Sometimes we forget our blessings. It’s easy to do when we live in a world that is obsessed with consumerism and self-, and instant-gratification. Looking at our friends lives on Facebook we can get caught up with envy and focusing on what we don’t have in our lives. It’s easy. But yet we need to be reminded of our blessings.

I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Juba, South Sudan on a project I’m working on about using participatory theatre for peace-building and conflict resolution/transformation.

Before I got to South Sudan, I had people not only ask me ‘why on earth’ I was going to South Sudan, but also caution on safety as it’s a country still at war. I can’t lie, I was a little fearful. But I felt I needed something to do, and getting out of the country to go to a country I’d never been to before seemed like an opportunity not to be passed up.

My first encounter was the process of getting an entry permit. As we don’t have a South Sudan embassy in Zambia, UNICEF in South Sudan had to facilitate getting an entry permit that we needed to have before arriving in Juba. I literally got mine enroute to the airport. But at the airport they needed a print out before they could allow me on the plane. Have you seen a business centre at KK International? Thankfully my grown grandson (it’s a cultural thing) was there to help and convinced a lovely lady at the courier office to help me get a print out – thanks Sekani and Bwalya!

My journey to South Sudan took me via a night’s stay in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and arriving in Juba lunch-time of the following day. As I waited in the old terminal (Terminal 1) at Addis International Airport, I feel somewhat at ease that so many people were flying to Juba. Then I noticed that most of them had light blue passports – the UN passport. Still, it was better than being on an empty flight to the unknown.

wfp plane

I arrived at Juba International Airport about an hour and a half later. A colleague from UNICEF Zambia had already given me a heads up about the airport but no one could truly prepare me for the chaos.

The international airport was tiny. It reminded me of the Solwezi airport (and Solwezi is our economic hub too, or was, so maybe that’s not saying much!). On arrival, as I queued to get my visa (not really sure the point of the entry permit to be honest), the first thing that hit me was the overwhelming stench of urine. This was after I already almost passed out by the extraordinary heat that hit me when I stepped off the plane! South Sudan is close to the equator after all.

There didn’t seem to be order in the way things were done but I patiently went to the section that said visa on arrival. In front of me was a white woman from the UK who was kind of flirting with the security officers/immigration officers but in a condescending kind of way. It is a thing that I notice even elite black people do – treat the ‘poor, unfortunate people’ with a friendly but condescending tone (i.e. I really believe you’re an idiot but I’ll use the simplest of English for you to understand and I’ll smile at you and treat you like a happy baby with my cooing and aaahing). I shook my head and rolled my eyes.

I finally got my passport stamped and out I went to collect my bag. There was no luggage carousel so I could easily identify my bag, have security rummage through it and put a sticker on it, verifying it had been checked, and good to go.

This was my first thought of being grateful. We spend so much time in Zambia complaining about our poor infrastructure and inefficiency but it’s miles ahead of the Juba airport! I was suddenly grateful for, or at least appreciative of what Zambia has.

I walked out of the hall, and I still hadn’t seen my pick up. I remembered the Welcome and Security Pack I had been sent that clearly said, ‘don’t get a cab, go to the other UN drivers and ask them to radio a UNICEF driver for you’. Which is exactly what I did!

The driver in that UN car was extremely helpful and offered to drop me off at my hotel that was literally round the corner. As we’re driving away we see the UNICEF driver. But the UN driver won’t let me exit the car until the UNICEF car was parked directly behind us and the UNICEF driver was out of the car – the robberies are real he said.

I was slightly startled by that – was my family and friend’s fear justified if I couldn’t just get out of the car?!

view from the room

I was three days late to getting to the workshop, and as my UNICEF colleague drove me from the hotel to the workshop venue, I looked around the city.  The first thing you notice is the amount of UN cars on the road, including UN hummers!  There was some presence of the military, not heavy, but considering the city was supposed to be demilitarized, there was a clear presence of them. I saw land cruiser pick up with army in there, and what was clearly a dead body. I hoped this was just the body of their own colleague and not some poor person killed – I decided it was best not to ask questions you might not want the answer to.

It was great getting to know the workshop participants, 17 of them representing 9 of the 10 states of South Sudan. All super friendly and ready to engage and participate. They got the methodology of the two methods of participatory theatre we were testing out, and quick to see how it could be applied to their own communities and situations. Brilliant!

As I was starting to praise these activists who all stated how much they wanted peace in their country, who felt deeply hurt by the injustices and violence inflicted on their people, that affected all of them, there was also something I noticed was similar to the Zambian participants, as we’d done the same workshop a week earlier in Lusaka; their addiction to their cellphones.

It was constant! Some at least had the decency to answer the phone out of the room, while others had no qualm answering it in the workshop room during the exercises or the facilitator explaining something. It wasn’t a big room, so all sound carried!

At first I thought, ‘how rude!’. I personally get offended when people take a phone call in the middle of a dinner or learning opportunity, just think it’s rude. I don’t know why people are obsessed with their phones. I’m not chained to my phone, I don’t stress about missed calls, people can text me, call me back or I can call them back! It’s not that serious. Hence the reason it’s called a ‘Cell-phone’ you get imprisoned by it! (I saw that on Facebook!)

Zambia was a similar thing; mainly their cellphones, but generally an inability to focus. And it led me to an overall problem we have: Indiscipline

Discipline gets a bad rap at times, probably because somehow our mind goes to the military when we think of discipline. But really discipline is about focus and self-control.

These are key areas we need to grow and develop generally. How are we going to develop or succeed if we’re indisciplined?

view from the lobby

To lose sight of your goal, or what you’re trying to achieve because you’re easily distracted is a bad thing, a sign of weakness. It takes strong will, determination, and lazer focus to stay on your course. You see examples of it all the time, the people who succeed have like a singular focus and drive; determination and discipline.

But generally, I see most people don’t have the focus or discipline to achieve the success we’re destined for. In fact, I think we’re getting distracted by tools and systems to stop us from achieving success – because of the power you hold when you have reached your full potential. So many people and organisations try to stop us from achieving this potential and we fall for it by not being disciplined.

Even in my own life, I realized that I wasn’t living up to my own potential because I was getting distracted by little things (and some pretty addictive TV). So when I saw the behavior of the people in both Zambia and South Sudan and thought, how can we achieve economic freedom or peace in our country if we can’t be disciplined? If we can’t focus on what we want, how on earth will we ever get it?

I believe in doing a lot of self-reflection, you can only control yourself and your actions, and becoming the best version of yourself requires constant reflection, away from external perceptions and distractions. So as I was getting disheartened by these displays of indiscipline and lack of focus, every time I went back to my hotel room, I would reflect on the day – the words I heard people say, and then think to my own life. What blessings has my lack of focus or discipline stopped? How many times do I say I want something and then struggle to pursue it, or stop midway through to pick up something that doesn’t take me further on my path to achieving what I desire?   Too many times to answer.

I’m back in Zambia now, grateful for my blessings, for my family and friends and their prayers. I’m also more focused on making 2016 the year of my making by leaving distractions and indiscipline in 2015!

Hope you’ll join me for the ride

(PS taking photos in Juba is illegal, but I took these photos before I knew that – for real!)

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