UN recommended 'Run Bag'
Amidst the children in South Sudan
Like many foreigners living in South Sudan we are blitzed with security briefs and travelers’ warnings each and every day. The State Department warns US citizens to not visit South Sudan and has even recommended that non-essential personnel leave the country. The United Nations operation center sends out a daily ‘sitrep’ detailing violent or security related acts that occurred the day earlier (personal theft, car-jacking, detainment, road blocks, shootings, and police and military harassment). They also recommend that foreigners have a 15-pound ‘run bag’ on hand at all times with essential items such as passport, cash, medication, single change of clothes, phone, etc. Today we even received a reminder of ‘do’s and do not’s’ while in country. Some of the suggestions are practical…others seem a bit out of the ordinary.
• As you prepare to go out, check that all closures on your bags are shut.
• Keep to the main roads and avoid short cuts.
• Be wary of people hanging around or outside hotels as they may be criminals.
• Ignore beggars, street children and people approaching you on the street with stories.
• Keep your doors locked and valuables out of sight all of the time.
• Only open the car windows 2 to 3 inches to prevent snatches.
• Tell someone where you are going and when you are expected to be back.
• Do not stop to give people help on the roadside, they may end up robbing you.
I hesitate to admit that Ann and I break some of these rules on a daily basis. Take our afternoon walks for instance. Our days are long and arduous and the climate is anything but hospitable. We do not venture out much during the heat of the day (we typically work from 7am -7pm in shaded or cooled areas). We know we can’t venture out at night (aside from in a locked vehicle). There is no electricity in town except for personal generators and crime on the street is as bad as they say. Still...we need to take time off, if nothing else to exercise our legs and meet people in the community. We have been taking long walks at the end of day in that twilight period when the sun is fading, the heat dissipating, and there is still time to mingle about in the cool of the early evening.
So we venture out in our neighborhood and adjoining areas. Admittedly we ‘stand out’ a bit, and the neighborhoods we walk through are not something one would see on a postcard, but people have gotten to know us. We say hello to people sitting outside their homes, hand out small items to children, have purchased balls for the older kids playing soccer, and even have a pocket of dog treats. We wave, smile, chat to those who acknowledge us, and generally make ourselves known. After the first month, people no longer stare, but wave; children call after us, the teenagers ask if we have shirts to go with the soccer balls, and the dogs….well believe it or not ….turn their noses up at our U.S.-purchased doggie treats!
The biggest plus is that we are integrating and adapting in our new culture. People are starting to see us not as strangers but neighbors, and we are making the small steps towards familiarity, trust, and perhaps friendship. Though we don’t follow all the UN security rules (we don’t have a “run bag” by our bed and we do stop to talk to people along the roadside who don’t seem to have any intention of robbing us), we are prevailing. As in Congo, our greatest allies will be people we work with and the communities who know us. Our security ultimately comes not from following State Department or UN protocols but by the beckoning of the Holy Spirit and the promise that we are never alone in our daily walks through the valleys and hills of South Sudan’s neighborhoods.