On a bright Sunday afternoon in Nimule, South Sudan, a group decided to set out on a walking trip to the Nile River. Following Elizabeth, a volunteer at the Cornerstone Children’s Home from Colorado, visitors and children alike set made this trek. The next few hours yielded rich cultural and natural experiences.
I walked alongside Jimmy, a sixteen year old orphan who speaks great English and always carries a sheepish grin on his face as though he is planning some kind of mischief. Jimmy is a fun to joke around with and behind his jovial manner is a kind heart. Enjoying this opportunity to get to know him, we spent most of the way there and back in conversation.
The persistent calls from young children of, “Mzungu, how are you?” punctuated the trip. “Mzungu” is the Swahili word for “white person” and is the almost universal East African way of referring to fair skinned foreigners with whom they are not acquainted. Since younger children are just beginning to learn English in school they squeal with delight when you answer, “I’m fine. How are you?” They don’t have anything else to offer to the conversation but just the fact that they asked a question in English and received an answer from the mzungu makes them happy.
While snapping a picture of the landscape a man started yelling at me from the path. “Have you received permission to take pictures here?” he asked. I responded that I didn’t know that I needed permission. We had passed into a reserve, he informed me, and pictures must not be taken there without the permission of the “big man” in the office. I asked this plain-clothed man on a bicycle if he was a ranger and he said, “Even I am a ranger.”
After more empty threats to take me to the office and to charge me an exorbitant sum of money to get my camera back, we moved on shaking our heads. I let him know that the park would do a lot better with visitors if they let people take pictures. This kind of short-sighted thinking is so sad in areas like this. They think that a fee for everything will bring money but in fact it drives visitors away.
Reaching the Nile at last, we enjoyed the sight of local fishermen rowing by in canoes. While eating some local oranges that are really more green than orange, we thought we heard the sound of hippos in the distance. Since hippos are quite dangerous it puts everyone on edge a little bit to know that they are nearby. Nobody bothered us as we snapped pictures of the water and of each other along the Nile’s banks.
I saw one guy taking a picture of the women with his cell phone. When he noticed me watching him he said that I had a lot of ladies with me and he started to offer cows for one of them. I let him know that he would have to speak to the lady himself and then returned to the group with a story that made everyone laugh.
On the way back I encountered a scene that I don’t think I will ever forget. I saw a man start yelling at a young girl. He then reached for a stick and she set out on a run. For at least the next 5-10 minutes I could see her running as fast as she could and him not giving up in his pursuit. I couldn’t see how the chase ended. Scenes like this break my heart and make me happy that at least the children at the Cornerstone Children’s Home have a chance to be protected from the abuse that is so common within their society.
We walked past a loud party gathered around a drum circle and Jimmy told me it was likely to celebrate a new birth. As the sun set over the horizon we passed the local mosque and entered the gate back of the children’s home. It was a beautiful afternoon so full of cultural experiences alongside harsh reality. The Nile is not just a river in Egypt, it is a river in South Sudan.