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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Letter from Isoke No 8: The diary project

Liz Hodgkin, RVI Fellow and former Amnesty International Sudan researcher, is teaching at St Augustine’s School in Isoke village, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan. This is her eighth letter from Isoke. Other letters: No 1 July 2012, No 2 October 2012, No 3 November 2012, No 4 December 2012, No 5 March 2013, No 6 April 2013, No 7 May 2013 and No 9 September 2013

The mechanic, Michael, drove our newly repaired tractor from Narus to here, a distance of over 100 miles. The vast lands at Lolit 16 kilometers away, which are earmarked partly for the women’s empowerment project, are still not ploughed. The second planting season begins in July, so it is unlikely that anything will happen this year. However, just as I was leaving at the beginning of May, Michael was able to plough about eighteen acres of the parish land between the slopes and the Awali stream, and then about 6 acres belonging to the school. And Father B. and the Head Teacher decided to use our Nuba students, refugees from the fighting in Sudan, to plant the land in lieu of payment of their school fees.

There are six Nuba boys in our school and fourteen girls studying at St Matthew’s (another diocesan school) in Ikotos, the County town. As far as I can find out, this was another project of the late Bishop Akio, and the elusive Bishop of El Obeid. When Bishop Akio died there were no funds for the project, so Father B. gathered all the girls to stay in the Parish compound (where there is a complex of thatched huts to sleep in) and all were put to pay their way by planting maize on the Parish land. 

I gave Senior 3 a diary project and learnt a lot about what happened during the holidays. On the last day of school, one of them recorded that the Head had warned them against cattle-raiding.  “It was on the morning of the last day of closing.” he wrote. “Headmaster was addressing students that whenever you go you behave well let you come back to school do not go to cattle-raiding as long as you are a student do not do that.” Then, he added, with a fine sense of irony,“Immediately at the same day for some minute the student took the gun from his parent and shut his youngest brother. He was arrested by Police he was beaten.”

Reading the students’ diaries I learned that a local man had fallen off the tractor and injured his leg on the disc blades; that the Head Teacher had a fight with his wife; and that at a meeting with MPs about cattle-raiding and corruption, few people had shown up. “When people refuse to come to the meeting,” one of the students noted, “the Chief of Isohe send police to collect people within the village to come for meeting by Force.” “Although they Force still Few people,” he added. And when police chased the women from the market, they fled with their children on their backs “like Jesus chasing people selling from the temple”.

The rainmaker’s house

When I came back to Isoke there had been no rain for a month. An article in the Senior 3 newspaper was headlined “Isohe Community believe in rainmaker”. Magisto, the reporter, related how, on 3 May, the local rainmaker denied that it was God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who made rain. He was reported to have said “if you want rain let the community of Isohe contribute something that can make me feel happy”. At his demand, they built him a house. Each household, Magisto informed us, contributed “5SSP, 2 cups of sorghum, tobacco and even the goat” to the rainmaker’s housebuilding. On 2 June, when there was still no rain he said “Wait for three days”.  On 6th June, the article reported, the rain came.  

Among those who sought out the rainmaker, going up to the holy place on the mountain in Dito, was one of our catechists. And Father C revealed that he had prayed to God for rain on that Sunday. So who knows who should take the credit. Since then, though, there has been plenty of rain. Too much, in fact. A storm—rain and thunder and lightning and large hailstones and strong winds—blew the top right off my colleague L’s house. It blew down the school kitchen (a corrugated iron shack) and lifted off the roof of the front room of the priest’s apartment right next to mine. Then it replaced it again! We had to hang every piece of paper out to dry, and I oversaw the clearing out and washing of the room that lost its roof. It was striking that, as far as I could see, none of the local mud-walled thatched huts was damaged.

Happiness and drunkardness

Senior 4 carried out a job satisfaction project. They found out that everyone in Isoke was pretty happy (that is to say they listed more causes of happiness than unhappiness). The farmer said it was nice feeding the family with your own food, hard when there was drought. The school cook said it was nice feeding children and bringing money home (she only gets about $30 a month), but hard when the pay didn’t come. The trader said it was nice making profits only the roads were bad and it was difficult to get goods to Isoke. An NGO officer from AVSI couldn’t find anything to complain about in his job. He said that even setbacks were learning opportunities. He was clearly well-taught in NGO thinking, All teachers, school workers said the main thing wrong was the delay in salaries. We are still waiting for our salaries for May.

Many students write of “drunkardness”, I correct their spelling, but they have obviously been taught to write it that way. And what’s wrong with it? It’s perfectly understandable. In fact it can happily coexist with “drunkenness” to mean the next step towards alcoholism. 

I missed the peak of the mango season – for a week the Nuba students said they were eating fifty a day, then they ended. After two weeks without mangoes, people started bringing them down from the mountains. Many don’t eat them, saying they are sour, but they are fine and very cheap. The cabbage season hasn’t started yet, so we are still eating mainly beans.

Read on: Letter from Isoke No 8

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