This morning, I awake in my net-covered bed to the sound of crickets chirping and a rooster crowing. I stumble into green flip flops, eyes half-closed, and lift the patterned curtain that serves as a door to the room I share with three other Seed Effect volunteers. I am still drowsy, still want more sleep, but when I see the gold-tinted bulbous clouds and Alice, the sweet South Sudanese woman who wakes before dawn to cook eggs and flat bread for our breakfast, the sleep washes away and I am alert.
I don a blue skirt, grey shirt (a shirt I’ve worn for four days now), my big round sunglasses and baseball cap. When I cross the compound, I see a group of kids pumping water from a nearby well. Another South Sudanese woman, whose name I haven’t learned yet but know as the woman who carries the baby swaddled on her back, calls out to me, “Lizzie! You look good!”
After breakfast, we stand around the compound, waiting for the bus. Harmony, a four-year old girl who rides with us on the bus to school every day, sits beside me, chomping down on a hunk of flatbread. We giggle about how her blue shorts and shirt matches my blue skirt. Another boy, Mike, comes over with a red blow-up ball one of the other volunteers has given him, and we play volleyball. He wins; six to four.
Harmony sits by me on the bus to the Seed Effect offices, a ten minute drive down a bumpy dirt road. We pass a woman walking on the side off the road wearing a black business dress and heals. A few minutes later, she passes us in a cloud of dust seated sidesaddle on the back of a motorcycle. We pass children on the way to school, too, some as little as three or four, carrying yellow water buckets that need to be filled. They yell, “Hieee!” and “Galatot!” which is Kuku for “white person.”
I am astonished by the beauty of this place. For some reason, I expected a dusty desert, a suffering people; that’s what you might think from everything you hear on the news. But the South Sudanese are full of joy and kindness, and their country is lush and green. I feel happier here than I have in some time, and I want to say something about the peace and simplicity of rural life, but I know that would be too cliche, too uninformed. So I’ll just say this: South Sudan is beautiful, and I am glad to be here.