HomeLetters From South Sudan80. Rain on the Roof
  • Bike Rider

  • Br. Bill in presbytery dining room

  • Fr. Morris Parish Priest inside his new tukul

  • Girls welcome back Sr. Josephine

  • Range of Participants

  • Srs. Betty Jenny, Pat & Margaret

  • Sr. Dorothy assisting Sr. Suzan

  • Sr. Joana makes a point

  • Sr. Maria Martinelli

  • The new Riimenze presbytery

80. Rain on the Roof

It is only the relatively modern houses in South Sudan, which have galvanised iron or
zinc-aluminium roofs. Most people still live in the traditional grass-roof tukuls. Tiled or
slate roofs may exist somewhere but I don’t recall seeing them although I have seen roofs
that are made from concrete. Those who live in tukuls with grass roofs never hear the
drumming sound of rain on a metal roof. I am told one hears many other sounds – the
movements of geckos or rats, the rustle of leaves, the dripping of rain into puddles, the
unwelcome buzzing of mosquitoes.

I think there is something comforting about the sound of rain on the roof when one is
snuggled up warmly, sheltered from the wild moods of nature. Flashes of lightning
followed by rolls of thunder are not threatening when one is securely inside. Most well
made tukuls don’t leak but I wonder whether the sounds of a storm, inside a tukul, are
comforting or threatening. Occasionally, I have heard gunfire at night. Locked in our
house I have felt fine. How would I feel in a tukul? How would lightning and thunder
make me feel in a tukul? I don’t really know.

Maybe if I were dark-skinned the night would bring a special sense of security. One
could simply disappear into the blackness. I know in this society in the day-time my
whiteness stands out. Being different in appearance from everyone else can seem to be a
problem but it has been brought to my attention that it is more often the other African
peoples – most commonly Kenyans, Ugandans, Congolese, Ethiopians – who are more
likely to be hassled than we white ‘kawadjas’. Acceptance and security are always issues
wherever there are mixed races of people coming together. I see myself as giving my life
to help the people here but maybe the local people see me as a ‘have’ while they are

Children, as always, give honest reactions. I delight in shaking hands with the small, and
not so small, children. One gets the impression that they think it a special event to shake a
white hand. Maybe it will affect their own hands! But while I reflect and muse on what
makes one secure, accepted, wanted, I know there is one frustration above all blocking
acceptance – language. I am sure that to be fully accepted one must be able to talk to the
local people in their own language. The early missionaries managed to do it. So have the
three sisters I now live with in Riimenze. I stand there as the dumb mute while they greet
and meet and laugh and enjoy.

So learn the language could be the answer. Yet I am faced with the fact that my older
brain cells do not absorb and recall as well as they once may have. It is really not a
problem, however, to anyone but myself. The sisters engage the people very well. I cook
and they go out to care for the people! The statistics reveal the need. In this part of South
Sudan the under five mortality rate is 192 per thousand : almost one child in five dies
before the age of five. In contrast, the under five mortality rate in Italy is only 4 per

Recently, on a cool, wet night, a grand-mother appeared at our door to express great
concern about her pregnant grand-daughter. So Sisters Joana and Josephine headed out
into the night to assess the situation and minister what aid they could. Assisting pregnant
teenagers is not on my list of qualifications! The best I could do was to offer the use of
my good lantern torch. They returned with the news that the girl would be fine. The local
people were reassured – and so was I that to be ready to heal the sick is indeed a
beatitude, a wonderful gift.

So what am I doing here? It all comes back to ‘rain on the roof’, what it is that gives us
security. No-one of us possesses all the gifts but together we are stronger. And this is the
interesting paradox about ‘Solidarity with South Sudan’. Most of the participating
religious congregations could not have envisaged being here on their own. But here we
are, women and men together, from different lands and orders, finding strength and
security to deliver vital assistance together to the people of this land. We shall walk with
them until they can walk alone – and we shall walk together sharing the different gifts
that each of us brings.

- Bill


80. Rain on the Roof