Place Where You Live:

Juba, Republic of South Sudan

The rain is coming. Every day now in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, grey-white clouds parade across the horizon, driven by gusty drafts. Thunder rumbles and people look up expectantly from their black clay fields, where for the past month they have spent the majority of their time kneeling, chipping at the earth with short-handled maloudas to prepare for planting. This sub-Saharan land is mostly brittle, brown and dust-plagued for much of the year, but for about five months beginning in May, a carpet of rich green rolls out unstoppably, and a part of the world better known for famine is transformed into a land of plenty. In another month, tall maize and sorghum stalks will reach the pointy thatched roofs of farmers’ tukuls, the cylindrical mud-and-wood houses traditionally built by South Sudanese. Peanuts, sweet potatoes, melons and squash will extrude from the dirt; papayas, guavas and bananas will erupt. I live in the capital, Juba, and work for a company that provides technical assistance to the new government, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary of independence on July 9th. This East African nation of nine million people has endured a rocky infancy. A bloody border dispute with its northern neighbor, Sudan, brought the two countries to the brink of a third war a few months ago and prompted South Sudan to close its oil fields, stalling the conomic engine of both nations. But farms and livestock matter more than oil to most citizens in this pastoralist society, still unspoiled by industrial agriculture. Cattle keep their horns here, and eat only grass. The Nile and its tributaries keep pastures fertile even during the dry season, and are a source of fish throughout the year. There is cause for optimism, despite everything you read. At my window in the morning, I listen to children walking down my street in their neatly pressed, pastel uniforms on the way to school. They sing and speak in Dinka or Arabic, neither of which I understand. Still, I hear joy and hope for the coming day in their young voices.