had shepherded from Nairobi. Our antibiotics might save this woman's life.

"Tradition" and who we are

David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

Two encounters with traditional medicine in southern Sudan brought home to me very vividly a sort of fault-line that runs through life here and also through our Lost Boys.

Distribution

"The SPLM fought and gave us our independence. But we haven't seen them since then. They sit in Juba."

"We came back from the North, from Khartoum, when we heard about the peace agreement. We were happy about the peace. But we came back to nothing. No food, no health care, nothing."

These were some of the comments, at least the ones that Koor translated for me, from the elders that were gathered under a tree in the women's compound in Akon, waiting for more mosquito nets that Koor had purchased to arrive and be distributed.

Distribution

Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center

"The SPLM fought and gave us our independence. But we haven't seen them since then. They sit in Juba."

"We came back from the North, from Khartoum, when we heard about the peace agreement. We were happy about the peace. But we came back to nothing. No food, no health care, nothing."

Homecoming for Garang

We could hear the ululations, singing and drumming as we approached Lang village, just a short drive from Akon, in an SUV we borrowed from the home of Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan. (he is from Akon).

The village was expecting the return of their lost son. And all the village turned out, as well as people from neighboring villages. Garang climbed down from the car and was immediately surrounded by a swarm of people who wanted to touch him, hug him, kiss him, make sure he was real.

Homecoming for Garang

Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center

We could hear the ululations, singing and drumming as we approached Lang village, just a short drive from Akon, in an SUV we borrowed from the home of Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan. (he is from Akon).

The village was expecting the return of their lost son. And all the village turned out, as well as people from neighboring villages. Garang climbed down from the car and was immediately surrounded by a swarm of people who wanted to touch him, hug him, kiss him, make sure he was real.

Tomorrow is a Big Day

"Tomorrow is a big day," Jen commented this evening, referring to our planned trips out to the village of Gabriel Bol Deng and Samuel Garang Mayoul. She's right, of course. Tomorrow will be in intense. But every day has been a big dy. Each day there has been a crisis. At moments the whole project has threatened to come apart at the seams.