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Quick questions, difficult answers

Even if you've been following our blog, the answers to the following three questions may possibly surprise you.

What is the infant mortality rate in South Sudan?

Do the "roads" like the one to Wau that we bemoan offer South Sudan salvation or ruin?

What is the color of Wau?

The color of Wau is overwhelmingly red, from the outcroppings of porous bedrock to the overlay of gravel, sand, and dust, to the surprisingly developed brick-walled lanes and church buildings left over from the British colonial era: all is the color rust. And this goes for the detritus left on the streets: flattened plastic soda bottles, shoes, mango pits, mashed flashlight batteries and razor blades. An urban archaeologist would have a field day here, limning a culture by what its waste. Yesterday I spent walking with Gabriel Bol Deng through the Arab markets, down one whole block devoted to bicycle repair, through tented stalls in which treadle sewing machines stitched fabric into dresses, shirts. We encountered another couple of Lost Boys. Lost Boys are everywhere, it seems. We've encountered several dozen. It is a kind of fraternity, those who survived the long trek to Ethiopia and who lived and learned together at Kakuma camp in Kenya. Incidentally, we are looking to devise a new name for them. They are not, after all, lost - not part of the flotsam of the world. They are found. Today's Catholic mass held in the big Romanesque church quoted Ezechiel on finding the lost, and later Jesus on lost sheep. No they are found, and finding their way between these sometimes startlingly different societies. And they are men. So, as we promised the Secretary of Education for Warrap State a few days ago, they will find a better name for themselves, and we will help in the process however we can.

As for the roads, or what passes for roads in this part of Sudan, their absence is testimony to Khartoum's long neglect of the South, and to neglect by the British colonial administration, and tothe neglect of Egypt before that. But here is the paradox. While development of roads is absolutely essential for development in the South, on the one hand, on the other hand there is fear among some Southerners that if the Comprehensive Peace Treaty should fail, if war should erupt once again, then the roads now being built will give Khartoum access to the previously inaccessible areas we have been traversing. The roads themselves, and the accurate mapping required to build them, all could be turned against the South.

The most startling statement made by the Minister of Health of Warrap State during our interview in Kuajok, was in response to my query about infant mortality rate. His answer: though there is no accurate data base, the percentage of deaths per live births is somewhere between 40% and 70%.

Imagine this. I find it difficult to wrap my mind around it, as I contemplate the sonogram of a new grandchild in utero. How incredible that, at least among affluent people with access to medical care, the assumption is that this little sonogrammed humonculous will live, will grow into a healthy baby!

Not so, here in South Sudan. The odds are against survival. One of our hopes is to raise awareness of the shortfall of human services in South Sudan. For the Lost Boys, or the Found Men, and Melinda and Diyani, this translates into reporting back to their constituencies in Tucson, Chicago, and Syracuse. For Jen and me, it means voicing this concern at a national level.

If only we can make a difference.

-David