“If you walk alone, they’ll just think you don’t have any friends.”
That was a comment the SIM Sudan orientation leader made while explaining the South Sudanese emphasis on friendships and living relationally. A Sudanese walking through the office at that time confirmed it: Relationships are key – everything else pales in comparison.
Sometimes though, I need to walk alone. It’s hard to do that in the middle of one of east Africa’s largest cities though.
It wasn’t until I found myself high on the rim of Mount Longonot crater Saturday that things made sense. Alone for what felt like the first time in weeks, I was able to let go of the stresses of preparing to go to South Sudan. I was able to breathe deep and focus on one task: navigating the sometimes treacherous 7.2-kilometer rim trail.
Longonot is outside of Nairobi near Lake Naivasha (the lake is in the distance, pictured above). Rising from the Great Rift Valley floor, it provides a stunning view of various landmarks, reportedly including Mt. Kilimanjaro when conditions are clear. A group of friends and I went for the day. Thankfully, they weren’t insulted when i set out at my own pace. I needed to think.
The past month or so has been a balancing act of continuing to adjust to life in Nairobi, planning Kenya media projects and collecting the information needed to go to South Sudan. It has been like culture tightrope walking, with one eye on the culture I live in now and another on a set of norms and practices I’ll need to be comfortable with for at least six weeks.
It is what I came to do – go where the stories are. But, like any story assignment preparation, it can be draining.
Don’t get me wrong. As daunting as this task might seem at times, I’m excited to meet the South Sudanese, have a cup of tea – or two or three – and get to know them. So too, the missionaries working in Doro.
It’s simple, really. If you don’t really take time to know people, you won’t necessarily be able to learn what makes them them tick – and you won’t be able to tell the story the way it should be told.
After four hours and 15.2 kilometers of mountain hiking, my mind was clear. A few more preparations remain and then I am scheduled to depart early Monday morning.
I’m nervous, excited and ready to get started. By God’s grace, I will complete this time in Doro with some new friends and a host of stories to tell.