Last week, on Holy Thursday, the church recalled and reenacted Jesus’ washing other people’s feet (John 13: 3-5). I never really appreciated what a task this was until I lived in the dusty world of South Sudan. During dry season, one can walk a distance of less than 100 meters, and one’s feet are caked with powder. No sense washing them until the end of the day because within a few minutes you can’t even tell you just washed them.
How dusty is South Sudan in the dry season? The fine red clay turns to fine red printer ink powder along pathways and roads into a substance that can seep into the tiniest of holes. Every step explodes in a cloud of red dust. This grime accumulates in the air so much that one can look at the sun when it is still some 25 degrees above the horizon.
This contamination of the air we breathe is bad enough, and then the breeze comes. It blows fine particles of dust everywhere. There is no escaping it. Eyes, ears, nose and throat all suffer terribly. It is like a plague. People joke that they don’t wear their masks to prevent COVID-19 but rather to prevent the dust from getting into their mouths.
If you drive down the potholed roads of South Sudan, you will think that there is only one color of paint sold in the stores—dust red. Every building is so caked in the stuff that it looks as if the entire town is one big brick. When buying items in the local stores the owner follows you and takes each item you would like to purchase and wipes it off before putting it in your bag. Solar panels have to be wet mopped at least every two weeks or the energy levels are way down because the sun is blocked.
I try to wet mop my room as often as possible but it is a losing battle. The mop of the compound was so dirty that it took me 5 buckets of water just to clean the mop in the first place. Then two buckets of water to mop my little room. The water was just filthy. Don’t know why I bother because by afternoon the floors are just as covered with dust and soot as before. Even if the windows and doors are closed you cannot escape this insidious invasion of filth.
If you hang clothes on the line and leave them there for too long, they will either smell like dust or ash. Either way you fit right in with everyone else’s smell. I have a sheet that I place over my bed in the morning and only take off when I go to sleep at night. In a small way, this prevents, the particulates from getting into my sheets and blanket and pillows. But I still fall asleep to the dry odor of dust and wake to my body smelling of dust.
I have gone on a motorcycle taxi three or four times now. It is hell on wheels at 90 degrees and 30 miles an hour. First of all, the cycle kicks up the dust behind you and my black back pack actually looks rust color. I run my hands through my hair which stands stiff from the dust. Then just when you think it can’t get any worse, towards us comes a vehicle and we drive right through their dust blow up. I close my eyes and mouth tight, but the nose gets assailed. I have no idea how the guy driving the motorcycle can see but he keeps going through several dust wash ups. When I get home, I wash my hair three times before it doesn’t feel like straw.
Jesus and his followers must have been perpetually dusty and dirty. Jesus said we should wash each other’s feet. Now I truly have an idea of the magnitude of what Jesus did for his followers. I have to try to do that too!
Please pray for those who are poor and marginalized all over the world. They suffer from the dust and heat every day.