I am sitting down to write this fourth letter from Nzara knowing full well that I will not be able to send it out, due to the difficulties we are experiencing securing reliable internet access. When we get back to Iowa and to our home on its border in Galena those for who it is intended for and who may want to actually read it will find it in their in box. There are so many things and expierences to write about that it is hard for me to choose which one I will write about at this point. Let me tell you about some of the sounds of Sudan that we hear each day.
In the morning there are the sounds of swish, swish swish. The young girls in the compounds where we and others find their home are out in the areas surrounding the tukals or 4x4 meter huts bent over at the waist sweeping the ground clear of all that they find there. During the previous 24 hours ants have come out of the ground and left little piles of sand and along comes the broom made of dried straw that is tied together at the top and suddenly they are no more. I wonder if any of these, had the broom not sweep them away, would turn into the giant ant hills one sees everywhere and that rise typically to the height of six or seven feet. Gone also are all the leaves that have fallen off the mango tree right outside our compound. Interestingly the sweepers clear all and everything (paper, bottle caps, twigs, etc.) that lie on the barren ground but they do not bother to pick up the trash that is caught in the nearby grass. The newly swept red earth surface bakes in the sun and becomes quite hard. When the frequent rains come much of that hard dirt surface is for the most part impervious to its wetness. The rain finds low spots to run to and it is those areas that become soft and muddy.
Another morning sound is the rooster’s call. Our rooster gets up a little later than the others in the neighborhood. He gets the sun up at about 6:45 AM and then, as if on a snooze alarm system, he lets go with another “cock a dootle do” about 6:50. It is at this point that he flys down from his roost (a covered platform with solid walls and a small opening that is on a platform about 6 feet off the ground) and goes about his daily business. His two hens follow shortly after he has descended from his throne. swish, swish swish. The young girls in the compounds where we and others find their home are out in the areas surrounding the tukals or 4x4 meter huts bent over at the waist sweeping the ground clear of all that they find there. During the previous 24 hours ants have come out of the ground and left little piles of sand and along comes the broom made of dried straw that is tied together at the top and suddenly they are no more. I wonder if any of these, had the broom not sweep them away, would turn into the giant ant hills one sees everywhere and that rise typically to the height of six or seven feet. Gone also are all the leaves that have fallen off the mango tree right outside our compound. Interestingly the sweepers clear all and everything (paper, bottle caps, twigs, etc.) that lie on the barren ground but they do not bother to pick up the trash that is caught in the nearby grass. The newly swept red earth surface bakes in the sun and becomes quite hard. When the frequent rains come much of that hard dirt surface is for the most part impervious to its wetness. The rain finds low spots to run to and it is those areas that become soft and muddy.
We hear drum sounds all day long. At about 7:00 AM the drum (a very large hollow tree with a slit in the top) sounds to tell us that in one half hour we can gather for morning prayers in the cathedral. The same drum sounds again at 7:15 AM and at 7:30. A large animal skin covered drum accompanies us in the one hymn we sing in Zande at the beginning of morning devotions and on Sunday its beat is heard at the Eucharist at 9:00 AM and then it is in the background with the electric guitars at the 11:00 AM service. When the choirs practice in the late afternoon we again hear the drums. In the morning I can hear drums announcing a new day. I’m almost sure one is sounded at the nearby Roman Catholic Church complex. There’s sounds is at least one half hour earlier than ours. The other night there was much drum
beating and repetitive chanting that could be heard coming from someplace to the East of us. When I asked about it the next day I was told that Fr. Mark Peter’s brother had died in the local hospital of AIDS and that the drums accompanied the mourners.
As I write this I can hear the man made noise of the generator that we bought in Kampala so that we could have electricity to power our computers, cell phone, recharge our camera and flashlight batteries and provide light. The generator has been placed in its own special house with large screened in areas so it can “breath.” It is not a pleasant nor modest sound level noise. It used to be far worse, however, when the generator was temporarily placed right across from our front door. We could hardly hear one another’s words at dinner time. The generator is usually only on from 6:30 to 9:30 PM but today it is on in the afternoon so the bishop can use his printer. This means we can enjoy our fan in the hottest part of the day. Every where one goes in southern Sudan one hears generators because there is no electrical grid system. Yabio, the nearby capital of Western Equatorial state, is in the process of putting in electrical lines but even there the electricity provided will come from a diesel fired generator which will probably not operate during the night.
The sound of bleating goats is often heard. Goats are raised by many persons primarily to provide a meat resource and not so much for their milk. Most people tie them up by placing ropes around their necks and staking them out near large patches of grass. Their ropes frequently get tangled in the branches of a bush and so the goats start bleating instead of eating their way to greater freedom of movement. The other day one of them ate its way through the palm leave fence in the back of our compound and then could not figure how to get back to greener pastures. His bleating drove us crazy. Some people just let their goats run free. Karen is forever chasing them out of our compound lest they eat the crops of various types that grow in small patches outside our doors. One goat was bold enough to just wander into our home the other day through the open back door. Chickens are frequent house guests until their presence is detected and they are shooed out the back portal.
The sound of the hand pump at the hand dug and hand operated water well or “bore hole” is omnipresent. Only at night is the pump locked so that the sound stops. Lines of people are gathered there all day long with various kinds of pails or mostly yellow “jerry cans” that they fill with water for washing clothing or dishes, drinking or bathing. As soon as the containers are filled they are lifted to their heads or hand carried back to their compounds. One sees small children and women carrying these 40 pound jerry cans of water everywhere. Often their homes are 1, 2, or 3 kilometers away from the well. Sometimes men or women will strap them to the backs of their bikes for carrying longer distances. Recently we were told that the cathedral bore hole goes dry in late February at the end of the dry season and doesn’t refill sometimes until early May. We are fortunate in that there are other bore holes within a relatively few kilometers. We have visited two places where there is no bore hole for three or four kilometers. The people are desperate for safe, reliable and plentiful water.
A unpleasant sound, at least to my ears, is something people in the United States are quite familiar with and that is teens and others playing their radios so that everyone within two blocks can share in what they believe is wonderful music. Since arriving in Sudan we have heard snatches of lyrics and tunes from almost every American pop artist and group. We also frequently hear familiar religious tunes sung in both English and in one or another African tongue. So far not one rap song has been shared with us and our neighbors. Much of the music is sung in Arabic or in a local Ugandan, Kenyan or Sudanese language. Frequently the Bishops wife will come out of her house and suggest that the volume of the radio be turned down. In direct contrast to these electronically produced sounds are those which emanate from the cathedral every afternoon as the various choirs practice their songs for Sunday. The youth, church school and Mother’s Union choirs all sing at least three very spirited songs at the second Sunday service which lasts about two hours. These songs are usually original music sung in Zande and accompanied by electric guitar, drum and various shaker instruments. They are often of a “call and response” type of music in which one lead singer offers up a phrase that is then repeated by the choir. Maudie, who helps us in our house, is the lead singer for the Mother’s Union choir. Each song is accompanied by unison and often quite complicated foot and hand movements. As they sing various parishioners will sing with them, clap, sway back and forth and often women will issue forth with a very high shrill of joy and delight.
Then there are the sounds of the children. Children playing, talking or yelling at one another in the area in between our home and the cathedral, pumping water at the well, walking by on the road beside our house and children on their mother’s lap crying in the hope that they will be given more milk from her breast or laughing as she or another child plays with them. The air seems to constantly pulsate with the crying, laughter and conversation of the children. The sounds of the children are all, even the crying, pleasant to the ears of the Lord.
Yours In Christ Jesus,
Fr. Bob and Karen