Friday, 28 May 2010

Br Bill Diaries

Br Bill continues to give of himself in the Sudan and to keep us informed of his varied experiences. The following is a posting he has entitled Rich and Poor and is certainly worth reflecting on.

It was mid-afternoon and overcast. Now that some rain has come, so have many new birds with a very diverse range of calls and chirps, some unlike any I have heard before. Suddenly, there was something quite different, the repeated sounds of distant gunshots. ‘Can you hear the shooting?’ I heard one sister call out. ‘Where is it coming from?’ ‘Across the river’, I replied. It didn’t last long. Someone said, ’I wonder if there are many dead’. Two, we found out later.

The elections were peaceful but there was another incident a few days ago, reportedly near Malakal but actually quite some distance away, where one group of soldiers attacked another. Eight were reported as killed on one side and ‘probably some’ on the other.

This is the stark reality of Southern Sudan. One day there can be a huge crowd for a joyful celebration of some event, be it religious or otherwise, and the next day some ‘puffed up’ leader sends his troops into action. You see the very best of people enjoying life together with an admirable simplicity and gratitude. There are many, very many happy, smiling kids roaming unconcerned and innocent in the neighbourhoods of their simple homes. Yet there is also the chilling reality of the presence of many soldiers in varied uniforms – there are three separate armies in Malakal - and one is never surprised to see men carrying guns.

Life here can be very rich, not in material goods but in times shared and enjoyed; but it can also be lacking in what many think are the basic necessities. If I remember correctly, in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs’, there were originally four levels. The lowest level is that of physical needs - the need for food and clothing. The second level is that of security needs - we need to feel safe and out of danger. The third level is the need for love and belongingness - we want to be cared about and to be accepted by others. The fourth level is that of self-actualisation - to feel we are doing something worthwhile, achieving by our own efforts. Maslow suggested something to the effect of satisfying lower levels of need in order to be able to aspire to higher levels. Somehow it doesn’t quite work like that here – but perhaps I am misinterpreting Maslow!

People here cannot take levels one and two for granted, as many do in first world societies. Many people struggle to get potable water. The food they eat is very basic. Good health care – medical, dental, optical – is not available to many, or is beyond their means. The children are among the most uneducated people on this earth. There is the terrible insecurity of a possible return to war. Many Sudanese people would be labelled by others as ‘poor’.

Yet the Sudanese people are ‘rich’ - at levels three and four. Here there is far more caring and sharing than I have witnessed in most first world societies. I surmise that every man putting a new roof on his own house and providing for his family feels more ‘self-actualised’ than do many in ‘richer’ countries for whom the pursuit of wealth and material goods has become the dominant goal. The people of Sudan are rich in family life and friendships. I see some of them happily working long hours, in very hot conditions and being content with a month’s salary lower than what an Australian tradesman demands for an hour’s work. I see women cheerfully carrying huge burdens for no pay at all! They do not expect an easy life but they create a happy life.

Maybe ‘rich or poor’ is the wrong notion: we too glibly tend to think rich is good and poor is bad. Maybe a ‘hierarchy of needs’ is not the best model: we too easily think there are steps to climb. It seems to me that the real questions are more along the lines of ‘Who, or what, do I really value?’ or ‘Do I have the right attitude to the gift of life?’

It is evident in Sudan that one can have a very happy and joyful life, a meaningful life, without many of the goods often viewed as essential. The people appreciate what little they have, even a glass of clean water. They thank God for the gift of living and of being Sudanese.

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