Here I sit in a rural setting in a somewhat remote part of Southern Sudan when two recent
events, totally unrelated, got me thinking about the world in which we live. The first was a
thoughtful email from one of my confreres in Australia informing me of the death of the
captain of the school cricket team in which we had both played at school. I had not received
a notification, as normally happens, through the College we had attended. So on the off
chance I wrote to the person who sends out such notices. He had not heard, was grateful to
be informed and almost immediately circulated notice of this passing.
The second occurred a couple of weeks later, as I browsed on-line through an Australian
newspaper and came across an article written about a long-time friend, a woman who has
made very significant contributions as a Board member of several companies. The article
recalled the courageous stand that she took, in a previous position on a prominent Board,
against powerful sectional interests, for the welfare of company members. I recalled
discussing the matter with her some years ago and wrote to congratulate her on the article
which righly acknowledged her ethical actions. But that was not what got me thinking. Rather
it was my friend responding with the comment that she had not yet seen the article at the
time I sent it to her.
So here I sit on the other side of the world acting as a communication link for people and
events very distant from me! This would not have been possible even 20 years ago. The
Internet, Skype, mobile phones, television have brought us ‘closer’ in a world of instant
communication and access to information. Some thoughtful person writes to me and tells me
a sports result – yet, even in South Sudan, I already know it if I am interested enough to log
on and look!
But all around me, living in humble tukuls, with no electricity, no TV, no Internet and only
limited knowledge of other places, most of the local people have a very small view of the
world. Their world is small because it has never been bigger than the few kilometres around
the place where they were born, grew up in and know well. Everyone, in this part of the
world, except for a few of us, speak the Azande language. Many speak no other language.
Do they know how relatively few are the people on this planet they could actually talk to,
unless they also learn a widely spoken language such as English, Arabic or French? I guess
it seems to them to them, in their small world, that they can talk to everybody.
Of course they are not alone in having a small world perspective. Many people in first world
countries shy away from the effort of learning a foreign language. Yet if we really want to
understand and be accepted, we have to make the effort to enter the worlds of others –
including learning their language.
The small, localised world of Riimenze is far from egalitarian but it is orderly. Most people
seem happy in this traditional community. Yet it is clear change needs to occur. Too many
people die too young. So a key need is improved health care. Better health services could be
provided relatively quickly if resources were made available. More schools, with bettertrained
teachers, would also be welcome sooner rather than later.
Addressing some issues, however, will require patience. A lot of effort is being directed to
improving opportunities for girls, setting higher expectations for them and giving them more
skills than simply being able to grow food, cook, carry water, bear children and serve a
husband whom they may share with several other women. Polygamy is still common. It
would be a mistake; nonetheless to think we can impose our worldview too quickly on this
ordered culture with its traditions and taboos. Learning about the bigger world picture may
help but there are also some bigger world attitudes they could well do without. These people
live in a world close to nature and close to God, with an essence well worth preserving! We
enter their world
- Br Bill