ASHES TO ASHES | The Mundari of South Sudan.
As the world began to roll over and enter a period of prolonged isolation, ironically, I was already deep in isolation. It was not isolation with the world but isolation from the world.
One could be confused and think I was in a different universe.
Last March, while still able to travel and take in photographic adventures, I stayed deep within the Republic of South Sudan as a visitor to the Mundari tribe.
South Sudan is the world's newest country, a nation that continuously toped the list of most dangerous countries to visit. After years of war and conflict - with tens of thousands killed and over two million displaced - the country began to stabilize and open its doors to travellers.
The Mundari have so far kept themselves away from the new world order.
Amidst bloody long term wars and constant instability of their entire region, they have managed to maintain the authenticity of their lifestyle.
For me, every unique community offers a completely different lifestyle and set of customs, in which exists a paradise of knowledge.
I was ready to come and soak it all in.
The first thing I noticed was the Mundari’s attachment to the earth.
It was truly mind blowing.
At first, the raw, daily routines seemed wild, even shocking; living with animals? Washing their faces with cow urine!? Covering their body with ashes made from dung?'
It felt like I was traveling through time to the far reaches of the past, with no memory of the present world. My photography too became limited, with no sources of power in the area.
Consequently, I used the camera only in the mornings and evenings.
During the day, I got to know my hosts in-depth.
I slept in a little tent under a tree, where the vast savannah was pure silence. My soul rejoiced for it. Every sunrise and sunset, I left the village with a camera on my shoulder and crossed a little swamp to the nearby cattle camp - where the Mundari men and children take care of their treasured horned cows.
These cows are not only their primary resource to sustain their community but also a pivotal part of their lifestyle. For the Mundari the cow is everything - it is their restaurant, clinic, bank and social status.
It took me a couple of days of complete isolation from the world I knew, to digest my surroundings sincerely. At some point, when my head stopped making these automatic Western comparisons of wealth or quality of life, I began looking at those in front of me and saw them as they truly were - People.
In truth, I loved what I saw.
Only then, when my ears and heart were open, could I begin to take in the meaning of the Mundari lifestyle. What seemed so bizarre at first made logical sense:
They rarely eat their cows but base their diet on their milk.
The cow urine has antibacterial properties, which can be used for cuts and wounds.
The children collect the dung and burn it to create ash, using it as a natural antiseptic to protect the skin from insects and the sun.
This is sustainable living - not as a trend - but in its purest and wildest form.
What about their hobbies or favorite sports, I hear you ask?
Although the Mundari are known as ''fierce warriors'', they are peaceful people. They much prefer wrestling over war, which is a popular hobby here from a very young age.
It was amazing to see the Mundari waking up for a new day and to realise that people are people, anywhere across the world. Even when it feels as distant as a different universe.
One morning, I walked to the cattle camp before the sun came up.
There, I found a young boy named Kinaii, sleeping beside a goat and a burning pile of dung that warmed him last night. Moments later, he wears a satisfied smile on his face, having warmed himself a fresh cup of goat's milk.
Although I would never wish - or be able - to live in such a way, I did find myself full of admiration.
It started with the addictive, peaceful silence of the savannah and the Mundari's strong sense of belonging; both of which have become such a precious commodities in our over-sensitized world.
But as someone who grew up in a Western country built on pollution and the destruction of nature - their deep partnership with the environment and its sustainability sticks with me the most.
When I arrived in the world of the Mundari, they seemed wild and primitive, but with time and numerous personal encounters - I found their world was rich and full, in their own unique way.
In contrast, when I returned to my world - already wealthy and full - I discovered chaos, panic, and a pandemic (and those were just the headlines.)
To some, the Mundari tribe may represent a glimpse into a tribal past.
To me, I think of their happy smiles and remember that it is possible. That it is possible to live together, and to live with less. Maybe now is precisely the time to try and do so.
And if our world nevertheless burns, it is not the end yet:
Remember that from the ashes, we can make an excellent repellent. (: