At the moment, all I have are questions. I would love to know, for example, if I will eventually come to like goat meat; if one of those terrifying-looking wasps that keeps zooming past me in this outdoor “office” will sting me, and if so, how much it will hurt; whether entering my tent in the darkness one night, I will surprise a cobra, or a viper, perhaps, who has taken refuge among my things; if I, like my co-workers, will lose all sense of irony about the absurd nightly Mexican soap opera dubbed into English, and watch its melodrama unfold in all earnestness; if my current stomach upset is indeed due to the oral cholera vaccine I took a few days ago (as I suspect), and not some parasitic creature that has found its way into my system; how many times, as happened yesterday, rural farmers, emerging from the scrub, will help to rescue one of our organization’s vehicles from the ubiquitous mud flats that emerge during the rainy season here in the vast floodplains of South Sudan.
But most of my questions are much more complex, and may not have clear answers at all. Most pertinently, can I, an unmarried, foreign female with no knowledge of local language or customs, contribute to positive change here in a matter of a mere three months?
Why are people here malnourished? How much is due to ongoing political instability and violence? How much to proud adherence to patriarchal traditions that place more value on the size of cattle herds than they do on investments in education or health care? What else is to blame? Perhaps well-meaning but imperfect organizations like my own?And what role can non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play in the big picture? Realistically, can they simply serve to help provide basic humanitarian needs while the various Sudanese factions—North and South, tribes and clans, political movements and militias—jostle for power? Or can grassroots development make real, lasting changes in the absence of strong, secure government?
I am six days into my initial foray into the food security and livelihoods field, which will likely include three months here in South Sudan, followed by a year in the D.R. Congo. Because politics are extremely sensitive here, I won’t take a stance on them in this blog, for the sake of my personal security as well as that of my organization, which I won’t mention by name. I’ll instead try to share stories, thoughts and pictures about my life here and efforts to improve food security in some of the most battered, war-torn regions of the world, with the most open, critical eyes, and all the humor, I can muster.