In the midst of hardship

I have been working as an international development worker since 2006 and have worked in several developing countries.  However, my humanitarian mission in South Sudan is by far the most challenging and most difficult, yet the most fulfilling job i’ve ever had. I would not trade this experience for anything….not even my past ‘Gasm’ Travels!

Here is a peek of my humanitarian lifestyle, in the midst of hardship.

My deployment entails travelling with my team (a group of 4 male national staff) in far flung places often on unpaved rough roads,….

South Sudan

in muddy, flooded highways…..

South Sudan

notwithstanding the imminent dangers of road accidents, robberies, car hijacking and ambushes….

South Sudan

as well as the Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) or unexploded ammunitions and anti-tank landmines and other remnants of war that are scattered in roads, in farms and gardens, in the bush, communities even within town centers.

This was taken during one of our clearance operations in one of the communities in Central Equatoria State. This is a main busy highway connecting a village to the main town. Unknowingly to many, there were a number of unexploded air bombs and mortars half buried on the ground which if detonated can cause a massive explosion.

UXO

When we reach our destination, we first look for a place to camp either within the village center or outskirt of town.

south sudan

Here are the various campsites we had so far….from Western Equatoria State to Central Equatoria State to Eastern Equatoria State….south sudan

Yes, I sleep in a small tent (which is often leaking when it is raining!)

…And this is my home…..welcome to my humble abode!

south sudan

….and this is my office….

South Sudan

Welcome to our kitchen! We hire a cook from the village.  We use charcoal in cooking.  If there is no borehole nearby, the river water serves as our water source. 

South Sudan

What we eat depends on how much budget we still have and what is available in the village market.  At the beginning of deployment, often there is meat but after a few weeks, my local teammates end up eating the same kind of food….the greens, a local leafy vegetable cooked in peanut butter.

South Sudan

A typical meal of South Sudanese is a combination of Greens and Ugali (made of cornmeal flour).  It is also the cheapest and most available food in every village.  Here is how Mary, one of our hired cooks, prepare the greens.

south sudan

There was one incident during our last week of deployment where we ran out of money in the field.    Luckily I always have my emergency canned goods stored.  However, the guys opted to hunt for food.  It has just rained that night.  I was inside my tent preparing for bed.  I saw them with a cup kneeling under a bulb light as if doing some rituals.  The next day, I asked them what they were doing outside my tent.  They showed me a cup full of flying ants.  These are the insects that come out after the rain.  They told me that it was for dinner.  They showed me how to prepare it, removing first the wings and drying the insects under the sun.  Then after a few hours, they fry it in oil then greens are added.  Voila! Sauté Flying Ants with Greens! (By the way, they also eat it raw!)  I did try it, it was not that bad…it was just like eating…um, well, insects…:)

south sudan

Well, that is not yet the most difficult ordeal I have to go through.  Bathing, pooing and peeing are what I call the worst in humanitarian hardship.    I have never cursed my being a woman because of these toilet issues!  I struggled a lot on this aspect especially as I am the only woman in the team.

Sometimes, we are lucky to find a public latrine nearby. Otherwise, we will do a makeshift latrine and bath area (my ass prefers this as it is more a ‘bit’ hygienic compared to the public latrine!) Or if not, tall bushes along the road or behind a big Mango tree will do. 🙂

south sudan

Top Photos: Public Latrine; Middle Photos: Makeshift Latrine; Lower Photos: Bathing Area

But in the midst of hardship, I had to find ways on how to divert my mind and not be affected by my difficult situation.  Here are some of my survival tactics:

When living in the tent is becoming unbearable, I would close my eyes and imagine I am camping in the wilderness of Australia.  When it is rainy and cold, I imagine camping in the highlands of Scotland.  It makes things more bearable just thinking of those beautiful places I have been to and reminisce those ‘gasm’ feelings I had during my travels.

I learned that in hardship situations, meditation and imaginations help a lot.  When I am fed up with eating canned foods or greens, I  would crave for something so I can focus on having it. So I will count the days till the end of the month when I can go back to the city  and treat myself with proper good food!

Lastly, being in tune with nature can have positive effects on mental and physical health creating balance in our inner ecology despite the ever changing environment.  The smell of wet earth after the rain, the amazing African sunset that brightly colors the horizon and the chirping of the birds in the morning are some of the reasons why I love working in the field.

Amidst these hardships, I have learned to relax, to accept and to go with the flow.  As what the saying goes, ” The more difficult it is to reach your destination, the more you will remember the journey. ”

Watch out for more on my survival tactics in my future posts…..

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Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “In the midst of hardship

  1. You were right, definitely wanted to check it out. I’m impressed by what you had to face, and even more by the fact you did cope. The world needs more people like you…

  2. I admire you for your resilience, I don’t think I would be strong enough to do what you are doing, or have the courage for it. Brave girl!

    • Thanks Joan, I don’t know where I am getting the strength too…maybe because I just love what I am doing that I am able to take risks easily. 🙂

  3. Susan…such adventures you have all in the name of helping others. I have so much respect for you and the hardships you go through. Through your photographs I feel as though I was right by your side. My heart goes out to the Sudanese people and I am grateful for you and your team to be there to help them develop their villages. Blessings, Robyn

    • Thanks Robyn for your kind words. Btw, people in South Sudan are called South Sudanese to differentiate themselves from the Sudan people. They have been at war with Sudan for 22 years and have just had their independence in 2011. Although the war has ended, the conflict between two nations is still happening particularly by the border side.

  4. Wow! As I sit here in my comfortable chair in my warm office in my dry home, I can’t even being to imagine what you have done is like. I see that you do at least have a laptop! Perhaps another way to look at it is “The more difficult it is to reach your destination, the more you enjoy getting there.”

    Thanks for this glimpse into an altogether different world.

    • Thanks von. We have a small generator which is on only from 7 pm to 11pm to charge our electronic and communication equipment. Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

  5. Wow, what you are doing is amazing, and it sounds hard and so different than our comfortable lifestyles in here. I think you are brave and that it’s great you find ways to cope with the tent, or the food or hard situations. That takes a lot of determination and courage and probably makes you ready to face life full on in any situation.

    I think that eating the cooked food from a cook hired in a village is too adventurous for me. And to think that my grandma barely washed the potatoes when she cooked them, and I’m not even sure she washed her hands. But now there’s no more of that. I also think that eating ants is even more adventurous, that is quite out there! But it’s so cool that you actually did it.

    Thank you for your visit, I am glad I visited your blog, I will follow, if only to hear about what other crazy things you are eating 😀 Just kidding, you live in a different world and it’s really interesting to me.

    Peace,
    Laura

    • Thanks Laura. I do plan to write more about my experiences in the field, not just in South Sudan. So I hope to see you around again. Thanks for your kind words. It does helps to be appreciated when you are doing something ‘out of the ordinary’ so to speak 🙂

  6. Pingback: Being In Tune With Nature | Gasm Travels

  7. Susan, I’m so glad you shared this link with me. Those photos of the unexploded bombs were the worst. Eating insects … not great. But bombs … oh my.

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