1992. November in northern Kenya was cool and dry. Our plane landed on the dirt runway after having earlier flown over the plains of light brown grass. Here and there we saw rings in the grass, dirt circles scarred into the land. They were where homes of the tribal peoples once stood. Probably Masai, made of dung, sticks and thorn bushes, these people are nomadic, so as their food sources move, so do they. Rains and heat cannot remove their footprints as seen from this Otter, the bush plane that moved people and supplies to relief zones.
We were staying in a UN camp near Lake Turkana, on the Sudanese border. Though it was a tent encampment, there were very few luxuries spared. We had hot showers (wood fired water hand hoisted from recycled fuel drums by local villagers to a bag above small shacks with cement floors.) and hot meals, (some of the best lasagna I've ever had, and grilled seafood in an indoor/outdoor mess tent).
But it was 1992. And it was November. The evening we arrived was the same day of the US presidential election. The results came in as the party was beginning to rev up. The UN employees who were there to feed and support relief efforts in the Sudan where southern Christians were murdering and being murdered by the northern Muslims. At the time, I couldn't understand why Christians were murdering anyone. I began slowly to understand that "Christians" had little to do with the faith I knew.
Clinton won the election that night. We woke to the sounds of revelers at around 2am. There was also the sounds of the crack of gunfire. Those days of hard travel tied to video journalism were taxing and I remember not laying awake long. The next morning, the camp was a ghost town. There were a handful of people at breakfast, and word traveled quickly to us that most everyone was hung over after celebrating the liberation of the US from the Republican party.
The gunfire we heard was not celebratory. It was a tribal feud involving cattle. A "Christian" Sudanese who was outfitted with an automatic weapon to counter the attacks of the North also had a dispute with a Turkanese who allegedly stole some cattle from him. That night, he and several others apparently came across the border into Kenya, killed his rival and recovered his livestock.
It seemed surreal at the time. Now I know it was a minor scrape, considering the genocide that has plagued many parts of the African continent without our awareness. Our work the next few days carried on as usual, interviews on the ground with the client we were serving, an air relief organization with a UN contract, and various sorties in the air for footage of their equipment doing the unenviable job of serving desperate remote distribution points.
The US was never rescued by the then new president. The hunger problem in the Sudan is still there, some of it has migrated to other places, and there are more circles in the dirt now, where my eyes saw living villages. The stench of death even with supplies flying into the distribution camps will always be with me. My short trip is nothing to the years of support some people offer. And yet it is perspective.
Not of how lucky or blessed we are, though we are. The perspective is of Grace and the necessity of our sin. It is necessary, of course, because of who we are, born rebellious. It is necessary because of our continued choices that are imperfect and corrupt. National leaders in those places in Africa of course could solve much of it, but for their own appetites. As is true of each one of us.
We are necessary evils. May God bring us to our knees more and more often to remember it. We are here and therefore are necessary. And yet we are born of sin. So what to do but beg for mercy, forgiveness and look for Grace. That's the point. Right here, each one of us is a Story. Will we be told after we're gone? Only if we create a human grace among our fellow travelers. Today, I am one for grace. Tomorrow I will likely sin again. May forgiveness be even more prolific than world hunger...