Thank God I am Alive - Gratitude amid War and Poverty
My five year old nephew Iarla, who is never short of pithy observations, recently told my Mother: ‘Tony misses two things in South Sudan, - fresh milk and me!’
Of course my young nephew is right, and while careful not to upset him I would add a few more people and a few more things to his list. I am not the only one who misses people and things here.
However I continue to be amazed at how the absence of loved ones and of things does not dampen in people here their sense of gratitude and the strength of their belief in God’s goodness.
I look at the children I saw in the market today. They were around the same age as my nephew. They do not have toy stores, but the joy they got from little cars made out of discarded oil cans pulled by string was as great a joy that a child can get from any toy. Maybe more in fact because it is the only toy they have, they value it more.
I met some community leaders in one of the refugees camps today. They were telling me that people were feeling much relieved and joyful these days. The source of this relief - food rations has been distributed and rain has meant that people have begun to plant seeds in the little patches of ground close to their huts. The patches of ground are small. The harvest is some months away, but the hope of food coming from the work of their hands is tangible. – For many people this sowing of crops is a kin to being on Winning Streak! ( Irish TV Lottery Programme)
A few days earlier as the rain deluged, one South Sudanese woman said to me- this is a blessing from God. They greet the coming rain as most Irish people greet a day of endless sunshine! Though I think their joy is more profound.
Last week during a short moment of prayer we were invited to share what we wanted to thank God for. Most people had a long list. Everyone from South Sudan had more or less the same thing at the top of the list – I want to thank God that I am still alive. In a country where life is cheap, where war, hunger and sickness are prevalent, tomorrow is never to be taken for granted. Of course this is true of us all, but here the people are more aware of the fragility of life and as a result are ever more grateful for the gift of life itself. Maybe there is a lesson in this for us who live lives with more clutter around us and where we forget to thank God that we are alive today.
I miss people more than things here. That said I find a freedom and a joy in adapting to what is here rather than focusing on what is missing. Let me give you one example. I like to take a shower and the more powerful the shower the better. Here in our compound we have no running water. We are planning to drill a borehole in coming weeks but for now we rely on bringing water from a nearby well and storing it in a few plastic tanks. For a daily wash we use a bucket. The sunlight hitting the plastic tank all day usually means that the water is nice and warm. Close to where we sleep we have an outdoor cubicle made of sticks and plastic to give some privacy. It is open to the sky.
I still have a way to go in embracing the simple lifestyle - I did bring a gadget I purchased on the internet with me. It’s a battery operated pump that sits into the bucket of water and pumps the water through a shower hose. It works really well!. It gives as good as shower as I have had anywhere. To top off the experience I can gaze up and see the beauty of the African sun setting. I thank God that I am alive! I pray God’s blessing on the people I miss! I hope that from their hearts they can say ' Thank God I am alive'.