13 May 2009

Breakfast in Uganda, lunch in Sudan, tea in the Congo…

We left the YWAM base early, and thumped along the bumpy dirt road to Koboko, close to the Sudanese border. Four people, shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of an old Peugeot, dust billowing around our faces, chickens, goats and cyclists scattering in every direction as we jolted past. Breakfast was a stand-up snack of hot chapattis, freshly cooked at a roadside stall.

Two hours later we had crossed into Sudan and reached the border-town of Kaya. Dozens of heavily loaded trucks lined the road, waiting for clearance to continue up to Juba, the main city of New Sudan, as the bottom half of Sudan is called. Pouring rain welcomed us, and the potholed red-dirt road quickly turned to a running stream. Our host Tijwog met us and took us for lunch in a small restaurant. Posters cut out of magazines lined the walls: Barack Obama surrounded by photos of ‘Africa’s strong Presidents’, with centre-stage given - to Pam’s delight - to Robert Mugabe. Lunch was a delicious feast of keserah – a dustbin-lid sized chapatti-style staple, made of maize flour – with five various sauces ranging from a Dinka-meat dish called sheiya, red and spicy, to an intestines and ochre sauce, green and slimy.

Tijwog took us on a tour of the ‘Prayer Mountain’ where he lives, showing us the primary school, small radio station, and various vocational training programmes he runs with Bedpiny, his wife. I first met Tijwog and Bedpiny three years ago, when they were students on Arua’s Crossroad’s Discipleship Training School. The Sudanese couple had lived for years in Cairo, pastoring in a large international church, before moving back to war-torn southern Sudan as missionaries to their own people. Now they own 60 acres of land, on a granite outcrop with spectacular views of the region, just outside Kaya. The visionary couple have sacrificially pioneered a range of projects, and are desperate for partnerships with others to help their work move to another level. Ironically, they find if far harder to raise finances now that the war is over, just when the rebuilding work is actually possible. People give to war zones, and whilst the Darfur refugee camps in the west capture the world’s attention, southern Sudan is being forgotten.

Having had breakfast in Uganda and lunch in Sudan, Tijwog jokingly announced that we needed to take tea in the Congo. So we drove in his Pajero deeper into Sudan, until we reached the Congolese border, just before a small town called Bazi. Tijwog lives in the south-westerly corner of Sudan, where the corners of Uganda and the DRC all meet. The Sudan-Uganda border was a bustling place, full of travellers and trucks. The Congolese border, by contrast, was a bush-affair: a simple metal boom across the mud track, the customs and immigration officials sitting in two small grass thatched mud huts. We greeted the officials, and were allowed to cross into the DRC briefly to chat with some soldiers. Arabic greetings switched to French as we introduced ourselves. Pam, the Zimbabwean, was once again greeted with delighted exclamations of ‘Robert Mugabe!’ and asked ‘so you are the one who chases away the whites?’

Driving along a little way, we stopped in Bazi. The houses on the east of the road lie in Sudan, those on the west in the Congo. So we turned left into the Congo, entered a tea-shop, and drank chai - black, hot and sweet as honey.

As darkness closed in on us later, high up on the peak of Tijwog’s granite mountain, we sat in his house listening to some of his story. The night was windy and very cool, so we all opted not to take a cold bucket bath, deciding instead to sleep covered in the red-dust of three different countries.

By Tim Heathcote

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