Three weeks roadtripping in South Africa and Lesotho. Although it is already some time ago we have really amazing memories of our time there. Maybe also because it was our first holiday after we started our work in South Sudan, also called our first rotation. They say that your first rotation is always hard. You arrive in a completely new world, in another culture, with different rules, regulations, insecurity, AK47s and curfews. In a country were there is so much pain and unrightiousness.

And then suddenly you have 3 weeks where you can decide on your own where you want to go. You can walk on the streets. Lay in the grass. Watching the stars.

We hired a campervan in Kaapstad and drove along the gardenroute towards Lesotho and via Kruger Park to Johannesburg. The route was more than 4,000 km and absolutely fabulous.

Surfing, camping, hiking, sightseeing, wine tasting, eating good glutenfree food, horse riding, abseiling, game driving and enjoying a lot of great views.

It was really special to be able to just walk around, drive around or run around, such freedom! We live in a beautiful world.


So mother, so child. How would you feel?

So mother, so child

If you are always on the run?
How would you feel?
Afraid? Alone? Scared?

If you lost another harvest?
How would you feel?
Frustrated? Angry? Sad?

If you can’t afford to buy food?
How would you feel?
Stupid? Insignificant? Screwed?

If you can’t feed your child?
How would you feel?
Ashamed? Hopeless? Hungry?

If there is a nutrition clinic,
3 hours walking from your house?
How would you feel?

Kruger National Park

We came across this fascinating wildlife during two amazing days in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Fascinating facial markings

There is one thing that really fascinates me, and these are the facial markings of some people in South Sudan. You see very simple ones with parallel lines on the forehead up to very complicated patterns in the face and over the arms. The first times I saw these subtle lines on the men’s forehead I thought they were normal wrinkles. But only after I saw several men with the same wrinkles I realized these were scars.

Facial scarification is practiced amongst different tribes, each with their own signs and patterns. The facial markings give identity to the tribesmen and beauty to the women. Since it is related to tribes and because at the moment there are tribal tensions in South Sudan, the topic is a bit sensitive and I don’t really dare to ask people about it. I know that for some tribes the markings are part of their initiation in adulthood. During the ceremony, young boys are cut with a razor and are not supposed to cry to show their bravery. [1]

Nowadays the tradition is phasing out, partly because of education but also because it is a too visible sign of tribality in an area where conflict within and between the tribes becomes more frequent.

The enclosed photos are portraits of Nuer people in South Sudan. Look at how these beautiful man and woman show their bravery and vulnerability at the same time, through their facial markings. It gives them an extra personality.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.

[1] South Sudan facial scarification

Lesson from the handicapped guy

I was walking around in a village, to find out and observe how the people are living and what their biggest needs are. The area can be described as a forestry highland wherein the villages and households are very spread. Most of the people fled to this area in the beginning of the year due to fighting in their homelands. I see men planting seeds for the coming harvesting season. Women and girls are walking to the swamps to collect water. Young boys are running around with guns made from blue carton boxes, which were dropped during a food distribution.

Amongst these people I saw a young man limping around. He is paralyzed, his legs are kind of folded, but he is still able to walk with a stick. I felt sorry for him. It is already difficult for normal people to live in these circumstances, how is he able to survive? I know that in a lot of cultures people with weird sicknesses or disabilities are ignored. They are seen as less and worthless, they are disabled because they have sinned or have been cursed. Imagine if you are a minority, and you are disadvantaged and on your own, what would that do with your self-esteem and your motivation to live?

During my time in these villages I had moments that I didn’t know what I was doing there. We are coming in with a helicopter full of food and water, to sustain ourselves during this week. But the people around don’t even have enough food and they need to drink the black dirty swamp water. If they are sick they can walk for two days to the nearest basic health facility. I felt a minority. But then an advantaged minority.

Half way during the week another helicopter came in to deliver supplies. Of course, this is a spectacular event, and everyone started running towards the landing place after hearing the noise in the air. The limping guy was also amongst them, I had difficulties in keeping up his speed. He had a big smile on his face and wanted to help carrying all the cargo. In one hand his stick, and the other hands some buckets he proudly walked towards our tents. He was confident that he could do this.

The day after we were trying to set-up a big tent with aluminum poles and a white canvas. It was a very frustrating puzzle and it turned out that not all the pieces were fitting together, and that the canvas didn’t fit on the frame. Some guys who were helping already gave up and said that the right stuff need to be sent before we can finish it. A lot of people were watching how we were struggling to pull everything together. Then we saw that the tent canvas maybe fitted on a small wooden frame which was already been built but not in use yet. And the guy with the limped legs, was the first person who climbed on this wooden frame house, to pull the canvas over. He believed that it was possible and that he could help in making this happen.

Later on I met his family and found out that he wasah called Mayom. And Mayom had a big self-esteem and high motivation to live, in contrary to what I was expecting the first time I saw him. I learned so much this week in the village in the middle of nowhere but especially from Mayom. Where I am sometimes drowning in all the things that I am not able to do or in all the things that I do wrong, Mayom acted completely the opposite. People around him might not have believed in his abilities but Mayom himself believed that he was able to accomplish big things. He believed that he was a good man. He was not depressed for all the things that he was not able to do, or for the things that he did wrong. No, he was the guy who didn’t gave up and who believed things are possible. Mayom took the burden literary in his arms and carried on with a big confident smile.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.

The never-ending fractal of “the field”

I am realising more and more that “the field” is actually a place you cannot reach. It is the place that is always farther, more rural and more difficult to reach than where you are at that moment. And once you have reached that place it is kind of the field has moved away from you. It is like a fractal, a pattern that is repeated at every scale. Once you zoom in, you see there is much more. It looks endless.

Tree fractal

When we were in the Netherlands clearly the field was South Sudan. The place we know we were going to, but our only real knowledge was that it is far away. We had no idea how it would look like, where we were going to live, what the food would be, how the people are; South Sudan was the unknown. But once we were in South Sudan and we could hear the sounds, smell the smells and taste the flavors the field has moved farther. The field was the place outside our compound, where the real life is, the hard life of the South Sudanese people. The field is where all the other Medair staff is, who are not based in Juba. The field is the place where we really implement our work, it is the place where we are trying to reach to beneficiaries.

I was so happy when I had my first fieldtrip. It felt like freedom. An adventure to discover what is there when you go deeper. I had to do an assessment in a place called Don Bosco. We went out of town, passing the Nile by going over the bridge. And once we had left Juba and the tarmac road behind we paved our way through a maze of dirt roads and small houses. I glanced around during our half an hour ride. At the very end was Don Bosco, a compound of a catholic mission who offered space on their land to displaced people. Already since 2013 people fled to this area and built a camp. After the fighting’s in July 2016 the amount of people who sought refuge in the Don Bosco IDP camp increased. More than 5,000 people are there now living together in temporary shelters.

We came here to do an assessment on the water and sanitation situation in the camp. With the rainy season coming, the chances of a cholera outbreak are increasing. Clean drinking water and good hygiene practices are crucial for prevention. At the entrance of the camp quite a few women were queuing with their jerrycans to fetch water at the handpump. We took a water sample of the handpump to check the water quality. Then we walked straight towards the latrines which were also placed on the front side of the camp. The smell of faeces and urine became worse when nearing the latrines. I actually only realized when my colleague was warning me I should watch my feet, that there were faeces laying everywhere. It was the worst open defecation I had ever seen. It was clearly that the few latrines who were there were not used by the majority of people. I wouldn’t like it myself either to go to a filthy and smelly toilet.

To get a better picture of the needs of this community we now entered the camp and did some household surveys and focus group discussions. I was surprised how closely they put the tents together, sometimes there was not even a meter of space in between. The shelters were made from tarpaulins given away by the UNHCR. While walking around I felt the heat burning on my face. The shadow places of the big tree in the middle where occupied by women and children laying on the ground. Soon we gathered a group of women to discuss their water and sanitation needs. It was more difficult to find the men since they were trying to find some food or work during the day.

After a long hard day we came back in the compound in Juba with our findings. Someone asked me where I had been. I said “to the field”. The person started laughing “Don Bosco isn’t the field. You can easily drive there.” I didn’t bother. For me at that moment it felt like the field. But I also knew that to reach “the field” again I had to go to an even farther place.

One week later I sat in a plane towards the real field, I thought, to a place called Melut. The nutrition team is setting up some clinics in the area, and the WASH team is supporting this by building some latrines as well. Our base, where we were sleeping, was in Melut town. But the next day I realized that this wasn’t the field. The field was a long two hours drive away towards the camp in Khor Adar. Once again, the field has moved further. It is a place you cannot reach. It is like the speed of light, it is all relative. A never-ending pattern. I love fractals. I love the field.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.

In case you still don’t understand the fractal nature of the field

Trying to find our feet

We are now for almost three weeks in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The time goes fast. It is hard to imagine that a month ago, we were packing our belongings. We had discussions on which things we wanted to keep and store somewhere in the Netherlands, which things we wanted to give away, which things we could try to sell, which things we should bring to South Sudan for the coming two years… Those were our dilemma’s then, it almost feels meaningless now. Yet we are pleased that we were very conscious on saying goodbye to our stuff, to our house, to our work, to our living environment, to our church but most importantly to our family and friends. It is warming to know that we are not alone in this world even though we moved to the other side of the world!

South Sudan is in many ways different then each other country we visited. It starts with the entrance. The international airport’s terminal is a bunch of party tents and the immigration office a container with a window. Although many of the official offices haven’t much of an appearance, the people are generally very friendly and the officials welcoming. The streets are relatively calm and filled with landcruisers, jeeps and generally pedestrians, goats and potholes. Along the roads you can see many high and thick walls with a lot of barbwire, whether it is an embassy, organization, hotel, hospital or a prison. The last two years, buildings higher than two stories began to appear and many carcasses of construction projects are visible on the skyline. It is clearly a country trying to develop and go forward but something is holding them back.

The last weeks we spent 99% of our time at our compound in Juba. It is the place with a residence building where we have our sleeping room, another building for the offices and a meeting room.  Also the warehouse, with large tents and containers to store goods, is at the compound. There is some space left where we can play volleyball in the hot sun in the dust in the late afternoon! We have a room together, with air-conditioning (very pleasant during the night), a bathroom with running (salt) water (not very pleasant), some drawers and a tiny balcony (with a view on a high wall with razor wire).

Normally there are around 25 people living here, all international staff coming from everywhere. Although there is always the competition whether there are the most Dutch people or British people around. At the moment the British people are one ahead. During working days our national staff arrives to the compound as well. Then it is really a busy place with 80 people running around (including cooks, cleaners and drivers).

We can’t say yet that this feels like our new home, since the majority of things are different. Sometimes it feels like you are disconnected and losing your own identity. It is like a new language that you are trying to learn and understand and be part of. A new living environment, other working methods, abbreviations you never heard of, place names you can’t point on the map, procedures you don’t understand, regulations you need to follow, expectations you need to keep and being in the midst of a culturally complex situation. And since everything is new we are not able yet to filter the information we really need, so everything what’s coming in sounds as important. Which makes it like a mess in your head and your mixing up things. We are all the time working and talking about internally displaced people and refugees, sometimes we feel displaced as well. Although the huge difference is of course that we choose to be here!

Our days begin with devotions and end with volleyball (occasionally). Sundays are special, it’s the only day we don’t work (except for some small things) and we use it to relax at a swimming pool, a gym (to do some running without making distance, very weird) or a restaurant. Some well-deserved rest before the next week kicks off again. It’s quite a switch from our 32 hour working weeks in the Netherlands. But well, we can’t cycle, geocache, hike or visit family anyway so free time is overrated 😝.

Next blog we will try to post more about what we are actually doing here. We need to find it out ourselves first, since at the moment we are still finding our feet.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.


Pictures are worth a thousand words