As I mentioned before, it’s been a tough couple of weeks in the office. The nature of the work it tough. It always is when you’re working with people. Especially people who need help. But it’s been tougher, lately. Tougher because of things that take up our time and mental energy and leave us with less to give to the work we care about. Changes and bad news and that. People at work constantly having their own difficult issues. And some people at work seeming to create more problems than anything.
We’ve lost some funding and some of our core medical services will have to cut back significantly. Which is devastating. The work goes on. And we keep praying and we keep trusting that this capacity lost will be restored. Not for us. But for the pregnant ladies who won’t get prenatal treatment otherwise, for the people who will have to go without medication, for the patients who depend on retroviral medications so their kids can live without HIV.
It hurts when you can’t help in the ways you want to. It hurts when there are things I can’t help fix. And it makes me angry when people who’s very job it is to care and help…don’t.
But the hubs and I, we can’t carry those things. And we’re getting better at that. We care and we do our best, but we can’t carry the weight of the things we cannot do. We keep doing our jobs, and we keep doing our best to be available to meet various needs when they arise.
About half of our co-workers are refugees themselves. Which is really great. Many of them are South Sudanese, and we love chatting with them about Juba and how things are going there. We’ve become allies and that feels quite special.
Because they are refugees, they are better able to help other refugees and are a great resource for us when we need input or feedback on dealing with certain things. As far as refugees in this fair city go, they are some of the luckier ones. Quite decent jobs, adequate pay, access to our medical services for them an their families. (A perk of the job I myself have benefitted from greatly here!) But they still face an uphill battle in life here and have so many challenges.
Mama M is a South Sudanese lady and works with for the domestic placement office. Everyone who comes in to find work registers through her and she keeps all of the information organized for the cleaning course. The domestic placement office is one of my departments and technically I am her supervisor. But, as it goes with most mama’s, she’s the one we defer to the most.
She’s a very sweet and caring lady. And tough. In the good ways. Easy to laugh, works really hard, very appreciative, is always thanking God, and only pulls mama-rank about things that really matter. The only times I try to pull rank with her is on days she’s sick trying to get her to go home early. She smiles and laughs and says “We will see!”
I’ve won her respect. Mostly because I really care about her opinions and try to solve the problems that she can’t or can’t be bothered to. And a few months ago I took her hundreds and hundreds of employee files that desperately needed to be sorted in a much more sensical way (to save her lots of time at the end of each month), took over the meeting room for 2 days, and got everything sorted. I relabeled all of her drawers when I finished and she patted me on the back and said, “You are not afraid to work like us! Really, you are a good manager.”
Which I’m still not so sure about. When it comes to a difficult issue with an employee or who to make an emergency case I’ll tell her what I think, but ask for her opinion, and let her make the final call generally. But it’s because she has way more experience in all of this than I do and I trust her judgment more than mine on these things. At this point I’m really happy to be learning from her while handling things like logistics and interagency referrals that she maybe wouldn’t be able to do as well.
Anyway, we’re pretty fond of each other and the other morning she sat down next to me at my desk and we talked for awhile. There are lots of things I already knew about her life. Her husband died 8 years ago. One of her children passed away. She has 5 remaining. Including 2 sets of twins that she had back to back.
She told me how she and her family fled Juba and went to Khartoum during the war between the North and South. She was there for many years. She went to university and got married. Somewhere along the way both of her parents died and her husband and one of her children. For awhile she was working for UNHCR, back in 2011. She was helping give trainings to people going back to the South ahead of the succession. Things like avoiding landmines and what to look for.
She told me about how bad the camps were for southerners in the North. She told me about the big trucks that would drive into the camps, trick children into coming with them, and then take the children’s blood and dump their bodies in the desert. Some bodies were recovered. Some never were.
Because she’s a hero of a lady she was reporting this to the UN and to others and got herself in a fair bit of trouble with the government. She was taken in for questioning. Her life and the lives of her children threatened. Her phone was tapped and made so that every time she tried to make a call it went to the security men. Her children started to get really worried. So in January 2011 (the same month that I moved to Ktown) she came with her 5 teenaged kids to Cairo. A few weeks later she got in touch with some people she knew still there and they said that security had arrested all of her colleagues and asked about her. She left just in time.
She started as a cleaner in this city and then got the job she has now. She an read and write in English, though can only speak Arabic. So this hard-working mama has been taking Arabic literacy courses after work for months. But she’s had to stop recently because she’s had a blood pressure issue the last 2 months or so and her energy and condition has been deteriorating. Now each day at about 3:00 she gets a pounding headache. She’s gone to several doctors and none have been able to help her issue. She just gets prescribed new meds, some of which make her even sicker.
She still has two kids in secondary school and two in university, and one daughter who is having a very painful issue with the muscle in her arm. And I’m like, this lady! This hero of a lady! Can she get break?! We’ve been praying and praying and praying for her. And I’ve been trying to make her take sick days. But, as I said previously, she just laughs at me when I try to tell her to.
Too, there’s another lady on staff who lost her brother a few weeks ago. He lives in Juba and was teaching and basically keeled over and dropped dead. Her mother couldn’t accept that he had died, so she travelled from Cairo to Juba to see. She past away there last week.
In our six months here this is at least the sixth parent of a staff member who has passed away.
Last week two of our staff at one of the clinics were attacked by a man who wasn’t quite with things.
A few weeks ago one of our staff members came to me about a few refugee neighbors he has who were taken to prison, after police came in the middle of the night and broke down their door. Including a pregnant woman with a baby and a handicapped man. They took everyone in the house, 5 adults, except a 9 year old boy, who they left in the house alone. I got ahold of my legal aid contacts here to try to get them involved. A few days later all had been released except for a young woman of 19 who has lived in Cairo since she was 7. Without a chance to prove her paperwork or get any representation she was deported without her parents.
Recently 3 Eritreans came into our office in desperate need of help. They’d been in Cairo only a short time and in 4 days they were going to have to leave the place where they were staying. They were about to be homeless and the best I could do was make one of them an emergency case to jump the waiting list for the cleaning course so she could get quickly get a job. After they walked out of the office I ran after them and gave them all the money in my pocket. It wasn’t much. But there was little else I could do. (But a big reason why I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately trying to open communication more with other organizations, so we can know what’s available for people who come into our office with needs we can’t meet.)
And there are new things everyday. Hard cases. Co-workers in really difficult situations. Frustrations with other co-workers who don’t seem to care. Anger about some people seeming to frustrate our efforts on purpose. It piles up and it piles up and we pray and we pray and everyday we’re trying to get better at doing our best with what we can all while handing the burden off to our Lord who cares about refugees more than we do.
“The call to be a slave to Jesus means to give oneself over to Jesus’ purpose to do what Jesus did. And what Jesus did was serve those who never expected to be served.” Walter Brueggemann (…Yes, I’m on a bit of a kick with Mr. Walter. Loving and learning from everything I’m reading by him. Highly recommended!)