People of the Earth, Wind & Fire*

In some places in the world you get the impression there is an extra force at work,  something you can’t quite put your finger on, a special magic in the air.

South Sudan might be economically one of the poorest countries on earth, but what it lacks in money, it makes up for in Cultural treasures.  This is a colourful land indeed.

For decades people have marvelled at how a place could be home to peoples with such ingrained and distinct characters – studies of which have produced some of the most ground breaking revelations in anthropology and human studies.   There is a rare beauty in how these people have evolved, but like with so many things that display extreme tendancies there are also inherent flaws.

This is a country with hardly any tarmac roads or infrastructure at large.  It is a bare land, within which life itself stands in such stark contrast to it’s surroundings, that it somehow seems more impressive here.

Dirt tracks criss cross over tribal lands – a maze joining village to village.  On visiting the cattle camps in Bor district, you can see nomadic humans co-existence with cattle has synergised into a way of life which has evolved through the centuries.  People and cattle.  They eat, drink, live and breath with their cattle – their co-existence and co-dependence goes right down to their fiery orange hair – which gets it’s colour from being dyed with cow urine.  Their existence is almost completely communal, their day, from start to end is based around communal activities- wrestling, herding, eating, singing, dancing.  Sharing any of it with them, you feel closer to the earth, the wind and fire.

Their lives might be admirable and incredible, but they are far from idyllic.   Without sanitation, healthcare and education the cattle camps are centres of disease and malnourishment.  It’s an assault that means it’s survival of the fittest – from before they are born babies must have or develop immunity, or not make it through infancy.  Some though, do make it through, and for them our arrival offers some hope – hope that we’ll bring medicines and treatments for their family and their cattle.     But even without medicines, education derived from modern science would say the first step would be to limit the spread of disease by separating them from their cattle.  And so the process immediately starts to erode the character that makes these people so remarkable.

It reminded me of a story relating to the expedition that first conquered Everest in 1967.  After the expedition , Urkien Sherpa, who had lived next to the mountain all his life, was asked by a member of the team ‘If there was one thing we could do for your village. what would it be’.  He paused for a moment and replied ‘With all respect, Sahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don’t envy you your restless spirits. But knowledge for our children!   that we would like to see’.  He had highlighted a fundamental difference that separated peoples around the world.  As some sought the illusive idea of ‘progress’ – pushing science, developing medicines, building structures that reached into the sky and launching rockets that went into space – others simply believed in being and being together.

There can be no right way or wrong, but here in the cattle camp, I stood in awe looking at the people, and they stood in awe looking at me.

*notes: this is a second draft of a script for a sound slide that has been lying dormant a while.  The original is here. I started reworking it last night after a showing a horse Vetinarian I met in Egypt the photos.  I sweated over it a little last night and had a spurt of creativity today listening to this music.      

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