Friday, July 04, 2008

A day...

5:30am: The sun is not yet up and it is already hot. The generator is not on so the still air inside my tukel has grown even hotter. I hear the scuff, scuff of the water man dragging his feet pushing his heavy wheelbarrow outside my wire mesh window. He unloads four or five 25 gallon plastic jugs of water, dropping them on the ground with a thump. I open my eyes and ensure that my mosquito net is still tucked in to protect from the bugs, bats, snakes with whom we share our space. Satisfied that I am alone I roll over and go back to sleep.

8:30am: Scuffling inside the plastic ceiling of my grass-thatched tukel wakes me up. It is probably a lizard crawling around making a racket. Others are up already and moving about. The builders from Kenya have begun banging nails into the roof of the cement block kitchen they are building. There are no builders in this part of South Sudan and so we have to have them come to build anything other than the mud tukuls in which we normally live and work. I pull up my mosquito net but dare not drop my feet down without first reaching down to shake out my shoes for scorpions which might have taken up residence in the night. My tukel is small and round (about 8’ x 8’) with a battered linoleum floor and mud walls. The low door lets in some light as do the wire mesh windows. It is Cecelia’s but she is not here as she was medi-evaced yesterday with severe malaria. After fits of hallucinations and seizures they were afraid it was cerebral.

9:00am: I have breakfast in the ‘mess’ – another mud tukel. A chunk of oily white bread and powdered milk with tea has become my routine. Food is something about which it is impossible to get excited in South Sudan. You eat to keep alive. That is all. There is nothing gourmet or appealing about greasy stews, sloppy lentils, or snot-like okra. As one friend of mine put it, “I don’t eat in Sudan. I feed.” Others are already eating and getting ready to go to church. There are two churches in Tieraliet. An Episcopal and a Catholic. Half the staff go to the Episcopal and half to the Catholic. The Catholic church meets under an enormous Banyan tree. (We walked by mud tukel they used to use as a church but the roof has caved in.)

10:30am: Mass gets going with people clapping and singing. Everyone knows all the words to the songs because there are no songbooks, there are no Bibles, there is no priest. Just a plastic table where the cathechist leads the service and the rest of us sitting on the roots or ground under the tree. About half way through the service a woman begins screaming and crying. Some men come and carry her to a nearby hut where other women spend the rest of the service fanning her. “Is she demon possessed?” our HR manager asks me. I shrug. “Could be.” “It’s either that or typhoid or malaria,” our doctor adds.

12:00pm: It is hot walking home and the sun so bright that it feels like it is melting you slowly and that by the time you get to the compound you will be nothing more than a pool of yourself. I try not to work on Sundays and so with lunch being unappealing in the extreme I make another cup of powdered milk tea and go back to bed to read and sleep.

3:00pm The rains begin with thunder in the distance thuds and grumbles its way closer until a cool breeze sweeps past our compound announcing that the rain has arrived. It always falls with giant drops – no light sprinkles, no gentle spitting. It hits the ground hard and plops in my tea that I have gotten up to get. Great giant sploshes of African sky in my tea. The rain is a curse and a blessing. For the community it means that their crops will grow and that they will have water for our cattle. For us it means that vast swaths of South Sudan will become inaccessible as the muddy tracks we normally follow to remote towns and villages become nothing more than deep, oozing, mud traps that suck down vehicles like vacuum cleaners sucking dirt.

4:00pm: Have a four hour meeting with the Area Coordinator on everything from security, to snake bite guidelines, to the likelihood of being struck by lightning, to maternal mortality. South Sudan has both one of the highest fertility rates in the world along with the highest maternal mortality rates. Our community empowerment specialist put it like this: “Here, when a woman has a baby, there are only two things that will happen. She will deliver normally or she will die.”

Lots of things come into stark contrast like this. You need to eat or you will die. You need to drink or you will die. You need to avoid snakes and scorpions and illness of any sort or you will die. It’s amazing, and a little refreshing, to have the idea of want that dominates my culture drop out of life almost entirely. There is no wanting. There is only need.

8:00pm: Carefully find my way back to my tukel without the use of a torch. Something not generally advisable given the number of poisonous snakes around and the fact that our anti-venom covers only four of them.

10:00pm: After reading for several hours the generator is turned off and the lights and fan in my room whine, flicker and die out with it. I lay there in the dark, sweating, put my book down and try to sleep.


Wunnovus said...

Kels, this is beautiful and awe inspiring. Thankyou. K

David Cuthbert said...

What's the infrastructure like there? No roads and no electricity means no way to get people, goods, or information in or out.

The engineer in me wonders how many problems would be mitigated or even fixed by having some semblance of infrastructure in place. Then again, if people are just hanging on, it's hard to say that you're going to allocate resources to infrastructure rather than food.


Kristin said...

David, you could go in, dump down roads, electricity, water, sewer, and cell towers, but without a solid government with money and more importantly, a lack of corruption, it'll all disappear quickly; either to desperate people stealing stuff, shoddy or absent maintenance or the rebel army dejour.

There's a whole destructive mindset of cronyism, skimming off the top, substandard materials, baksheesh, apathy, etc. that would have to change from top to bottom for the changes to stick. You'd have to go all colonial on them if you wanted to maintain it. And that would end well....

Which is why the billions of dollars that have been dumped into Africa over the years make relatively little impact.

Which doesn't mean we still shouldn't try. If you make some poor kid's life better it's money well spent even if the overall picture is bleak.

Greta said...

Kelsey, you really are my hero. I'm amazed.