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Searching for Zacharia

Treana looks for the man who first inspired her return to South Sudan.

One of my first trips to South Sudan led me to Zacharia. I’ll never forget sitting with him under a tree in his village. He read to me in his native language while I studied the kindness of his face. I didn’t understand a word he said to me that day, but it didn’t matter – I could feel it.

In that moment I told myself that I would never leave these people and I’ve returned every year since.

During my last few visits I haven’t been able to connect with Zacharia – every time I’ve asked about him, nobody knew who I was talking about. There are always new people in the villages and they tend to be very large and spread out, but I’m not about to give up on seeing Zacharia again.

Luckily, a woman at the borehole (water well) overhears me inquire about Zacharia and asks if he’s the old man who walks with two sticks. I’m not sure it’s the same person because Zacharia didn’t use sticks when I met him, but many years have passed and it’s worth a try.

The woman takes me to a tukul (mud hut) and Zacharia comes to greet me before I can surprise him. He has aged immensely and is using sticks for canes.

His fragility breaks my heart, but his smile fills my soul.

Our reunion is beautiful. He looks to the sky and points to it before offering a prayer of thanks to God for returning “the girl from Canada who never forgets anyone’s name” to him once more.

zach

He asks if I can drive him to Rumbek and, after I explain that I still have other village assessments to perform, he offers to keep me company for the day. It is one of my best days ever in South Sudan! At each village, I help him out of the vehicle before piling some leaves on the ground for him to sit on while I conduct my meetings.

zach2

Saying goodbye in Rumbek is incredibly difficult. I don’t know if or when I’ll see Zacharia again, but no matter what happens, I know I’ll never forget him.