So here I am in Juba, now capital of the world’s newest country, South Sudan.
I’ve held off on writing anything about the independence celebrations on Saturday because, well, what is there to write? How does one put into words the realization of a people’s dream?
Here are a few moments that didn’t make the articles that are worth remembering.
I started walking to the site of the celebrations at 6:45am on Saturday, bringing with me four granola bars, three sandwiches, two liter and a half bottles of water, and one Cliff Bar for the day. (Could have used more water.) It was a two-mile walk – no taxis were allowed on the roads that day, just VIP SUVs – and it was really great to be in this stream of people all walking in the same direction. “Joy comes in the morning,” sings the psalmist and that was what I was thinking about on that walk. On Friday night, there was loud honking and yelling all over town at midnight. On Saturday morning, it was subdued and people looked determined but it was still joyous.
The actual event was long, hot, and attended by a crushing number of people. I have never felt so claustrophobic in a crowd before. But it was also safe and everyone was friendly and enthusiastic. After a while, I couldn’t handle the crowds anymore and so watched from the distance.
I was struck as I was doing so that an independence celebration is just like any other event – speeches that were too long, more than modest disorganization by the security and protocol people that rendered what had seemed to be a very impressive pass system completely ineffective, a sound system that was kind of weak, and lots of trash left behind, including the new South Sudanese flags that had been handed out. I don’t mean to be uncharitable here because it was a great time all around but the banality and sheer ordinariness of the event struck me, perhaps because there was so much build-up to this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Because I was thinking about the story I was going to write and because I was concerned about not wilting in the heat, I didn’t feel the emotion of the day on Saturday. But on Sunday, I attended a thanksgiving service at the Episcopal cathedral. During the singing of the new national anthem – they had to project the words on the screen because so few people know them – the emotion of the congregation was just amazing and overwhelming. I finally felt – in a really deep way – just what this moment meant to so many people who had waited so long for it.
More photos of the big day on Facebook, which you can access even if you’re not a member.