My Big Writing Challenge

This week, I am off on a writing assignment like I have never had before.

I have accepted an invitation to travel to two refugee camps in South Sudan with Samaritan’s Purse, a charity probably best known for encouraging ordinary Canadians to fill shoe-boxes at Christmas for children in need around the world.

Even though I have written about the situation in Sudan a few times before — the death toll in Darfur, the millions dead from years of war, the suffering of the ordinary citizen caught in the struggles — it is about to become a bit more real to me. As real as it can in six days travelling in a protected bubble that is.

I picked up James Maskalyk’s book Six Months in Sudan, the Toronto doctor’s account of serving with Medecins Sans Frontieres in 2007, a book I’ve meant to read since its release. Now I have a good reason. He’s very good at describing hot and dusty, hope and hopeless.

I am devouring everything I can read on post-referendum Sudan — most of it sobering, some of it mildly optimistic. I am paying attention not only to what the articles say, but to how the articles are written, the vocabularies that are chosen to describe a complicated group of people in a very complicated situation. I see how the writers weave stories of real people living through incredible hardship with flashbacks in Sudan’s history and fast-forwards into what may yet still be to come.

Clearly, I am about to go where better writers have been, and it’s all a bit intimidating.

And then I feel silly worrying about my writing, and fretting about my ability to ask the right questions, and the fact that I get weepy when I watch Undercover Boss (so what will I do in a refugee camp for Pete’s sakes?). And I realize that I am about to be some kind of an eye-witness, however imperfect, to a story that deeply matters. And I remember that what will be my writing challenge is already someone else’s tragedy. That should help keep things in perspective.

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