Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remembering Uncle Carl

I got the sad news that my uncle Carl Mohler was killed in a fire on February 24th. Carl was a jack of all trades. He knew fiberglass, mechanics and farming. He was interested in the world. An ardent supporter of MCC, he was always inquisitive about my travels and informed about goings on in the world. During our six year stint in the Philippines Carl and his wife Electa stored our things in the basement in their home near Denver, Pennsylvania. This is just one of the many things that Carl did for us during our years in Africa and Asia. Our boys were especially fond of him for tractor rides and other mechanical things he relished in showing them.

The last time I saw him was at a weekly gathering of my mother’s siblings who live in Lancaster County. It was two days before I left on this Sudan trip and now I recognize the gift to spend that few hours together. Carl seemed so calm and at peace with himself.

I will miss him but know that his life was one of service to others and through that giving of himself, his legacy will carry on for a long time.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Wisdom of Keeping Cool

The air conditioner in the office needs 3 minutes, every time the power drops out, so the compressor doesn’t burn up. This means it is rarely on since the power fluctuates regularly. The cement block office with its tin roof acts like an oven as a relentless tropical sun is beating on it for 12 hours a day. Looks can be deceiving because the tukel (mud brick house) sporting a thatched roof is much better at holding the cool of the evening and repelling the heat of the day.

This is indicative of so much that I encounter in Africa. What looks like poverty or foolishness really has deeper meaning and a rational all its own. I tend to see poverty at the material level. But there are immense riches in a faith that gives sustenance to people living in the contexts of brutal violence. What looks like haphazard planning and implementation of a project might really be wisdom about what will work here and what won’t.

So when the temperature in the office climbs to 100 perhaps I would do well to look for unconventional sources of cool.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sudan Calling

Communications to, from and within southern Sudan are tricky. There are NO land lines so all communications takes some kind of wireless. For the UN, SSB and VHF radios dot each of the vehicles like flag staffs. For MCC, it takes 4 different phones. Sudani, Zain, Gemtel, Safaricom and Thuraya are all companies vying for your communications dollars (or Pounds as is the currency here). None of these phone services work well all the time and some of MCC partners or areas of the country favor one of the services. Thus the reps need for one of each kind of phone.

The most intriguing is the largest phone in the picture, a Thuraya a satellite phone. These hand held devices have shrunk drastically in the past years yet their air time has not. One US Dollar per minute is pricey yet given that these can make phone calls hundreds of miles from the nearest cell tower in the most remote place in Africa, means that one is always in touch.

On the internet front, since there are no wires (phone or cable TV) going from house to house, one has to have some kind of wireless internet. Enter VSAT, a satellite based internet service. Using a 1.2 meter Ku Band dish, internet signals are sped up and down through a satellite 36,000 Km above the equator. In a place with limited quality infrastructure this is a very reliable system…until a heavily laden rain cloud moves in between the satellite dish and the satellite. Then there is a gap in signals until the rain has passed.

Staying in touch is complicated in Southern Sudan but there are now many more resources to do so compared to the days of the drum and runner.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Make Your Own Power

In most of the world we take power for granted. Plug in the computer and it works, the refrigerator is always cold and the lights come on automatically when it gets dark. Here in Juba, the office has electricity that works half the time, swinging wildly from over to under voltage. Every time it does this, the air conditioner needs to wait 3 minutes before resetting and kicking on again. There is a good chance the power will have kicked the regulator off again for another 3 minutes. Laptop power supplies are more forgiving and operate over a wide voltage range.

At the house, there is no city electricity. We make our own. With a diesel generator running 4 hours maximum a day all the washing needs to be done. The refrigerator gets to run and these 4 hours, usually very warm by next time the generator runs. The generator gives a bit of light during the dark times. A large battery bank provides some electricity when the generator is off. It can run the fridge a bit, charge cell phones or power computers.

Electricity is expensive to produce. It is a given infrastructure in well run communities. Yet here in post-war Southern Sudan, it is often a luxury prompting each household to make its own power.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drinking Segafredo Zanetti Coffee in Schipol

For the third time now in six months I am taking the hop across the Atlantic and south to Nairobi. This time its back to Southern Sudan. MCC has ask me to give some more support for the Sudan office based in Juba.

So, one third of the way through the 40 hour trip, I sit at a coffee shop sipping my very expensive Segafredo Zanetti coffee. The characteristic red cups fit in well with the functional Amsterdam airport. Bright yellow signs direct at the jet lagged traveler toward their new gate while young security men and women patrol the halls with their Uzi sub-machine guns slung from their hips.

The violence in Europe and North America is so contained, controlled and ordered. We are continually reminded of the ‘threat’ level. We have strict rules about what we can and can’t do. Jokes, liquids in large quantities and even our shoes are all suspect. Violence itself, the killer of our bodies has a brother named fear which also strangles the life out of our being.