Nature is something one cannot oppose, attempt to improve, or free oneself from. Nature is decreed by God, and is therefore perfect. Droughts, heat waves, empty wells, and death on the road also partake of that perfection. Without them, man would be unable later to appreciate the true delight of rain, the heavenly taste of water, and the life-giving sweetness of milk. A beast would not be able to rejoice in the succulent grass, or relish the smell of a meadow. Man would not know what it is to stand in a stream of cold, crystal-clear water. It would not even occur to him that this is simply to be in heaven. ~ Ryszard Kapuściński*
Writing is never easy.
I’ve been reminded of that as I’ve spent the past weeks transcribing recorded interviews, reading through notes and reviewing photos. (Full disclosure: Part of that time was also spent hosting my mother, who arrived a week after I got back from South Sudan. And no, I didn’t deliberately choose such a schedule … it just … happened. I swear.)
Despite the delays, I’ve still struggled with how to tell the stories I heard. I was struck by the *Kapuściński quotation recently posted by my colleague and photographer extraordinaire James Briggs.
How do you convey what life is like in one of harshest climates on earth? How do you convey how that life is lived by people who have had to learn how to survive that climate – but also the cruel whims of other nations and people at the same time?
They have all known hardship. They have all spent almost as much time on foreign soil as their own native South Sudan. They have all known the hunger of days without food, the pain of feet swollen from days of walking, and the homesickness felt after months or years spent living in a camp.
It seems war, spanning decades and crossing nation borders, has purged the differences from their lives until they are almost unrecognizable as uniquely their own, but are instead part of one vast, similar story: the story of South Sudan.
As a journalist, I look for the unique. But how do you do that, when everything is horribly unique, at least when measured with the relative comfort of the western experience?
I’m still working that part out.
But I think you can start by celebrating those people who can look past their … well, their past. They are the people who want to make something of themselves, in spite of – or even because of – their circumstances. The ones who know that the future is still that: the future. It alone is uniquely theirs.
So, as I wade through the stories and the design projects over the next couple of weeks, I will post photos, interview snippets and observations. Of people who profoundly impacted me and for whom, I have immense and deep respect.
Because they are what makes South Sudan unique.