Thursday, June 12, 2008
Humanitarian Urban Legends...
I was in a briefing today with the head of logistics. An energetic and talkative British man who, at the time, was describing to me the various varmits (rats, spiders, scorpions) that one would need to kill at any given time in South Sudan. The talk turned to snakes and he clasps his hands together earnestly and says, "There are snakes, you know. Huge snakes. Pythons."
"Really?" I say. "Like how big are we talking here?"
"I've got the pictures," he say. "One killed a guard and, after consuming him, was caught crawling under the fence of the UN compound in Juba. It was electrocuted as it tried to get free."
"Riiiiight," I say. He lost me at guard. "So what you're telling me is that there are python in Juba that are large enough to swallow humans and that some guard (and I know how lazy and comatose some guards can be) was so sound asleep that he allowed him self to be strangled and then eaten by a python and there was no commotion made?"
"Well, he was probably bitten first," the logistician maintains.
"But pythons there aren't poisonous," I bluff. I have no idea whether pythons are poisonous. The whole thing just wreaks of urban legend so I feel justified.
"No," he concedes. "But you don't die from poison with python bites. You die from the infection. And these ones have huge fangs (makes a motion to indicate said fangs were approximately a foot long) and imagine they were sunk into your neck. You'd pass out and then it'd strangle you."
"Riiiight," I say. "You die from infection in about 15 seconds?" I'm on a roll now.
"No, but there'd be an awful gash."
"And a struggle, maybe?"
"Maybe," he says.
"Produce the pictures," I say.
"Ok," he says. And I spend the rest of the day, that is not spent trying to get $3 million dollars to ensure that Aweil East has primary medical facilities, taunting him and his staff who also vouch for the story.
So, upon arriving back home I decide to do some internet research. It turns out that it is an urban legend. Actually, two urban legends. But, and herein the problem lies, part of it is true. The picture was not of a python in Juba that had swallowed a guard and attempted to escape and thereby being electrocuted. The picture was of a python in South Africa that has swallowed an impala and attempted to escape and thereby being electrocuted. According to the website, where you can read more, no one is sure if a python could actually swallow a full-grown adult so that element is dubious.
I feel somewhat vindicated and rest easy knowing that South Africa is nearly 3,000 miles away. Unfortunately, he was right about the scorpions. I'm just going to try not to think about them.