Awakening, Nourishment, Privilege, Humilty

At home, my morning routine is up at six, release the cats from the laundry room and traipse downstairs to the fridge for the canned food which they eat in the morning – two different special diets. The canned food is easier on Sniff, the cat with the sensitive tummy, though she tolerates moistened dry food later in the day.

Destiny, my tiny, deaf, aged Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is usually up by now, and I feed her as well. She’s on several medications for a failing heart. Her arthritis meds have diminished her appetite so she’s slow to eat.

I make myself a cup of coffee and retrieve the newspaper. I walk the dog. Outside is down six flights from our third-floor condo. I generally carry her (I prefer the stairs to the elevator) because of her creaky joints and labored breath, though sometimes she sets off on her own.

Here in South Sudan, there’s less urgency in awakening. No dependent pets, (my husband has that duty alone when I am gone) no early morning appointments. I’ve showered the night before. My hair is usually a wreck, but my vanity has learned to lower its expectations here.

Now lying on my foam mattress under the pale green mosquito net, I listen to the tweets, buzzes, croaks, bleats and bellows. I do the bed exercises suggested to me after my disc surgery. My husband isn’t here, so I won’t disturb his slumber. Waking up my spine in the early morning helps me feel stronger and more flexible, and it allows more time with my eyes closed to wake slowly, something to which I am unaccustomed.

What I miss most about my early mornings inhum Fargo is the coffee and a small square or two of dark chocolate and the newspaper. Here tea isn’t served until around eight. When school started back up last week, after my horror that first day when the girls left for school without tea, the cooks prepared the hot water in a thermos the night before (as they have done in the past, they just forgot!) and place it in our pink geodesic dome. In the morning the girls prepare their sweetened milk tea or drinking chocolate before school. We have no biscuits left, so the milk tea is all they have in their stomachs, which is more than for many children at the school. I expect biscuits will arrive on the next AIM flight.

I’m spoiled by the ease which has marked my life. The two-hour wait for me is an eternity. On previous trips I’ve brought protein bars and treats to supplement the beans and rice two-meals-a-day diet here, but I honestly forgot, and the few foods I did bring are in the bags that were left behind in Nairobi. I’d like to say my whining for earlier tea was on behalf of all the staff, but it seems they don’t feel the deprivation the way I do. I can skip dinner with no problem, but my coffee and oatmeal are sacrosanct. And LUNCH. By noon. Here lunch is at 1:30, or sometimes two.

There’s an issue with getting firewood timely and an issue with the length of time it takes to cook beans and rice and other foods from scratch to feed 20 people.

Two nights ago, just before bed, Martha Achol appeared with a tray. On it was a thermos, a cup and spoon, a cup of sugar, tea bags, a can of powdered milk, and a jar of drinking chocolate. I thanked her but told her no, that I was about to go to bed. She insisted and was so sweet, that so as not to disappoint her, I prepared a small cup of hot milk and said she could take the tray. With hesitation, she picked it up, but then gestured to Manyok, our program director. Laughing,  he explained, that the tray was for my own tea in the morning and throughout the day, and they will bring it to me each evening.

Heavens. Now I feel as though I’m a complainer. I don’t really want special treatment, but I must admit, the last two mornings, it has been a real joy to make myself a cup of tea shortly after six a.m. And then a second. Today (the 23rd) I had a third which wasn’t enough to keep me from getting cranky when our first meal was served at two.

Sometimes they make special food for me as well–chicken or rice instead of ugali. I share the extra and tell Manyok that I can eat what they are eating. I don’t love ugali, but I can eat it. It’s bland but not horrible. Mudfish is where I dry the line.

Like most Americans reading this, I was raised with more food available than was required, more frequently than I was hungry. Uncountable varieties of many different types of food – meats, legumes, vegetables, starches, seasonings and sweets. And flavors – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami, the sense of — on the tongue.

Our staff and our girls have experienced malnutrition, and some have nearly starved. Some have developed ulcers from the abuse their digestive systems have suffered. They are happy and grateful for any meal that comes their way and eat thankfully and heartily whether it is one meal put in front of them or three (which would be very unusual).

It makes me feel a little small, but I’m glad I haven’t had to cope with actual hunger. I’m embarrassed that my lowered blood sugar makes me lethargic and cranky.

Humbled here in Duk Payuel.

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