Not sure where to begin this one. A lot of people, seasoned veterans of African hardship, had made little comments about visiting South Sudan. Not discouraging, not dramatic, just kind of a serious pause, a nod, and something like”it’s difficult there.”
I guess that’s as good a way to put it as any. I have an unshakeable belief that our God loves us, each of us, whether we love him back or not. And, as we do with our own children, He hates to see us suffer. He went to great lengths, the ultimate sacrifice, to save us from suffering.
Which makes South Sudan difficult. Suffering like I’ve never seen.
There are different kinds of violence. People smarter than I have classified violence into palatable categories: natural disaster, war, interpersonal, etc. Institutional violence, in my mind, is the most sinister. I think there were probably very “good”, kind people who owned slaves in the pre civil war south. I believe there were fine upstanding people processing the paperwork for the Jews to be brought to Nazi death camps. Institutional violence is no ones fault. It’s just there, nothing to get upset about, that’s just the way it is.
I’ve witnessed the other kind of violence: post-earthquake Haiti, Maoist bombings or hacking in Nepal, mass traffic accidents in Kenya. This kind of violence is somewhat self-limited: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Five or twenty or two hundred thousand people are killed, horrible suffering, but these forms of tragedy have edges, margins. Of course I’m not minimizing this form of violence, I’m just saying that it can be defined, discussed, debated, maybe addressed.
The truly sinister aspect of institutional violence is its banality. There’s really nothing to get excited about, please settle down, there’s no point in making a fuss. That’s just the way it is!
That’s just the way it is. Unless that means that one out of eight children die before their fifth birthday. Unless more women die an agonizing death in labor than in any other place on earth. Unless your family is starving because you can’t work because you’re stuck in traction with your broken leg. Unless you have to make a choice between dying or having your leg cut off because there’s no one to do a simple operation to save it. Unless a child burned by a careless nephew may die for lack of medicine, anesthesia, and surgery.
That can’t be the way it is! That kind of reality can’t be accepted.
Thanks for letting me rant.
I came to Juba to explore ways to train South Sudanese surgeons at Kijabe Hospital. That’s still why I’m here, but things are more complicated. “It’s difficult there.” Juba Teaching Hospital, the premiere hospital of South Sudan, has no supplies. Unstable electrical grid. Intermittent water supply. When we got here, the two dedicated orthopaedic surgeons hadn’t been able to do an operation in two months. The electricity comes on sometime mid-morning, and shuts off in the afternoon. Today, the water ran out, we couldn’t wash our hands for surgery. When we did surgery, we couldn’t keep the flies off the “sterile field.” Chaos reigns.
This is no one’s fault. The country’s been at war, the government has no money. The government has money, but they waste it on expensive trips. The donor community doesn’t listen to what’s needed on the ground. There’s no oil production because the north is charging too much for pipeline fees. There’s no medicine and we haven’t been paid in two months…… that’s just the way it is.
Where to begin? Despair comes to mind. I think despair is an appropriate response to institutional violence. Cruel, faceless, remorseless evil should bring about the worst of emotions. I can’t deny moments of despair. I’m just careful not to set up camp there.
So I don’t know what tomorrow might bring. We continue discussions. There is hope. There are people who care about this. There are bright shining stars who have lived through the wars, the poverty, the cruelty, and get up and do the best they can. There are Sudanese surgeons who have left their families in Europe, to return to their homeland because it is the right thing to do. So who am I to get discouraged? “The way it is”, over the long run, is that love is stronger than hate, order is greater than chaos, and God’s grace is stronger than despair.