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Mass in Riwoto

Mass at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Riwoto, South Sudan

A few recent snapshots of life in Riwoto in Eastern Equatoria:

  • I have often admired Africans’ wonderful talents in music, song and dance. Last week we had a school Mass. The students were singing hymns as usual. Then they did something that amazed me. They sang a tune in three-part harmony. I mean like, three-part harmony is no easy matter. Yet, it was perfect. No practice. No director. No leader. They simply knew when they would sing. Those with alto, bass or treble voices knew exactly when to come in. I was awed by this display of musical awareness. What a beautiful hymn it was.
  • I was making copies for one of the teachers. Suddenly, the machine started to jam. I fixed it and tried again. Jammed again! I cleared it and tried a third time. Once again it jammed, and I was befuddled as to what the problem was. Suddenly, a lizard escaped from inside the copy machine! It was wounded and as it left, its tail fell off. How or why it got into the machine was beyond me.
  • It has been a rough few weeks here. We only have water half the day, internet has been very slow, food prices have risen so high that even I feel the pinch: some of my things were “borrowed” off my veranda. I had a slight case of typhoid, and to top it all off, I found a scorpion in my bed! I don’t usually mind those little buggers, but not in my bed, please!
  • Water hole

    Collecting water at a borehole

    Due to the excessive heat we have been experiencing lately and the lack of drinking water taps on our school compound, many students are fainting. These students go for hours without drinking, don’t eat much all day and probably are not getting enough sleep either. It is almost always female students, so there are other reasons for fainting too. Sitting under a corrugated tin roof in 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this weather is no good for anyone.

  • Much to the amusement of my fellow teachers, I carry a big jug of water into every class. I always allow students to bring water into class. I drink lots of liquids. For cold water I walk over to the priests’ house, where they have a freezer.
  • One day, I walked to the local market and back. I forgot my sun screen and umbrella. I got heat exhaustion and, after returning, slept for 10 hours!
  • The sun is dangerous in these semi-arid places. Every plant is withering under the intense heat. I do keep a garden going as I can water every day by hand. My tomatoes are looking good, with maize and green peppers growing nicely. But the green beans and garden peas shriveled up in the scorching heat.
  • In South Sudan there is a lot of talk about trauma. They say that all Sudanese are traumatized by the war, violence, crime, corruption and sexual abuse. I was in church the other day, and the priest had the microphone in his hand. He bumped something, and the speaker system let out a loud “pop.” A 10-year-old girl standing in front of me jumped and hit the floor in a split second. She thought it was a rifle shot. Her father slowly lifted her and spoke softly. She stopped trembling after a minute or so. I was struck by such a reaction. I didn’t notice if others had also reacted, but this is the trauma such young souls carry every day.
  • One of our teachers was robbed on the road the day he left for vacation in December. He lost everything — his salary, clothes and personal items. He returned to his village with nothing, “like a beggar” (his very words). This is the reason I avoid traveling great distances by land but rather fly. On top of that, when this teacher returned home, he discovered that his younger brother had been killed in a robbery in the village. The thieves had killed him for a few goats. Senseless violence is all too common in this country. More trauma.

    South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir

  • Some time ago, then-President George W. Bush gave the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, a black cowboy hat. He has worn a black cowboy hat ever since. I was surprised to learn recently that it is illegal for any citizen to wear such a cowboy hat. The president has reserved this right for himself!
  • The South Sudanese economy is really in total free fall now. Some merchants are only accepting U.S. dollars or Euros now for their products. The people are upset about the doubling of all prices since a month ago. I really don’t know how people are surviving. To give you an idea, the price of one gallon of fuel is equal to U.S. $7! In the capital of Juba, people are now walking two to three hours to work because they cannot afford the local transport.
  • There are now rumors that the top two government officials, President Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, want to delay December 2024 elections for another two years (they were already previously postponed from February 2023). In fact, the nation is poorly prepared for elections. The Permanent Constitution has not been drafted. The army is still splintered between opposition groups. The economy is tanking. In general, many are wondering how successful any election could be. But on the other hand, these leaders have been delaying everything for years and years. Many are asking how long before they do anything? We will see what will happen.

Please pray for this suffering country, along with all the others in the world experiencing terrible problems.

Gabe Hurrish
Gabe Hurrish works in parish ministry at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Riwoto in the South Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria. He has served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in South Sudan since 2018.