The Newest Nation in the World…

Yesterday was my 35th birthday! I now meet all the qualifications outlined in the constitution and I am now eligible to run for President. On this day, I announce my candidacy for President of the United States!

On a serious note, this marks my second birthday on the African continent. And I have been surprised both times by unexpected birthday celebrations. It’s nice to know that people think of you when you are so far away from friends and family. This important occasion is also a good time to continue my overview of the last year. I would have never imagined last year, at this time, that I would be in Nigeria to celebrate my 35th birthday. When I arrived in South Sudan, I was hoping to be in the country through the 2015 election. While South Sudan was a difficult physical environment to thrive in, I was truly blessed with a community of friends. Prior to arriving in Juba, I was put in touch with countless people who either gave me insight into what to expect or put me in touch with people to look up when I arrived in country. I also had a mutual friend in Juba from a network that I joined in 2008. In addition, I stumbled onto an expat church called “Pub Church.” The church was held at a restaurant/bar called Central Pub. I discovered the church while googling “places of worship” in Juba and came across a mission organization that ran a girls orphanage in the city. The organization gave the twitter handle of one of the missionaries so I reached out to her and she invited me to church. Within two weeks of arriving in Juba, I was building a community of friends. In addition, I was a quick flight from friends in Rwanda so I spent Thanksgiving and New Years in Kigali to rejuvenate my spirits.

Professionally, I was slowly getting a better understanding of the difficulties of the politics of South Sudan. The South Sudanese were friendly and inviting and appreciative of the work IRI was doing in South Sudan. The politics of the country was much more difficult to manage. The country was a one party state with several smaller parties mostly led by disenchanted leaders of the ruling SPLM party. The only opposition that existed in the country was within the SPLM. The party was unable to unity the various wings of the party which eventually led to the conflict that broke out on the night of December 15 that has left countless numbers of people dead and others displaced.

I met so many fascinating people in South Sudan. I learned stories of hardship from my colleagues at the IRI, visited two areas outside of Juba and went tracking for elephants in the only national park in South Sudan. In Rumbek, I learned why all the women at one of our workshops was fascinated by the spaces between my teeth. Turns out, it was an attractive element of men in that region. In Yei (pronounced Yay) I met members of the SPLM that were working to not only change their community but also change their party. But the December 15th conflict disrupted the work that my organization was doing in South Sudan and sent the country into civil war. There were horrific reports of ethnic killings and compete devastation of communities. Members of certain ethnic groups were forced to seek shelter at United Nation compounds where many of them still reside. South Sudan is a country on the brink of various types of epidemics and starvation. For me, after just four months in South Sudan, my life was about to take several unexpected journeys. The first journey started the afternoon I was evacuated from South Sudan on a United States chartered flight…

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