THE NYANGATOM TRIBE, Southeast South Sudan
A BBC report says, “The Nyangatom are some of the most feared warriors in the Omo Valley, locked in bloody feuds with the tribes that surround them.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/tribe/tribes/nyangatom/
The area is in the far southeastern corner of South Sudan right on the Ethiopian border. Lotimor is the main “center” for the area and it’s just a few miles from the border. It has a school up to grade 4, a dispensary (with no drugs most of the year), and a government office where the Administrator is based.
The road that gets you to Lotimor is as fearful as the people you find there! On March 12, we started our journey to the unknown that turned out to be 225 km (140 miles) and took two days. We were actually on the road for a total of 26 hours, which included digging out of mud bogs, negotiating steep rocky inclines, and some minor repairs on one of the vehicles.
We were in two vehicles, our Toyota Land Cruiser, and Pastor Nyika’s Land Rover pickup, loaded (overloaded?) with a ton of food supplies and the personal things of the missionary family, Mark and Lorna Keter and their three children ages 5 and under. In our car we carried Lorna and the kids, our AIC Assistant Bishop Sarafino Oseyek, Jill and myself. Pastor Nyika had Mark with him to show us the way.
The blue line is our route from Narus (near the Kenya border, black line at bottom of image) going northeast to Lotimor (near Ethiopian border, black line in upper right corner).
We traveled 80 km on a new and smooth road. Unfortunately, unless this road-in-progress is soon finished with a bed of stone and a heavy layer of gravel, the black cotton soil will become an impassible mud bog when the rains come. Do pray with us that this road will be completed as an all-weather road.
By late morning we were past the flat land and were going around the foothills of the mountains, going in and out of gullies and small riverbeds in the road.
The we reached the famous “Junction”.
There’s actually a sign post and a “Y” in the road: keep going north and it goes to Boma, turn right and it goes to Nanyangachor and then to Nyangatom. The name of the junction is called Nachodokopele, and if you can correctly pronounce these names you get a prize!
There is a borehole and hand pump, and we stopped nearby under a tree and Jill made a pot of chai. After 4 more hours we stopped for a hot lunch. Nyika pulled out some canned food and an onion. Jill added rice, and once again we produced fast food in the wilderness!
From 4pm to 8pm we climbed to the plateau that must be crossed to get to Lotimor. An hour after dark we arrived at the “Carter Center”, where they kindly let us in (contrary to their normal policy) to set up our tents for the night.
The next morning a BIG surprise! Rain! Would we be locked into the place for the rest of the year? We sat and waited.
Now the story is getting very long, so let me move us on quickly. It was now Thursday the 13th, we spent another day at the Carter Center on the plateau waiting, hoping, for clearing weather.
The next day it was clear, sun was shining. We headed out, but the road was not dried enough. Six miles from the Carter Center we spent 3 hours digging out of the mud and replacing an engine mount on Nyika’s Landrover.
When we got to the other side of the plateau and started down again, we encountered another series of steep, rocky tracks, another hour stuck in a mud hole, and another threatening rain storm.
At the bottom of the plateau we were among the Nyangatom villages. At 5pm we had the roofs of Lotimor in sight about 3 km away. We stopped and viewed the scenery. Mark announced, “Welcome to Lotimor!”
Very soon the local Christians were running toward us to meet us. They were so excited to see the Keters, and it was a joy for us to hear them bantering in the local language, so much like the Turkana we learned 40 years ago!
But we still had to cross a flowing river! While the people carried the luggage and supplies to Mark and Lorna’s compound, James and Mark and I tried to find a way across the river.
It was 3 more hours till we actually sat down at Mark’s house! At 8 pm, we supped on 4 chickens slaughtered in our honor. However, both vehicles were still on the other side of the river, deeply stuck in the mud. VERY tired — and very grateful — we spread our camping mattresses on the dirt floor of a tiny, one room house.
That’s the end of the “Road to Lotimor”. The 2 vehicles were extracted fairly easily the next morning, Unfortunately, the Landrover engine and gear box mounts had all broken. Though James had some spares, they weren’t enough to depend on for the long, rough trip back. We we left on Sunday afternoon, we had to leave the pickup behind in hopes of a return trip perhaps in May/June to retrieve it.
The journey back 2 days later was mostly uneventful (maybe “boring” but definitely tiring). I wanted to upload some videos, but that didn’t seem to work.
But there’s another story: why we went there. The church among the Nyangatom people. See the next post…