Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interview with Abraham Maper about when I was doing research for my books about Dinka life and culture. He is a great friend. My questions are transcribed within parentheses.

I am Abraham Maper from Akot District. I am with my father and brother, Jeff Deal, my Dr. Jeff Deal. I am telling you that this land is our land. We welcome you. Since the year 2003 you came in and you did a lot among our community. You support other students the orphans who have not able to get the money for school. That is something interesting in my life alone. Even if other people are not understanding what you are doing here, I myself, I Abraham I appreciate that. And you came with a medical clinic. We went in the bush and we spent a night outside in other areas. We faced difficulties as a day. Also, I feel very good because you brought the foundation of our development. We remember that you are the one who commit yourself to come to start something that is difficult. That is something difficult for us to do it by ourselves. Only God will send us to do it.
(Asks permission)
Yes, it is good for you to write down, that is something that is very important. That is the foundation for next generation. And we still remember you, that time you are the one who lead the team to come to let God have the Christians that are there in America to contribute the money to that something that is very important for the nation not ours.
(Asked permission for previous stories to be printed)
Yes, it is ok. That is good to write down all the Dinka background and cultures to know more about Dinkas. And we like you to tell more time to tell a lot Dinka culture to take them to share them with other brothers and sisters there in America.
(What is this post ?)
This traditional Dinka belief. This is for the section called Panyar. They brought this wood and they said it is the sign of the traditional belief. They say that the nation is of he buffalo. That is why they put the head of the buffalo as a picture on this tree to show them that this is the section Panyar. And what the meaning that they make this, they say that this Buma, that this road start out from Akot to Paloic to let everybody know that this road is going up to to Paloic. That is why they take this wood and they set it down. It is a traditional belief. This the head of cow. It meaning that the Dinka they trust the cow is their resources to keep their children. And this the head of buffalo, the meaning of this head, they say they are related. They said that they related to Panyar and Paynar is the name of buffalo. The name Panyar came out of Anyar.
(Your clan has a tree as the symbol).
Yes, that is a tree called Raol is related to another clan called Aneet.
(This girl is carrying leaves)
That little girl they went to collect that green leaf for making broth or stew for Dinka. They use vegetable to make it for food.
The land around Akot is belong to our section, Nyeii. This area of Akot is a very lush area. Yes, very lush area. Even other place say no man land. This a very good land to welcome you without fear. If you come we will give you land and do whatever you like.
(Do you have fields )
The fields. Yes. I have it. My field is outside in another place called Tina Machock. That is a place of my father. The land of my father. My father is buried there. You know that place. That is my home. (Laughing). You know my home. That is the place where my father home is there. I like that place also when God bless me I am supposed to help somebody building in a permanent place.
(Who takes care of the fields?)
No one planting for me. We grow food for ourselves. Even me I cultivate. I, myself and my brothers. Yes my younger brother and I work together on the land. We have our own house in another place Mai Coldit.
No planting yet. This is not the season for cultivating. Is too dry. That land is too big and I am bordering with other people there is a demarcation of that house and that house. You have something like a spear and we don’t know how much of the land because we don’t have a measure, we don’t measure the land.
Another field is going like that (gesturing) those tukels. (250 meters). Is going like that house of Sawat and other side this like that tree on the ground. Yes. That is one plot and around my home area.
(How many families are using food from that land?)
My wife and three kids. My younger brother. My mother. And my sister living together with me with her three daughters, Martha as you know. She is a hard worker like your family.
Yes, he (younger brother) is in the process of getting married. We didn’t have many cattle. Last year many of my cattle died and we still don’t have the number. They died because of a cow sickness. I don’t know what it was.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Letter from an experienced relief worker about The Mark: A Novel of Dinka In the Time of War. "Carol and Mom" are friends of mine.

Hey Carroll, Hey Mom,

Well, I only read The Mark because you asked me to -- I actually try not to read too much fiction that is so close to the bone...I never even read Dave Eggers What is the What because it was just too relevant...too close.

But I read The Mark...and I have to say I was really blown away.  I thought it was just beautifully written.  It was an extremely respectful and honest portrayal of South Sudan, of the Dinka, of that place and that time.  I didn't actually overlap with Jeff, but in 1991, when I was on my Watson Fellowship, Jason and I were there during the great Dinka Famine -- in Bor, then Torit, Kapoeta and finally with Riek Machar over in Nassir.  I found the descriptions- the smell of the early morning fires, the ash, the flies of the mosquito camps, the muddy waters of the Nile -- all so familiar.  But then Jeff offered something more than I ever had -- which was this internal monologue which helped so much to make sense of what I experienced as an outsider.

I am not sure if you both realize -- but I became a nutritionist because of that time in South Sudan in 1991.  Up to that point I was interested, as an anthropologist is interested, in food systems, and famine and the political use of food as a weapon of war...but I had no real science/health leaning or background.  For no apparent reason, and in a move that could never be justified, UNICEF in Nairobi agreed to send Jason and me into South Sudan as part of Operation Lifeline Sudan.  Armed with passes issued by the SPLA and the confidence of knowing that John Garang had years earlier been a Watson Fellow himself, we flew up on a UN plane to Lokichogio. After two nights in the UN Green Tent Camp, we headed by road into South Sudan.  Our first inkling that something was amiss was when we met two Filipino aid workers who had their own vehicle loaded to the top with supplies -- they nodded to our backpacks and asked what we taking...really nothing -- a packet of biscuits for the road and a bottle of water.  They told us to go to the little shop and buy what we could find...perplexed but compliant, we went and bought 5 bags of ugali, five cans of beans, and a flat of water.  As we drove into South Sudan for the first time, we passed vehicle after vehicle, most of them UN, racing out of South Sudan.  Then, after about 3 hours of potholed roads, we started seeing the carcasses.  During the Dinka/Nuer battle, over 150,000 heads of Dinka cattle were slaughtered by AK-47.  The 1991 famine was the closest the Dinka have ever come to full annihilation -- no one knows the figures, but tens and tens of thousands of people died.  Without their cattle, sent from their grazing lands, the Dinka were starving.  We arrived in Bor just as the UNICEF guy was locking his front door -- he tossed us the keys to the house and the keys to the warehouse, gave me a book on emergency nutrition, leapt into his car and drove away.  For the next month, Jason and I lived in a famine area...it was intense beyond intense.  We opened the warehouse and started an emergency feeding program (by the book).  We helped with food distributions.  We were basically saved by WFP (UN World Food Programme) who had stayed and took us under their wing...our ugali and beans did not last long, though living in a famine really takes your appetite away.  But the WFP team fed us, and in exchange we drove around with them and worked with them...the feeding program was painfully successful -- we had 20 people the first day, 100 the second and over 500 every day after that.  People died in front of us.  Even now when I go to sleep I can see the faces of small children -- then I had no idea, but now of course I would recognize kwashiorkor, severe marasmus, vitamin A deficiency, rickets, all of the nutritional diseases...then I had the book and not much else.  One day we met an old blind man who had lost his wife and all his children except Maleesha.  They had walked one week because they heard there was a white woman doctor...it almost killed me when I realized that was me -- this stupid Peace Studies major from Swarthmore who was about as equipped to save a life as a gas station attendant in Isle of Palms.  He had walked and walked on a promise of relief -- and there was so little I could do...so pitifully little except to feed his last small child.  The work was heartbreaking, so much pain and death, but the resilience of the people was awe inspiring.  At one point the elders in the village gave us an ostrich egg as a gift for our work -- we made 6 five-egg omelets from that egg and I still have the empty shell today.  We were also given a goat, but at that point were confirmed vegetarians -- luckily we were able to "re-gift" it to our feeding centre team who had a small feast in the middle of nothing -- inviting Maleesha and his dad at our request.  It was a truly life changing experience.  I found the DInka to be some of the kindest, wisest and most gracious people I have ever worked with -- you could sit at dusk, as the old men and women sucked on their long-stem pipes, and feel a peace that did not deserve to exist in the chaos that were the Dinka ancestral lands at that point.  We communicated through a patchwork of English, Arabic and local language...but somehow it seemed enough -- I can never recall not being understood or not understanding what we were told.  The Dinka are amazing story tellers- it is an art -- and in the evenings different people would begin a tale -- to shouts of laughter, mixed with songs and verse, one person began where another left off -- it was as though each evening they were recreating what the day had taken.  They were tethering themselves to the Earth again in preparation of the next day.  What you felt was the continuity of history, a longevity that has always been difficult to understand, much less feel, for an American where things were measured in hours and days, not living memory and ancestor stories.  It is not possible to describe in words how painful it was for the Dinka to lose their herds -- raiding between the Dinka and Nuer has been happening since the beginning of time (not to mention women and children), but then the next raid would return the herd.  This was the first time that the cattle were simply slaughtered and left to rot. It was incomprehensible. The Nuer didn't want the cattle -- they wanted to cut out the heart of the Dinka.  The waste -- the unimaginable waste of killing a beloved cow that should by rights have been stolen and paraded was absolutely incomprehensible.  The famine that followed was the outcome of the blow -- but it was the trauma of the cattle loss that almost did the Dinka in.  So many Dinka died, but those who survived had to move to find humanitarian support -- I saw many children who moved in bands together without adults, and many men who brought their children, having lost everything else.  It was profoundly hard.   I loved my time there -- there was a gentleness, a completeness I have not felt again, as though each individual was born with a task and they knew what it was and what they needed to do...the death and destruction around them, the dislocation from losing their prized beloved cattle was somehow being overcome. After we finally were evacuated from South Sudan, and after the completion of the Watson year, I knew that I had to learn a trade.  I was determined that no one would ever walk 100 kilometres for my help unless I had something to actually offer.  So that is why I got my Public Health degree in International Nutrition and I have never regretted it.

So reading this book was amazing -- it reminded me of my time there but also gave me subtitles to the film that I never had.  Please thank Jeff for writing such a beautiful and thoughtful book and thanks to you for pushing me to read it.

It is hard to imagine that now we are in 2014, and again the Dinka and Nuer are killing each other -- this time the subtext is political power and oil, but the outcome is similar.  Over 750,000 people have been displaced and almost 200,000 have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.  Livelihoods are disrupted, lands have not been planted and over 8 million cattle are stranded without access to water or pasture. Over 3.7 million people are food insecure.  If the fighting continues, then there is a prediction that South Sudan could enter a famine in a few months.  It has been my full time preoccupation since the crisis began on the 15 December...and the world is watching as we spiral into a crisis that worsens on a daily basis.  It is heartbreaking, especially for those of us who have worked there and had hopes for the new nation.  The people are resilient, but there has to be a point where you just want your piece of land, your cattle camp, and your healthy herd and children and nothing more...except to be left alone to live your life without war and guns. 


March 11, 2014

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Beer Maker. This is one of the stories I collected while working in South Sudan. Very moving.

A Beer Maker

Ajak Waal is a daughter of late former Anyanya One Commander Waal Marial. She was born in 1960s, and learned a lot from her mother.
“The soldiers of Anyanya One were as poor as church mouse,” she said.
Most of their families were catered by their wives and Adak’s mother was very instrumental woman in their polygamous family of Waal Marial and could support the whole family by brewing of beer . Adak’s mother was the third wife of Waal. In their struggle, the soldiers moved as far South as the neighboring Country of Congo which their base and training centre was situated and they left their wives in Sudan. The women decided how they can manage their families for instance, how they would get food, clothes, and again to new cloth was another trap of death. This was because new clothes were only got in towns which were all occupied by Arabs soldiers.
If Anyanya One soldiers got you with new cloth or salt, they expected you have been in the Town with Arabs and you might have betrayed them. Therefore, they dealt away with you by beheading the one caught in the action of trading with Arabs. Some people dealt in these forbidden commodities and customers dealt with care. For instance someone who bought salt which was on high demand could hide it where Anyanya One soldiers could not get it and it was only eaten at night around eleven when people were dumbfounded.
For the people who have taken long without the taste of salt, it can swollen their eye-brow, hands and even the whole body and jeopardized them to Anyanya One soldiers  because swollen  parts were sign and symptom of salt eaten. The Anyanya One soldiers could investigate till you revealed the truth.
“Here mother had already learned how to make the local brew and also had learned local alcohol, “she said. “Anyanya One leaders had permitted the soldiers to use some drugs like alcohol, marijuana because these drugs made guerrillas fought the enemy without fear,” she added. “My mother got this chance to make beer for the soldiers and they bought it from her and she could have huge turn over from her trade. My mother had one advantage of being the wife of the Commander and even though we were alone in the absence of my father, the soldiers could not rob her of whatever she possessed, alcohol was included. But our neighbors had terribly experienced this robbery from guerrilla soldiers. When I was the age of sixteen, my mother taught me how to make beer. I remembered , she told me “Ajak, my daughter , you need to learn how to make  beer. The Country can be in war for eight times and be in peace for eight times, it can be bad in eight times and be good in eight times.”  This was a common saying in war time or peace time. This means that youth and old need to be organized at all the times with their developed talents which can back them in any situation.
“I paid much attention to learn how to make beer and eventually I made it perfect and I could help my mother in making beer. Three years later the peace was signed and all the soldiers moved to Malou military barrack near Rumbek and my father was reorganized and deployed beyond Wau province. I remained with my mother and after a while she was frail and she could not continue making beer. By this time I was married and I had three kids. My husband was also still a student in Rumbek senior secondary school and I continued to support my husband to buy for a white short and a white shirt, black shoes which they called uniform. Alcohol was really on high demand during the cold weather and I could make it double times such that I can get high profit. My mother was with me. She sometimes did simple work like putting the fire wood under the pot when I had gone to fetch water. By that time we were not developed like the presence situation. In our time, we used clay pot for making beer and if you have fermented a drum of crude beer, it could take you two or three days to brew it. These red eyes you are seeing were not the original ones but it was caused by the smoke of making beer. But due to my situation at the time made me to be contended with it. My husband later graduated and got employed in Nuer as a water project coordinator and he was well paid and as a result he bought several cows without again realized how I had suffered during his studies. He bought fifty cows and he married a daughter of Marial Deng. After his marriage ceremony, he moved with his wife to the place of his work leaving me alone in the derelict place where the Atuot tribe always disturbed at night robbed me with things like groundnuts, grains and cows.
There I felt frustrated and committed adultery with a driver who later brought me problems of being dumped with four kids and the driver dumped me also like a thing on fire and I was confused what to do.
I later recovered my memory and I told myself, this was not the end of the world and I had to continue with my business. God was at my side and my beer was on market and earned me enough money to buy clothes for my children , gave them good feeding and  with little associates of beer ,there were  bad debtors who did not pay me at all but I did not give up. I also trained my daughters and now they make beer and in this time the utensils for beer has improved. They are making good money now and they support their families though they do not make as every time. The young ladies of this present time do not valued their contribution much to their families like our time. Now I always gave them an advice that the individual need to contribute to the family. For example, your husband whom you had put all responsibilities can one day die and if you had not accumulated enough wealth, you can be in depressions.
But the young ladies now has a very common saying that they still have red hands, which means when a husband dies when she is still young, she can marry another man. For us, we are now soil and grass ,” Ajak concluded.

This conclusion is always made by old people waiting their death but Ajak is still not very old.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Torture by Cieng: Ethical Theory Meets Social Practice among the Dinka Agaar of South Sudan

Below is the abstract from the best work of my academic career.

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, Vol. 112, Issue 4, pp. 563–575, ISSN 0002-7294 online ISSN 1548-1433. c 2010 by the American Anthropological
Association. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01276.x

Here I detail violence in South Sudan by first discussing a specific Dinka Agaar practice alongside existing discourses on the social aspects of violence and universal human rights, then I show how these acts had meaning and purpose using data from personal accounts of violence. I posit that the violence described was
consistent with Dinka Agaar concepts of justice and basic human rights and that it cannot be judged against any universal human rights standard, devoid of local context or of an overarching metanarrative. These events highlight conflicting subjectivities, ethical norms, and the painful difficulties inherent to advocacy in areas of conflict. Viewed from the perspective of the larger social unit, it is easy to see how violence was required to end violence. However, witnessing punitive violence purposefully enacted on innocent individuals to achieve peace has the potential to create conflicting positions that modern anthropological discourse.

A pastor's home in Akot Sudan.

Images of Sudan