09 July, 2009

Darfur, South Sudan

It's not in the news as much anymore following the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan back in early March, but Sudan still has chaos in Darfur. Thankfully, people aren't getting killed as much there as they were in the years since the conflict erupted in 2003, but it doesn't look like things are going to be resolved so that people can return to their homes instead of being crammed into camps where there are international organizations present to provide some security and who the people rely on to provide food, education, and most everything else necessary for survival.

And although the killing in Darfur is getting less now, it seems that things in South Sudan are getting progressively worse leading up to the national elections and the referendum on Southern Independence. There have been more people killed in South Sudan this year than in Darfur, but little international attention is given to it. During the 20+ years of fighting with the North that ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, over 2 million Southern Sudanese were thought to have died as a result of the war. A national census conducted last year for the first time in over 50 years listed the population of the South at 8.5 million people. Darfur has had over 300,000 deaths as a result of the fighting there since 2003. And now things in the South are escalating before much of any infrastructure has developed and before the government has really been able to establish itself.

You can read an article just published on BBC news here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8127179.stm.
Please pray for the people of Sudan.


Bad Axe. That's the name of the town where I spent 11 days selling fireworks. It's in Michigan. I'm not making this up. There's also a town called Hell in Michigan. I am so Bad Axe now. Dr. Mummert and I thought we'd try our hand at sales to try to make some extra cash. We weren't too sure about the whole thing ahead of time, but decided that regardless of whether we made a little money, or none at all, a week and a half in the town of Bad Axe would provide some good stories. And right we were...

For those of you who know anyone from Michigan, you're probably aware that they always use their hand as a representation of the state to reference where their town is located. Bad Axe is in the upper thumb. It's about 15, 20 minutes from Lake Huron on the west, north, and east. Not a lot of people live there. I'm now convinced that it must be because there are no dentists there (or maybe they have them, but the only equipment that the offices are supplied with are pliers for pulling teeth). It's not a wise business move to try to sell things in the state of Michigan during an economic downturn especially affecting the automotive industury (state unemployment at 15%) in a town that has maybe 4,000 people

I think I have an idea of what it's like to be a carny. Selling fireworks out of a tent in a Wal Mart parking lot has to be a lot like running a ferris wheel or one of those stands where you pay $1 to try to throw a ping pong ball into a fish bowl to win a goldfish at a local carnival. The main difference is probably that instead of moving the tent to another town after Bad Axe, we just closed up shop and were done. Since we were responsible for all the fireworks we were trying to sell, and would have to pay for anything stolen, there was no choice but to sleep in the tent every night and thereby spent almost all 24 hours each day in the tent. We weren't busy, and thankfully had brought a bicycle with us, so sometimes one of us would ride around town or go inside Wal Mart and play Mario Kart on the Wii or other things to try and keep from going stir crazy. The tent was 20 ft by 40 ft, and we had just enough room between the tables of fireworks to back the truck in each night so that we could sleep in the bed of the truck. The Econolodge across the street had a shower in the bathroom in it's lobby, so we did manage a few showers. Febreeze and deodorant also helped to keep us smelling fresh enough not to chase customers away before they spent some money.

Although we weren't super busy selling (things picked up on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, but before that we were extremely slow), the rain almost every day kept us busy letting down the tent walls and rolling them up every so often as we had to keep the fireworks from getting wet. Not only did it rain nearly every day, but no two consecutive days did the wind blow from the same direction, and it was always blowing hard enough that the rain was blowing into the tent so much it would quickly soak everything on that side of the tent. The inside of my truck has that damp, wet dog smell to it, but hopefully it will go away soon as I air out most of the stuff that was in it.

After the stand, I worked a few more days processing all the returns from the other tents in Michigan, and it was nice to get hourly pay and know that there would be some benefit in the end after spending all day working for commission in the tent. So, after 50 hours of that in 4 days, and the 11 days in a tent, I've now completed this experience. I don't think I'll have any other reason to return to Bad Axe, and will probably leave my interaction with fireworks from this point to watching them and not selling.