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An Unforgettable Welcome

Nuer Man. Nuer and Dinka tribes both have decorative scarifications on their foreheads. The Nuer (normally) are recognised by parallel lines across the forehead.

 

Reload and Remount

 Driving up to a refugee camp is a daunting event.

Thousands of people are stranded here. Run out of their homes by war.

They’ve arrived in a foreign country.

Been promised much.

Often given little.

refugeefaces

They’re worried.

Life is uncertain.

They are understandable frustrated.

When they see a truckload of whites drive up.

They get their hopes up.

Oftentimes, they also get their hackles up.

 

They equate every white face with the UN.

And if they’re angry with the UN, they lash out at you.

 

We experienced this several times last week.

It worked out well,  but several times we were looking back for the truck door.

I learned from Bob: always park your vehicle facing out.

You never know when you may need to get out of Dodge fast.

Adeit_adjumani

After one of these harrowing visits, we drove to Aiylo Camp. It is a new arrival camp and has over 15,000 residents in it and its sister camp.

 

As our land cruisers ended our 5 km drive over the rough road, a  large group of waving women stormed towards our vehicles.

They were singing and dancing to the accompaniment of a large drum circle.

 

Children were jumping up and down as we stepped out of our vehicle.

I asked DeDe,  “How did they know we were coming?”

 

Our Kentucky volunteers basked in the warm welcome.  It was so nice after several of the previous camp scrapes.

 

Just then a police car sped into the camp followed by a nice bus.

We stood watching as about a dozen nicely dressed dignitaries filed out of the bus.

Armed policemen eyes us suspiciously.

 

The welcoming crowd tried to rekindle their enthusiasm but seemingly had “shot their wad.”

They stood looking from us to the new arrivals, clearly confused.

I think they realized the same thing we did: they’d welcomed the wrong visitors.

 

One of the visitors, a jewelry-bedecked woman, seemed to be in charge.  She (nicely) informed our volunteers that this was a VIP group and it would be best if we excused ourselves pronto.

 

We piled in and left unceremoniously.

I stole a look at the crowd.

They were staring at us like a “calf at a new gate.”

(* Idiom compliments of Bob Calvert and Kevin Willis.)

Our vehicle knew exactly what to do.

We got out of Dodge as quickly as we could and laughed all the way to the next camp.

 

In fact, we’re still laughing.   Our missionary friends, who know Africa so well, seemed to enjoy it the most.

 

The welcoming committee that shot it’s wad too early and couldn’t get reloaded and remounted* in time for the real welcome.

 

Our work in the refugee camps is an absurd mixture of deep sorrow, kindness, anger, relief, tears, and even laughter.

When we share a humorous story (like the one above) it in no means lessens our concern and care over the suffering in the Camps.

It’s part of the coping method we’ve learned from our resilient friends in the Camps.

And I’ve learned that Africans are the most resilient people in the world.

 

Refugee Shelter
Refugee Shelter

 

*Jerry Clower told the story of a football game between Mississippi State and Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.   Texas Tech is famous for it’s “Red Raider” who masked rider who gallops down the sidelines when Tech scores a touchdown.  This is done to the boom of a black powder cannon.

 

Clower told of Texas Tech having the ball “first and goal” inside the Miss. St ten yard line.   The Tech runner back ran off tackle inside the five.  The referee (from the SEC) thought it was the goaline and signaled “Touchdown.”

 

The cannon went off.

The Red Raider galloped down the cheering sideline.

 

And the ref realized his mistake.

He sprinted to the Tech bench and put his arm around the coach.

“Coach, I have messed up.  Now, we ain’t done nothing to you.

It’s still second down and goal to goal.

And if you’ll let me, I’ll just stand here with you long enough to give your bunch has time to remount and reload. “

 

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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