The Sights & Sounds of South Sudan

As I write this I am approaching one month in the field – the weather is hot and a couple of brief rains this week have given us all some hope. For those of you who followed my Peace Corps adventures in Burkina Faso, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast a bit between Maban and Moussodougou.

My first thought when my plane landed in Maban was, “wow, this looks just like Burkina.” The dirt is the same rusty red and the horizon is lined with palm and mango trees. The small town we live in is very much like my village, Moussodougou, though the market is more frequent and a bit better stocked. 

As I’ve gotten more familiar with Maban, I’ve realized there are countless similarities and of course many differences between it and Moussodougou. I thought I would share a bit about how all my senses have been affected by my new post.

  • The landscape in Maban is very similar to Southern Burkina Faso – lots of mango and neem trees, and lots of shrubs on a very flat horizon.
  • This area of South Sudan is near the Yabus River – closer to a water feature than most of Burkina, though still landlocked.
  • Maban has more pigs and fewer goats than I ever saw in Burkina (I know goats are here somewhere, because the meat is available, but I don’t hear them screaming outside the compound, which is nice for my ears). Speaking of animal sounds…
  • The endless cacophony of village animal noises is alive and well here in Maban – I’m talking packs of wild dogs, roosters crowing at all hours… Speaking of this, why are American children taught that roosters only crow at sunrise? That is just factually inaccurate – these little demons crow at 3am, 3pm, and whenever else they want.
  • There are some new sounds as well – planes landing, and the occasional helicopter flying around.
  • The combination of dust and open fire cooking leaves a really specific smoky smell in the air – Burkina has this and Maban does too. It’s something I haven’t encountered elsewhere, but it made me feel right at home when I arrived.
  • People cook with garlic here more than they did in Burkina, so I’m often smelling delicious meats and savory dishes when I’m walking around.
  • Just like in Burkina, there is a version of tô and lots of rice. Vegetables are limited, but there is plenty of okra sauce (I’m still not a fan of okra).
  • Unlike Burkina, there is a wide variety of beans here, including lentils (and I don’t know how they are prepared, but they are the best lentils I’ve ever had).
  • They have cans of popcorn here – I’ve never encountered that before!
  • In village, I can get my hands on (vegetable!) ramen noodles which is pretty awesome – a nice quick alternative when I’m feeling too hot to eat.
  • The climate in Maban is nearly identical to Southern BF. It is extraordinarily hot most of the time (think 109F/41C) though it does cool down more at night than it ever did in Burkina, which is refreshing.
  • Because of all the dust (and sweat) it feels impossible to get clean, a sadly familiar feeling.
Housing and Amenities:
  • When I lived in Moussodougou I had no electricity and no running water, but here we have electricity (meaning I have a fan in my room) and satellite internet – still living that latrine life though.
  • Due to sometimes-scarce food and the busy schedule that comes with field work, meals are provided for staff, so I haven’t been doing too much cooking. It will not surprise anyone who knows me to hear that I miss cheese every single day.
  • You may remember from my last post that there are no roads into Maban, so I arrived by plane. Flights are provided by the United Nations Humanitarian Aid Service, which transports aid workers and cargo for non-profits as well as local institutions. 
  • I spent a majority of my time in Peace Corps either biking around in the bush or on a bush taxi. Here, we mostly travel by car (although I still walk around village) because some of our field sites are a bit far. I haven’t encountered too much local transport yet, but I know there are motorcycles and some buses for local travel.
  • Similar to my time in Peace Corps, I’m still getting to know the staff and the community, pretending I can learn Arabic, and assessing programming opportunities.
  • Unlike Peace Corps, I have an office, and work with a lot of amazing staff who are dedicated to two primary sectors of programming: education and psycho-social support (mental health services). More on this later.

As I mentioned in my last post, part of the reason I was brought in was to evaluate our programming.  My job is to see what is working well, where the gaps and opportunities are, and make recommendations about the direction of our work. The last few weeks have been a great introduction to programming:

  • I got to assist with several trainings for home visitors. This is one of the main pieces of our psychosocial programming – our home visitor team is made up of both refugees and community members who visit with folks who need assistance with mental health and well-being topics of all kinds. 
  • I was a guest lecturer for the teacher training program (all about adjectives with Bethany – a lot of our teacher training program involves teaching content and the teachers love to have guest speakers especially for English topics).
  • I also visited two of the refugee camps to check out community centers, and assist with program planning.
  • I attended the graduation for one of our English programs at Doro camp – where some of the graduates performed a song for their teachers.

One other new experience here is confusion over my accent in English (what accent, eh?). During one training, the teenage students burst into laughter every time I opened my mouth – apparently my Midwestern American English is just too much for them. I’m told by other staff though that they can understand me better than the other Americans here, so who knows.

As is often the case with working and traveling abroad, things have been a whirlwind but I’m loving every minute of it. I didn’t realize until I got here how much I missed being in the field. Every day is an exciting adventure and I’m learning more from the people around me than I could ever teach them.

À bientôt!


Published by Bethany Woodson

Just a couple of aspiring activists out here in the world trying to learn something.

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