Monday, April 10, 2006

En Route to Nideh: The De-Mining Operation (Tuesday, 28 February)

On Tuesday, I again accompanied the group visiting the archdeaconries. On the road to Nideh, we were stopped by a team of people contracted by the U.N. to remove the mines from the roads. During the long civil war, the Khartoum had placed mines all along the roads, and now the deadly heritage of that war is the desperate need to identify and remove all those mines. I have already written about that encounter at Thoughts on war & security. Here’s the scene we saw ahead of us, when the South African de-mining crew started alerting us to stop our vehicle.

The guy in the center of the photo is head of the crew working with the South African company the U.N. had contracted to do the de-mining operation.

I’ve already written about this encounter at Thoughts on war & security. So I won’t repeat it here. I’ll just add these couple of reflections.

The men in the de-mining crew were only coming from Juba (in the east), which I think is a mere 75-100 miles from Lui. I’m pretty sure that Lui and Juba are no more than 100 miles apart – which would be very close, according to our culture and with our roads. But there in southern Sudan, these towns were many days apart.

But the way their group and ours talked, you would have thought we had been living and working a thousand miles apart. Some in our group were asking the South Africans about the rumors we had heard that cholera was beginning to break-out in Juba along with the coming of rain. With equally fervent interest, the South Africans traveling from Juba were inquiring of us whether the peace agreement was holding in Lui. This reminded me of how it must have been in the “wild west” of the 19th-century U.S., when travelers would meet at an inn, having no infrastructure of television, radio, or newspaper news. For the most part, in Lui news travels only at the speed of a fast-walking man. A few people travel by bicycle and a rare few travel at the speed of a bicycle. And apparently some news travels with drums beating out a message from village to village.

One of the priorities in the companionship agreement between the Diocese of Lui and the Diocese of Missouri is that we will assist in building infrastructure to assist Lui with communications within Lui, between Lui and its Nairobi office, and between Lui and Missouri.

Maybe it was that day – observing Westerners eagerly exchanging news alongside a sun-parched road – that I realized how vast is the distance between our U.S. conceptions of infrastructure and the basic, fundamental needs for communication. It’s going to be a long, hard slog, I fear.

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