Dear Friends and Family,
As most of you know, I am an associate with Hydromissions. Hydromissions is a faith-based non-profit organization that provides water solutions to undeveopled villages using low-tech equipment. Our focus is showing the love of Christ by working towards solving the water needs of those we serve. Hydromissions gets a few applications daily from all over the world. Once the requesting hosts goes through all the nessessary application deliverables and the project is approved by the board, it gets assigned to one of the associates. Everyone – including the founders and board members – are volunteers. We all take our own vacation time (or unpaid leaves from our respective companies) to volunteer with Hydromissions. I am especially blessed by my company to be able to take long unpaid leaves which allow me to make multiple trips. Serving as this type of volunteer – providing clean water to people who otherwise cannot access it – is a passion of mine. i am privlidged to be able to help others and often come homewith experiences much more then can ever be expressed via blogs, newletters and emails. Every project has it’s share of hardships – whether illness, unsafe conditions, lijmited resources, inclimate weather, etc – but none of those hardships can ever cloud the incredible joy i feel in being able to help others during each of my project trips.
My most recent project to Sudan had its share of unusual hardships -ones that I would rather not repeat! The following is a recount of the 3-week long adventure.
First, for a wee bit more background –
South Sudan is the first project where Hydromissions sent out a Trainee (Jennifer) along with just an associate (Me) and a consultant (Cyrus). Cryus, a Kenyan located in Nairobi, typically goes out on projects on his own and covers East Africa. I had only one official Hydromissions project under my belt and that was my training trip to Tajikistan. This project was very difficult to set up logistically prior to departure. Every step seemed to take a lot longer to accomplish then it should have. Flights in Sudan, for example, could not be booked from the States. We could get flights from the States to Juba, Sudan but were unable to book a flight from Juba to Aweil (our final destination). Our typical travel insurance didn’t apply to Sudan because of the threat of tribal warfare so even something as simple as arranging our travel insurance was a headache. We were also unable to obtain a visa from the Sudanese embassy and were relying on permits obtained in Kenya. Every project is unique because every country and culture is unique. In this particular case, Sudan was giving me lots of trouble before I even left the States.
I picked Jennifer up from the airport the night before our departure to Etheopia – we got a few hours sleep before we rose to catch our early flight out of Philadelphia. Philly to Dc was uneventful – I slept for most of the flight.
In the DC airport, I grabbed a bagel for breakfast knowing that it would be my last bagel for nearly 3 weeks and if you know me, you know bagels are part of my daily diet! Jennifer and I had a couple hours of time to chill in DC before our flight to Ethiopia. Jennifer had a priority card to sit in one of those frequent flyer lounges and she was able to bring me in as a guest. We stocked up on snack size bags of pita chips and small boxes of raisins for our trip (in retrospect, I should have grabbed a bunch more pita chip bags!) I was really happy when we were seated on the large plane that was to take us from DC to Ethiopia! Long flights are not fun but they are a lot easier on large planes! Jennifer and I had an empty seat between us so we were able to spread out and relax a wee bit more. Every seat was equipped with small personal video monitor and although my monitor only ended up working for part of the time,it was still nice to have. I slept on and off for the majority of the 12 hour flight. After landing in Ethiopia, we walked off the plane and onto the tarmac and i took a deep breath – my first taste of Africa! It felt awesome! I had always wanted to work on a project in Africa but the timing was never right. I have experienced Central America and Central Asia but until this moment, on this hot tarmac, Africa had alluded me. I took another deep breath and thanked God for our safe flight and for finally bringing me to this awesome continent! Shuffling around the Ethiopian airport was sort of confusing but we eventually made it to our gate and checked in with the attendant. The officials checked our permits there which made me a little nervous. We had permits to enter Sudan but they were not official visas from the Sudanese Embassy. They didn’t look official at all – our photos were stapled and there was white out where they mistakenly wrote that I was from the UK so I was nervous about them allowing us into the country. The attendants took a little more time then I was comfortable with looking at the permits but they checked us in anyhow. Whew, one step closer to making it to Sudan! We had a couple hours to entertain ourselves in the airport but there wasn’t anything there besides chairs and a not-so-clean restroom. I laid out across a few chairs and read a wee bit. Jennifer and I each had a book on Sudan that we were reading to understand the culture and history of the country. I also had a travel guide book which had a small portion on southern Sudan and Juba (the capital we were landing in later that day). Our flight was delayed a few times but we never got much information – just a guy who would say “sorry, but your delayed”. Eventually, we were all rounded up and lead down some stairs but then stopped before we could step out onto the tarmac. I think there was some confusion – Jennifer said something about a passenger being on the “no fly” list but we all had to just wait on the stairs until they let us continue. While standing there, I felt someone grab my hair. Startled, I turned around and saw an Ethiopian girl. She smiled and said in broken English that she really liked my hair. It was a funny cultural thing that took getting used too – girls didn’t think it was weird to just grab and run their fingers through a stranger’s hair! We eventually made it onto the plane and started the last leg of our trip. We landed in Juba, Sudan in the early afternoon on Tuesday – about 30 hours after we began. The “airport” in Juba was just a small cinder block building. We gathered in a group around a side of the building where our luggage was tossed on the floor for us to grab. I carried the drilling equipment to get checked out in customs and although the first bag went through, the inspector gave me a slightly hard time with the second bag. It was the same material! I had to show him my permit and explain what the equipment was being used for before he finally wrote a couple letters on my bag with his chalk and let me pass. Jennifer and I exchanged all of our travel money (the money we needed to buy tickets to travel from Juba to Aweil and back) and Jennifer exchanged some of her personal money. All-in-all, we were carrying over $2000 which made me nervous. I had brought $1300 to use for our in-country flights, $500 for project money and $100 personal. The agreement between Hydromissions and the applicant is that the applicant will provide the transportation, accommodations and food for the Hydromissions associates once they arrive in country. This project was the most difficult logistically because we could not book flights from the States for our flights in Sudan. That is why I was carrying so much money with me at the start of the trip – we needed about $1300 to pay for flights to and from Aweil for me, Jennifer and Cyrus. Cyrus is our Hydromissions consultant from Kenya. Cyrus met up with us in the Juba airport on Tuesday. Although I had never met Cyrus, it was easy to spot him since I recognized the shape of the drilling bag he was carrying. Jennifer and I were carrying the EXP-50 drill rig and Cyrus had brought along an extra bag of extensions. We had some information from the applicant that suggested we might have to go as deep as 90’ to reach water in the village which is why Cyrus brought along extra extensions. It will be difficult to express to you how hard it is to do tasks we would consider “simple” in the States. For example, if you are at an airport and need to purchase a ticket that was reserved for you, for one – you’d think there would be an airline representative at the airport. Not in Juba. Or, once you get a taxi and find that airline representative, you would think that the ticket reserved in your name would be there waiting for you. Not in Juba. Would you ever imagine that you and your teammate’s reserved tickets would be sold before you arrived because the demand was higher than the supply? Welcome to Africa. I was really stressing out on the inside but kept a cool exterior as we talked to the airline rep and tried to figure out how to get from Juba to Aweil. The airline we were dealing with didn’t have tickets available until Monday – nearly a week away! I asked if there was a bus but they said there weren’t roads that connected Juba to Aweil. I asked if other airlines would have tickets and they told me everyone else was unreliable. Of course, I knew that they wanted our business so took the “unreliable” statement with a grain of salt. The problem was (1) finding another airline and (2) trusting them. I soon realized that planes came and went as they pleased and not according to the schedule. Garang, our host, was supposed to meet us in Juba and was supposed to take care of getting our tickets for us but a week before our departure date, he called to tell me that he would not be in Juba. Garang arranged for a university student, Santino, to meet us at the airport and serve as our host while in Juba. Santino helped us get a flight out for Thursday via Sudan Airlines but the flight only brought us to Wau – we’d need to get picked up in Wau and driven 2.5 hours north to get to Aweil. Santino arranged all of this with constant communication with Garang who was in Aweil. Our landing in Wau was going to be an inconvenience to Garang but at this point, I was still under the impression that he has his own vehicle. When we arrived in Wau, we were met with a unique group – the Dinka tribesmen that met us at the airport were all very tall and dressed in their sunday best.
…to be continued