Fairytales often start with; once upon a time in land far away.....
I shall start my tale on this note as I descend upon the magical land that is South Sudan flying in the giant metallic man made bird of sky.
When anticipation, expectations and fear of the unknown come together its as if the heart forgets the correct rhythm with which to beat, the lungs cease to work in unison with the diaphragm to create proper breathing patterns and certain muscles tense up as if too afraid of where the body will take it if allowed.
The unknown can be frightening but once you open your eyes, mind and heart you see beauty in the places you least expect and perhaps are never the same again.
Driving around Juba the first day I was confronted by a new world, one which at first glanced felt chaotic; no roads, traffic lights, plumbing or electricity system. The things I believed to be essential to survival.
I saw more guns in my first two hours than I had in the entirety my life, and within hours was reduced to tears at the deprivation and poverty I saw around.
My stomach grumbled as I had merely poked around at the Tilapia fish I had ordered for lunch, whilst processing the big issues of the day I also had to process the idea of fish being stewed with carrots and tomato paste and my brain was not on board with any of it.
I lay my head to rest that night in an internal dialogue with myself. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? If all these people can live here then why cant I? The banter continued like a cartoon angel and devil on either side of my shoulder, debating whether or not I was entitled to the culture shock I was experiencing. I fell asleep before either side won.
Then the magic started to happen.
First I went to someone's house. I sat in a house made of sticks and was surrounded by so much warmth, so welcome I had to stop and think if I was their long lost child and hadn't realised until that moment.
I helped cook and even with a communication barrier there was laughter. My next adventure was going to a market, at first glance I felt sorrow....do they not deserve the joy of an air-conditioned mall with escalators, a food court, and more clothing stores than you could throw a stick at. As I thought about this I stepped in some human waste, Chadstone was looking pretty good about then.
But then again the magic, I saw what it looked like to have people spend very hard earned money on essentials. No Apple Store, no fresh apples for that matter, just hard-working, determined, resilient people getting beans to sustain their family for the next month. Suddenly Chaddy seemed a bit senseless.
I went on to encounter many different people, men sitting outside shops in the morning drinking tea and laughing, girls giggling as they searched for drinking water in their scruffy clothes, women carting produce back and forth on their backs to feed their families.
I was in awe. I was hypnotised and something in me changed which will never be the same again. It was reaffirmed to me that are all born into different lives, in different places under different circumstances. And we do the best we can with what we are given.
People who have the least are often the happiest, I saw that, I saw joy amongst deprivation, laughter alongside suffering and I was humbled but realised things don't have to be that way for some while others have an over- abundance.
Children deserve to go to school, to eat, to have shelter. The beautiful people I met deserve safety, stability, peace and human rights.
That's why I am proud of the work Peace Palette in South Sudan and to be able to help where I can. In this life I was given more, so I am able to do more, as we all are, so we must.
Peace Palette Volunteer, Chenai Mupotsa
PS, Going to the dinner event would also be a good way to support Peace Palette.