Enchanting Southern Sudan

Click on thumbnailsNovember, 2010
By Jack Welsch

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Before going any further, let's address the title of this page and the geography to which it refers. When I was there in November of 2010, the region was politically in the southern part of Sudan, the largest country in Africa and 10th largest on earth. Hence, the title "Southern Sudan." It had actually been given special status in a peace agreement and had something of a provisional goverenment (GOSS: Government of Southern Sudan) but was still part of the larger nation. Eight months later, in July of 2011, the people of the southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly to separate themselves from the larger country and the Republic of South Sudan was born. On this page I use the term "Southern Sudan" and "South Sudan" interchangeably but you should know that the first term applied when I was there and the second applies now.

The background is this... The people of Southern Sudan have suffered from decades of civil war and persecution both from the Sudanese government in the north and from a rebel group from Uganda called the Lord’s Resistance Army or LRA. The atrocities perpetrated were unspeakable. They have also resulted in the death of an estimated 2 million people and the displacement of another 4 million.

Kajo Keji is a county in what is now South Sudan, immediately adjacent to Uganda. Fortunately, Kajo Keji is now at peace. However, the threat of renewed violence is ever-present, Kajo Keji’s infrastructure has been virtually destroyed and its people are in great need.

The Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania has created a partnership with the Diocese of Kajo Keji called "New Hope" and aimed primarily at providing education for the children of Kajo Keji. Annually, representatives from the Diocese of Bethlehem visit Kajo Keji to meet with our brothers and sisters there and to monitor the progress of the work.

The primary goals of this year’s visit were to dedicate two new primary schools (the 3rd and 4th we’ve built), dedicate a kitchen and dining hall for the recently-built college, and inspect the building sites for the 5th primary school and a secondary school. I volunteered to go along.

When I said I was going to Sudan, most of my friends reacted by asking whether I was out of my mind. While I must admit to some anxiety, I was never in any real danger. People have said, “You’ll get your reward in heaven.” That is absolutely untrue; I got my reward in Kajo Keji! This trip was the most emotionally and spiritually moving of my life.

Tuesday, Nov. 9 - Getting there, part 1 - Newark to Zurich

I had arranged to meet the Diocesan representatives, Howard & Charlie at the Wendy's in Hellertown, PA and Linda was kind enough to drive me there so I'd not have to drive home when we returned.

We were at Newark well before 3:00 and, because of Charlie's President's Club membership, check-in was quick. I'd not planned on checking bags because of the tight connection in Zurich but the other guys did so I followed suit. We pushed back on schedule and there was not an unusual delay on the ground. Initially, there was a headwind that was a tad disconcerting given our tight connection in Zurich but a tail wind developed and took the pressure off.

The very good news was that the plane was not full. Charlie moved to another row and Howard shifted over so we had a seat between us. At trans-Atlantic trips go, this was one of the better ones.

Wedesday, Nov. 10 - Getting there, part 2 - Zurich to Entebbe

In spite of my fears, we arrived at ZHR 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We had to pass through security screening again and they took all three of us into enclosures for closer inspection. I'm not sure what happened to the other guys but I damned near got strip-searched. Even before the body search, they kept taking more and more things out of my bag and running it back through the x-ray machine. I guess I look like an evil person.

The flight to Nairobi was also lightly booked so Charlie & I both moved our seats. As a result, Howard and I each sat by an empty seat and Charlie had a full center section in the back. Not that it would have affected my decision but, when I volunteered for this trip, I had no appreciation of how long it would be. It takes longer to fly from Zurich to Nairobi than from Newark to Zurich. Ugh!!

The Nairobi airport is bigger than I had anticipated but, as I’d heard, it’s fairly shabby. There were an incredible number of shops. Boarding was scheduled for 9:30 for a 10:30 departure to Entebbe. In retrospect, I wish I'd gone off by myself to wander around but I followed the other guys to the gate and just chilled there. If I pass this way again, I’ll take more time to explore the airport. Better yet, maybe I’ll spend some time in Nairobi!

We arrived in Entebbe at 11:30 PM and a driver was there when we exited customs. The Boma Guesthouse was nearby but it was still 12:30 AM by the time I got to the room and after 1 by the time I called Lin, settled in and fell into bed. The Boma is really quite nice and the staff friendly. However, it was terribly hot and of course, no there was no AC. There was a mosquito net that made things worse and the ceiling fan was unbalanced and made so much noise that I was afraid to run it. Fortunately, there was a fan over the window and that worked reasonably well. In fact, before morning, I'd pulled up the covers.

Thursday, Nov. 11 - Getting there, part 3 - Entebbe to Kajo Keji

Lake VictoriaIn spite of how late I got into bed, when I awoke thinking it was time to get up, it was only 3:30 so I was able to go back to sleep. Travel sure messes with the internal clock! There was a knock on the door at 5:30 and the day started again. Breakfast with Howard & Charlie was at 6. I was able to have 2 eggs and bacon. We left in a taxi at 6:30 for a really fascinating ride to the general aviation airfield at Kajjansi.

For a GA (general aviation) strip, security was NUTS. They didn't have x-ray so went through every bag with painstaking care. Our flight to Sudan was with MAF, Mission Aviation Fellowship, in a Cessna Caravan. I’d heard good things about this airplane and was not disappointed; it’s a magnificent machine with lots of lifting power and excellent short-field performance.

KajjansiAfter a huge delay at Kajjansi, we loaded into the Caravan with a single pilot, Samuel, and one young girl who works for MAF in Juba. It was 8:45 by the time we launched. After the long taxi ride, the security bit, and a huge delay, we were disappointed to learn that we were flying back to EBB to pick up two more people and clear emigration. When we arrived there, we were within a mile or two from where we started hours earlier. Worse, we had to pass through security again...TWICE! Had we been picked up here, we could have slept a LOT longer! Ugh! Oh, well, at least I got to see a cute GA airport and some of the countryside. If I had the choice, I'd do the same thing again.

To ToritMAF designs its flight each day to move people on humanitarian missions from place to place so the flight was a milk run with many stops. My two travel partners were upset but I got to see a lot of Southern Sudan and fly in a GA airplane so I was in heaven. We passed over Kampala, capital of Uganda, and as we flew northward the terrain below us was fascinating with what looked like a lacework of bright green rivers. Occasionally, the sun would reflect in such a way as to reflect from the water around the dense foliage. That conformed my suspicion that they were swampy areas and I learned later that much of the foliage was, in fact, papyrus.

THAT's a knife!!We flew northward to Torit, Sudan passing some mountains with peaks above our 9,500 foot altitude. At Torit we made a brief stop to drop off the two guys we had picked up in Entebbe.

A brief hop over some other peaks put us at Lokutuk where we first made a low pass over the strip which I assumed was to check for wildlife. There was neither wildlife nor any people at the airport so I assumed Samuel would just work the pattern and land but he swung around and headed straight for the peaks! Just short of the mountain, he did a left 180 which put him over a small village. Having done that, he finally flew the normal pattern and as we were landing some people showed up so I’m assuming the buzz was to rouse them. Two young women boarded; both were teachers who had been teaching in Lokutuk, one for six months and the other for a year.

The White NileOur next stop was Juba, now the capital of South Sudan and the only airport we’d see in Sudan with a control tower and paved runway. The White Nile passes through Juba on its way to Khartoum where it joins the Blue Nile to form "the" Nile before proceeding northward into Egypt.

Near JubaPulling onto what appeared to be a former taxiway, we parked among many other Caravans, deplaned and stood under the wing on the hot tarmac for ages waiting for fuel. It was HOT; Samuel said the OAT (Outside Air Temperature) gauge was registering 105F. The young girl from MAF departed at Juba and Samuel invited me to sit in the right (co-pilot's) seat. Next to letting me fly the plane, it was the nicest thing he could possibly have done!

I really enjoyed sitting next to the pilot. The headset that I was using was, coincidentally, identical to the one that I was using at the time in my own plane except that its label said "Gifted" where mind says, "Lightspeed". I asked Samuel about it and was told that the owner of Lightspeed had donated hundreds of used headsets to missionary air operations all over the world. I knew that Lightspeed ran a trade-in promotion when they introduced their new "Zulu" line a few years ago and wondered what they'd do with the new headsets. Now I know. (Since my return, I've upgraded to a Zulu myself so maybe my old headset is flying missionary work, too!)

Our last intermediate stop was a short one at Yei. Yei is a surprisingly large town but, like most others in Southern Sudan, the runway is dirt.

Kajo Keji airstripWe finally landed at the Kajo Keji airfield at about 2:30. Wudu market, the community by the air strip was larger than I expected but, as it turns out, I’d never see it other than from the air! This is one of only two small disappointments of the entire trip. (The other is that I did not get a chance to visit the ladies' "Tailoring Center" where I could have bought a hand-made shirt.)

Welcoming committeeThere was bit of a a crowd at the airfield; I guess this is one of the few highlights of the week. We were met by Stephen Timor, a Diocese of Bethlehem employee, Canon Henry Leju and Fr. Edward the diocesan secretary.

The Bishop's HouseWith our bags loaded into a pickup truck, we piled into the bishop's Land Rover and headed northward, away from the village. The road from the airport was horrible but I was told this was actually a pretty good one by local standards! Eventually we reached a good dirt road that carried us to the turnoff to the bishop's house in Romogi. His house is quite nice; very remote and with a number of out-buildings. The view from the front porch is absolutely magnificent! Each of us has our own bedroom. The house has a large front and small back porch, a great room with living and dining areas, the bishop's office, and a bathroom. There's a room that serves as a kitchen but actual cooking is done over a charcoal fire in a hut out back.

Water is collected rainwater so the expectation is that outside latrine be used in the daytime. There are solar panels on the roof that charge a bank of batteries so there is power for lighting and even a TV in the evening.

After prayer and conversation on the front porch, we had a meal of rice and two sauces; goat in a thin red sauce and "greens" (looked a lot like spinach) in what they call “paste”. Paste is made from what they know as “ground nuts” but that we call peanuts.

Romogi Primary SchoolBy about 4:30 we headed to see the site of the planned Romogi secondary school. We walked the short distance and came first to the Romogi primary school that had been completed last year. As we approached it, a hoard of kids rushed out to greet us singing songs of welcome. Romogi Primari SchoolThere were lots of huge smiles and some of the kids, especially the smaller ones, looked at us in astonishment. My guess is that they see few white faces.

Stephen and an ANTHILL!After meeting the village elders, we were seated under a large Mango tree facing students and the school. There were a few speeches and, since the local language is Bari, everything had to be translated for our benefit. This was a longer and much more elaborate event than I had anticipated but I was told and was soon to learn first hand that this was a short one.

Just beyond the primary school is the site of the secondary school and we took pictures of the elders there. It seemed terribly hot but I’m told it was only in the mid 90’s F. Of course, given that we’d just left temperatures nearer to freezing, the contrast was remarkable.

Back at the house we had a bit of time to just relax. Dinner was rice, sorghum, potatoes, "sauce" and chicken.

After dinner we watched a Kenyan comedian in Swahili while having tea. Bed was at about 10.

Friday, Nov. 12 - Dedication of the Helen J. Wagner New Hope School at Liwolo

This was an amazing day!!! It had been very during the night and the mosquito net would have blocked the breeze if there had been one. I had a hard time going to sleep but once asleep, slept quite well. I awoke for the day at about 7 and we had breakfast at 8. By 8:30 the diocesan staff had arrived for a worship service.

One of the BETTER roads!A large group of us started out at about 9:25 in two Land Cruisers for the dedication of the Helen J. Wagner New Hope School at Liwolo. The first vehicle was the bishop's, the one that had picked us up yesterday. The second was similar but in the back had bench seats on the sides. Six of us were back there with legs intertwined. After getting off the horrible "road" to Bishop Anthony's house, we had a good dirt road for a few miles where the driver was “racing along” at 60 kph (less than 40 mph). Then suddenly we were on the worst road I’ve ever seen anywhere! The net result was that it took just over 2 hours to go about 35 miles! We passed no cars on the road other than one that was broken down. We did pass, however, quite a few motor bikes and a gazillion people walking. Lots of people smiled and waved, especially the kids. The Bari (local language) word for white man is “galitat” and as we’d pass kids, many would point, wave, smile, and yell “galitat”. We are certainly a rare sight for them! Stephen handed an empty water bottle to a kid through the window and he started running after us. This kid was FAST! We were on one of the rare "good" stretches of road and he pretty much stayed with us for 2-300 yards. I assumed that the kid was angry because he got an empty when he expected a full bottle. I was wrong. Stephen threw another out and the kid stopped for it, too. I was later told the kids love to collect empty bottles in which to take water to school. Eventually we lost him but he'd make a hell of a track star!

Approaching LiwoloShortly before reaching Liwolo we had to ford a stream and from then on were followed by a throng of kids running after us, many on bare feet. There were hundreds of people at the school and we were greeted by songs as we had been yesterday and a drill by "scouts" carrying "guns" made of reeds. People were going absolutely crazy and I shook a gazillion hands from those of dignitaries to those of little kids. Bishop Anthony gets the keys from CharlieHowever, when I reached out to one little kid he recoiled like I was about to eat him. I suppose my strange appearance frightened him.

The first event was ribbon cutting with Howard doing the honors. The flag raising was a real treat. There were two flags, Southern Sudan’s and New Hope’s. Though the people doing the flag raising were military, they'd apparently never raised a flag before! It took them forever to figure out how to fasten the flags to the ropes and raise them! Watvhing the flag ceremonyOur boy scouts could have raised dozens of flags while these guys raised two. In the meantime, I'd wandered off and was on the school's porch in a crowd of locals. The kids just stared at me but as soon as I'd put my hand out they'd reach to shake it. I felt like a politician, shaking with both hands. Their smiles are so pure it really hits you. I just LOVE these kids!

For the ceremony to officially open the school, they had set up a big "tent" made of sticks, plastic tarps, bed sheets and about anything else they could find to block the sun. There was a bit of a breeze so all during the program people had to keep repairing it. Given the heat, however, the breeze was a blessing.

We were seated in a place of honor at the front facing the people. At about 2.5 hours, the program was LONG but I truly enjoyed it.There were a number of appearances by the school choir, another drill by the scouts, a dramatization of earlier attempts to build a school and countless speeches. Once again, the speeches were in Bari and someone from the diocese sat next to each of us to give a running translation. The dramatization was a bit of a comedy with people building a school with sticks and straw and complaining about how only a few people end up doing all the work. I guess a few people carrying the load for the others is a theme common all over the world! The thing most speeches had in common was that the speaker kept saying, "I don't have much to say." and then continued on... and on...and on. Part way through, it was decided we'd hear from “the visitors”. Howard spoke and then Charlie. Suddenly, Stephen called on me to say a few words! Oops; I guess I should have prepared something! I simply said it was my first time here and that, though the trip was a long one, their warm welcome made it all worthwhile. I said their smiling faces and those of the beautiful children were wonderful and it was I who must thank them.

The speeches resumed and, of course, the longest were by the politicians. That must be another global reality! However, one politician said that they in Sudan talk a lot and do nothing while the people from Bethlehem talk little but do a lot. A couple of people said that they once thought Bethlehem was “in heaven” but now knew we were sent from God!

The kids are the BEST!Near the end of the program I asked Stephen to arrange a picture of me with children in front of the school. By the time I arrived, a large group of kids in school uniforms had been arranged on the raised platform for the flag poles. I guess they expected me to stand at the front, back or side but I made a “parting of the waters” gesture and squatted among the kids. From the giggling, they apparently thought that was pretty funny. Charlie took some photos with my camera but Stephen grabbed some with his as well. Afterwards, I started handing out the small toys I’d bought and suddenly I was overwhelmed with kids; an absolute riot. I had to get rescued! In retrospect, bringing the small gifts was a mistake; I'd never have been able to bring one for every child and I assume that, in the end, there were more disappointed than happy kids.

The last phase was dinner in one of the classrooms with the local dignitaries. In addition to beef, there was a sauce with tomatoes and onions and that was quite good over the rice and cassava. While we were eating in the classroom, most of the people were outside celebrating. Music was playing and people were dancing and having a great time. I must confess I’d have preferred to stay and party for a while with the local folks but off we went.

The ride back to the bishop’s house was also a long one and this time we were joined by a young teacher and her baby. Along the way, we stopped at a school built by Archbishop of Canterbury. I must say that ours appear to be much better built.

Saturday, Nov. 13 - Dedication of the Trinity Easton New Hope School at Sodogo

Before breakfast, I took my camera for a little walk, first up to the college and then down to the Romogi primary school. This is an absolutely beautiful country; I really love it. The lighting was golden and I managed to grab a few good pics.

At about 9:30, after breakfast and prayers, we headed out for the dedication of the new primary school at Sodogo, the fourth to be opened by our diocese. This time the ride was only about an hour and more of it was on the "good" road. However unbelievable, the bad parts of the road were much worse than yesterday’s. There were places I really felt were impassible but on we went. A few times I was concerned that the vehicle might overturn!

We were following the bishop's car and suddenly encountered a huge rattle-shaking, drum-beating, singing, flag-waving crowd that surrounded both cars to lead us to the school. Most of us got out of the cars to walk with the crowd. Like yesterday’s, today’s celebration was an amazing experience.

The schedule was similar to yesterday’s but this time I took the opportunity to stand back a bit from the ribbon cutting and interact more with the kids. The seating arrangement for the program was a bit different with people arranged in a u-shape with an open area in the center. Once again, the program went on for about 3 hours. As happened yesterday, the local landlord gave the diocese a ceremonial goat. Jack gets his goat!Yesterday, Charlie had accepted it; today it was my turn! For the balance of our visit, Bishop Anthony kept telling me I had to get a passport to get "my" goat home.These people have virtually no money so donations of chickens, goats, and such are the norm.

At yesterday’s event, we had refreshments in the school while a lot of locals were singing and dancing in the tent. A future bishop!I was, frankly, sorry to miss that part. Today we ate where we’d sat for the program so we got to watch and even participate a bit. After I ate, I started wandering around, taking pictures and shaking hands with the kids. Once again, I felt like a politician shaking hands by the dozens. Lots of adults seemed really pleased and, after I got reseated, I got dragged into the dance circle where I had a blast making a fool of myself. John, who sat between Charlie and me to act as an interpreter told me that the dancing would continue well into the night and perhaps until morning. Once again I really hated to leave but eventually we loaded up and moved out.

Our next stop was at Dwani where I thought we were simply to inspect the site for the next primary school. However, once again we were met by a crowd and once again went through the speeches and all. Jack kicks it up!This time, Canon Henry Liju acted as my interpreter. This time I accepted the gift of a chicken.

While all this was going on, my cell started vibrating as messages came in so I knew we had cell coverage, the first I'd had since leaving Juba on Thursday. As we started to walk to the future building site, I called Lin and was delighted to hear her voice! By this time, my emotions were so running away with me that I had trouble speaking to her. This place and these people have touched me in a way that is impossible to communicate. At DwaniA few minutes after I hung up, the singing, complete with drums and rattles, started up again so I called Lin back so she could hear it. I didn’t realize it until the next day but the church in Dwani, in front of which we sat, shares a name my home church of St. Mark’s.

After dinner we watched more TV. The shows that were to become a staple during our stay were "Tusker Project Fame" and "Capital Talk" A.K.A. "On The Bench", both from Kenya and both in English. Tusker Project Fame is more or less a "Africa's Got Talent" and was a blast. (Tusker is a beer and the show's sponsor, by the way.) Capital Talk is a political show where Jeff Koinange interviews prominant figures, primarily polititians. It's actually quite well done and gives some good insight into some of Kenya's issues.

Sunday, Nov. 14 - My most memorable mass

I awoke after another restless night and was once again showered before 7. Charlie was up and eating early since he and Stephen were going to an English service at nearby St. Luke's while the rest of us were going with the bishop to a service at Leikor.

The mass at Leikor promised to be a huge affair since there was an installation of a new archdeacon and confirmation of over 150 people from ten parishes! We left Romogi at 9:30 for a short 20 minute ride, all on the “good” road, to St. Peter's Church in Leikor. St. Peter's church building is fairly large but today's crowd was much larger so, again, a tent had been fabricated of sticks, tarps, and bed sheets. Once again we were greeted and there was a procession to the church but this one was shorter and more modest than those of the last two days.

At about 10:20, after some time for vesting of the clergy, the procession for the mass itself started and the music was great! It was reminiscent of southern gospel music, of course, but still quite different. Though the beat was fast, there was a lot of shuffling back and forth so the procession moved very slowly. The tent was not nearly large enough to house the crowd of 879, so many people were out under a huge mango tree and beyond as well as in an adjacent building. While the tent did block the rays of the hot sun, it was still HOT under there. Fortunately, I was seated near the altar and right against the wall of bed sheets. Consequently, I got a bit of a breeze from time to time. I can’t imagine being one of the many people who stood for hours in the sun along the sides of the tent peering in.

John Mano, principal of the college, sat next to me and translated during most of the service. He was spelled once or twice by the bishop’s chaplain, Israel, so I was never without a translator. After yet more music, the new archdeacon for Leikor was installed, then the confirmation began. The laying on of hands was done in waves and took 1/2 hour. The Bishop's sermon was surprisingly short, even by US standards. Distribution of the communion elements alone took another 1/2 hour. Interspersed through all of this, of course, was a lot of music accompanied by drums and rattles. These people really know how to "celebrate" mass! During much of the service, little kids continually peeked or crawled under the bed sheet “wall” behind the alter. I thought they were cute and by his actions, the bishop obviously did, too, but some older women kept chasing them away. They kept coming back, though. Gotta love kids!

After what would have been the conclusion of worship at St. Mark's at home, there were speeches and more music. In all, it was well after 3:00 when we were out of the church and the Bishop had given a final blessing. I must admit that, though I truly enjoy going to church, if mass in our home church lasts much over an hour, I start getting "antsy". Here, however, I was quite content through the whole thing.

I'm not sure why it is but I think it is inappropriate to take photos during a mass and it bugs me when people do so. Consequently, you'll not find any here. On the one hand, I regret not having the pix; on the other, I'm happy that I remained true to my beliefs. In any case, the images are pretty well burned into my memory. I wish I could paint or draw!

After worship, we gathered back in the church building for refreshments and, of course, it was big meal again. Before we ate dinner, however, they unveiled an arrangement of six decorated cakes, immediately gave some away (including one to the bishop) and then distributed pieces to everyone. Apparently “eat cake first” is taken literally here!

I skipped out several times to walk around and take pictures. Kids and even adults were eager to be photographed and eagerly composed themselves in groups without my asking. Kids were actually running to get into the pictures. I photographed some of the prettiest smiles on earth. Even today, I cannot look at the pictures or even think of these kids without smiling myself.

I had seen "St. Mark's” on the backs of some women's tee shirts so when I spotted one, I asked Israel, the Bishop's chaplain, to explain to the woman that I was from another St. Mark's. St. Mark's, it turned out, was the church at the Dwani school site yesterday and, coincidentally, this was the very woman who had given me the chicken!

As we were sitting in church, my phone once again started to buzz as messages came so I knew we had cell service in Leikor. After eating I called Lin and was delighted to talk to her again. I didn't know it then but that was to be my last phone call from within Sudan.

Yesterday, I'd asked the bishop about tukuls (the local mud houses) so on the way back, he had his driver take us to his cousin's tukul. His cousin and family were most gracious and showed me into three of them. The first was of traditional construction and used for storage. The second, also traditional was the kitchen where a young girl was roasting ground nuts (peanuts, remember?) in a large pot over a charcoal fire on what Israel said was the “new style” stove. Hanging from the ceiling were ears of corn being dried in the smoke for next year. Okra was stuck in the roof beams for the same purpose and over a smaller fireplace was a chicken that was being smoked. The third tukul we saw was this man's mother's. It was of modern construction, though still with traditional roof, and larger than the others. It was really very nice inside and I was shocked at how comfortably cool it was. I would have LOVED to take pictures but felt it would be an invasion so I refrained.

Earlier, on the way to the church, the Bishop had started blasting on the car radio some really nice music and I asked him about it. He said it was gospel music from Uganda and that it was available on CD in the market. On the way home he suggested I give Israel some money and he'd buy some for me. Back at the house, Israel showed me videos on his own computer of the same music so we watched a few while he translated. He also gave me a verbal history of the decades-long civil war which had devastated the country. These people have been severely tested! How they can be so happy after all the suffering they have endured is incredible and a tribute to their enormous love of and faith in God.

Monday, Nov. 15 - Visiting the school at Gadereu and dedicating the dining room at the college in Romogi

GaderuI slept quite well, possibly because we’d had another rain storm to cool things down and possibly because I resisted the urge to look at my watch whenever I got up, thereby removing some of the anxiety. I was nonetheless showered by 7 again, had breakfast and was in the car with the others shortly after 9. For breakfast, in addition to the normal fare we had sweet potatoes with "paste", a concoction we know better as peanut butter. We also had peanuts that were so freshly roasted that they were still warm!

Today's first event was a visit to the school at Gaderu. It was the second that the diocese had built. Stephen drove with Henry, Howard, Charlie and me riding with him. Leaving Romogi, we headed in direction opposite to what we’d done before for about 30 minutes, then turned left and crawled over a bad road for a second half hour. This road was incredibly bad, made worse by last night's rain. As we approached one humungous puddle, Charlie asked Stephen whether the vehicle was in 4-wheel drive. Just as we entered the puddle, Stephen replied, “No.” Predictably, we got royally mired in the mud and I had very serious doubts whether we’d get out without help. The fact that the puddle was teeming with mosquitoes in this malaria-ridden country didn't make me feel any better! There was a lot of spinning of wheels and flying of mud, some of which came in through the open windows at us. A small bit is still on my camera and I hate to clean it off! The boy with the paper tie.Eventually, and after a few very anxious minutes, Stephen and possibly a small miracle had us going again.

Today's program was mercifully short by Sudan standards but still long by ours. We did, however, get 2 more roosters, one handed to Charlie and one to me. What made this day especially enjoyable for me was that we had much more time to wander about and interact with the kids! They sure love to have their pictures taken! These people more poor than most of us can even imagine but they take pride in their appearance. One small boy, though his clothes were pretty ragged, had fashioned a tie from yellow paper and had attached it to buttons on his torn blue oxford shirt. Soccer with a ball of string!He also had some folded yellow paper in his shirt pocket as a handkerchief. I’ll never forget that little boy and greatly regret not having asked his name! I did let him know I liked his tie and got a HUGE smile as a reward.

We were back at the bishop’s house by 12:30 and I "took the camera for a walk" again. Walking along the access road, I heard a small voice yelling "Galitat!". I located its source, a small boy smiling at me from up in a tree. "Galitat!", he yelled.A little while later, I saw him again, this time with a little girl beside him and peeking out from the grass. Cute!

I swung by the Romogi primary school where the kids were apparently on a break from class. Consequently, I got absolutely mobbed! Again, lots of smiles and hamming it up for the camera; I absolutely love it!! Boys are boys everywhere!I was really trying to get a photo of a poster urging women to vote in the upcoming referendum and the kids kept posing in front of the camera! Leaving the primary school, I swung up past the college and returned “home” where I planned to rest and cool down.

No sooner had I arrived in the belief that we had an hour before we had to be at the college for the dedication of the new kitchen and dining hall than Stephen announced that we were leaving immediately so that we could have lunch there before the dedication. It's just a short walk from the bishop’s house to the college but of course once again we were greeted with song. Dinner was the typical fare here but the chicken was especially good and I wish I'd taken a larger piece. They also had sweet potatoes that I enjoyed. Sitting next to me was the only other white man we'd seen since we arrived, a teacher from Netherlands.

Charlie's goatAt just under an hour, this program was an incredibly short one by Sudanese standards.

Apparently during the previous evening, Charlie had spent some time with the college students and they had complained about the food. Consequently, Charlie bought from the bishop one of the goats that had been donated and presented it to the students. They went wild!

Today was actually a historic day for this country as it was the first day of registration for January's referendum on the separation of the southern part of Sudan. Bishop Anthony registersConsequently, after we left the college, we followed the Bishop to a registration center where we photographed him registering. Back at the house by 5, we finally had some cool-down time. I just had rice and sauce for dinner but for desert there was sugar cane, papaya, cake and oranges. We were joined by several people from the college as we watched "Tusker Project Fame" on TV for the final time. Unfortunately tonight's show was just repeated clips. Again, bed was at about 10.

Tuesday, Nov. 16 - Heading home, part 1 - Romogi to Entebbe

The cathedral at RomogiI was once again up at 6, then finished packing and did a little reading before breakfast. We got a message from MAF that we and the bishop were booked on separate planes, he leaving in the late morning for his trip to Yei for a conference and we at 2:00 for our return to Entebbe. I took a little walk, then Israel showed up with some DVDs for me so we watched a few. I had just started teaching him computer 101 when he had to leave with the bishop.

The collegeI took my camera for one last walk around Romogi, including a look at the new cathedral then under construction and a last visit to the college. A bit latter I was still working on Israel's computer when the house phone rang. I had a feeling it might be about our trip so called Grace who was in the back yard. After answering it, she said there'd been a change in plans; Stephen was returning for us and would arrive in 20 minutes. Margaret had already prepared chicken for lunch so we ate it quickly; it was quite good. When we got to the airstrip, the bishop was still there waiting for us. The pilot this time was Simon. Charlie asked when we'd get to Entebbe and, though it was just short of 11:30, we were told it would be about 4:00. Another milk run.

Not sure which school; maybe GaderuOur first leg was just about due west to Yei where we said goodbye to Bishop Anthony and departed to the northwest to Mudri where we saw a large UN compound just north of the airport. We next flew to Madiri and then on to Yambio. By this time I'd moved into the seat behind the empty right (co-pilot's) seat. I asked Simon, the pilot, if he had a chart and he handed me a WAC (Wide Area) chart that had been marked with the most common MAF legs, each showing headings and distances. It had been cut up and put into a notebook. I spent most of that leg finding the places we'd been on both days and the remaining stops as well and recording their coordinates so I could put them on the TravBuddy map.

Our rideWhen we landed at Yambio, Simon suggested I climb up front. Whether it was because he now realized I was a pilot or to correct the CG for the 4 guys who piled in at Yambio I didn’t ask; I was just happy to be in the “front office”! I did ask to use the Lightspeed headset that I’d seen under my seat as I climbed in. They obviously made things a lot quieter and communication with Simon easier.

I enjoyed talking to Simon. He's Swiss and learned to fly in Tennessee. His father was a missionary and he grew up in Papua New Guinea. Simon attended a bible college in Chicago and they were connected to the flight school where he became an airframe and power plant mechanic as well as a pilot.

Most of the leg from Yambio, Sudan to Arua, Uganda is over the Democratic Republic of Congo and some of it over a huge national park. Simon said there were many elephants, giraffes, etc. down there but since we were at 9500 feet above sea level I didn't bother to look very hard. Simon and I got talking about safaris and he said there were many good ones in northern Uganda. I said I was looking for a comfortable, high-end one. He recommended Apoka Lodge in Kidepo Nat'l Park, saying it's 5 star. I need to check that out though it occurred to me that I'd failed to say photo safari which is the only kind I'd consider.

Getting fuel at AruaWe had intended to clear immigration at Entebbe but, when we landed at Arua for fuel, we were told that a customs official had waited all day for us. For the US$50 we paid for a visa, we got a stamp but no visa sticker. Hmmm, hope that doesn'y cause a problem when we try to leave Uganda...

Having made this trip many times before, Charlie and Howard were eager to get to the hotel in Entebbe and unhappy with the milk run. The fact that we had a headwind and we were already past 4 was, I’m sure, not helping one little bit! I, on the other hand, was having the time of my life!

Our flight from Arua was essentially due south at 11,500 above sea level. Simon called "Entebbe Center" (sic.) at 65 nautical miles out and, in spite of a pretty gusty wind, absolutely squeaked his landing on runway 17. He used an astonishing small amount of runway; sweet!

The old Entebbe airfield - site of the famous raid.Throughout the trip, Simon had been using an HF radio to call “flight following” with position reports plus all the normal data we provide in a flight plan here in the US. However, I learned that, rather than talking to flight service as we do here, he was talking to someone at MAF, actually the wife of one of the pilots. He had called her as we were landing in Arua and asked them to have a driver from the Boma meet us when we landed at EBB and, sure enough, Nelson was there as we exited the terminal. On the way to the hotel, we passed the old Entebbe airfield, site of the famous raid in 1976.

It was 6:00 by the time we reached the Boma. Since I’d failed to return my key when we’d left on Thursday, I took room 16 again, put my bathing suit on and called Linda from the pool. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the sun went down and the mosquitoes came out for their evening meal (me) so I headed in for the first warm shower in almost a week. I could have spent at least another full week under that water! After changing, re-packing, and reading a bit, I met the guys as planned for dinner at 8. The pasta carbonara tasted absolutely heavenly!

As had been pre-arranged, Nelson took us to the airport at 9. Though check-in was a real mess, the airport itself is actually quite nice and we pushed back on time for the Brussels Air flight to Brussels.

Wedesday, Nov. 17 - Heading home, part 2 - The final chapter

The night was interminable. I spent almost all of the 8 hours trying to sleep but don't think I ever got as much as an hour in one chunk. The very good news was that once again I had an aisle seat with an empty one next to me. There was a lady in the seat 2 to the left. I learned that she was born an Italian, married an Englishman so is currently a UK citizen but now lives in Rwanda. She is a lawyer but has built a school in Rwanda. She started with a nursery school, then when the kids were ready for primary one, she added that. Each year has added a class and is now at primary 5 or 6. I gave her details on Greg Mortenson's excellent book about building of schools, “Three Cups of Tea”. (Yes, I know there is controversy over it now...)

We had about 3 hours to kill in Brussels and, for the third time in a row, I was selected for a security inspection as I boarded the plane upon leaving Europe for the US. I have either been flagged for some unknown reason or, since I am so NOT a stereotypical terrorist, I’m the best way they can find to be politically correct! I'm starting to take this personally!

Charlie and I were in inside aisle seats with an empty between us. He moved to the bulkhead so I had 3 seats to myself and was therefore able to lie flat for several hours. Heaven! Conditions made the flight as good as an economy flight can be but it’s still LONG! I think this is making me appreciate that a trip "only" to Europe isn't so bad!

We arrived in Newark a few minutes early and blew through immigration, baggage claim and customs in an incredibly short time. Charlie’s wife and daughter picked us up for the ride back to the Lehigh Valley and it went without incident. I expected to be much too tired to drive home but was on my second (or maybe third) wind so did it without a problem at all.


While I’ve visited many wonderful places and had some extraordinary experiences, this one topped them all in terms of sheer emotional impact. I am convinced that my life will never be the same.

Kids of Kajo KejiWhen I return from virtually every trip, I create a slide show video for my own enjoyment. I'll spare you that! However, this time I also created one of just random pictures of the kids. Those kids were fantastic!

If you want to see a LOT more pictures of this trip along with a map showing the route followed, see my blog on TravBuddy.