Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fly in the cats! (Disregard the cost!)

We left Lokichoggio before dawn. Or, Loki as it is called. This outpost Kenyan town that looks like most outpost African towns with men idling in front of dilapidated shops and children running barefoot rolling tires. The only difference being that I am here. And thousands others like me. Flying in and out of this border post as we make our way into Sudan.

Today, we were flying a MAF charter into Jongelei state to a place called Motot. Never heard of it? Neither had I. Don’t bother trying to find it on a map. It won’t be there. It’s not even on most UN maps and they have a vested interest in knowing where it is. Our pilot finds it by doing what all good pilots do when they have no idea where the landing strip is: make wide, sweeping turns over where it should be until he sees it. One of our area coordinators describes to me the pros and cons of snake-killing. A skill he is convinced that I should possess.

“The key is,” he says making a chopping motion with his arm. “You have to hit them quickly. No matter where. Or they will get away.”

“I want them to get away,” I say.

He ignores this and carries on. “One quick hit anywhere on their body and then you can kill them.”

“I don’t want to kill them,” I say. “I am probably just going to start screaming. That is going to be my tactic.”

“You will be screaming when you see a Black Mambo,” he answers.

The problem is that he is not kidding.

“We should just get cats,” another Area Coordinator interjects. “We should have taken some of those cats from Loki.” He’s referring to all the mangy strays that were lolling about the compound we had just left. “Snakes will stay away if there are cats.”

We carry on talking about how to ‘import’ these cats as we circle over the short green plains dotted with trees and the occasional swampy watering hole. “Motot,” a friend in the UK described it to me. “Is not the middle of nowhere. But if you climbed a tree there you could see the middle of nowhere.” Large tukels surrounded by large dirt yards filled with cattle dot the landscape. A few of them have white fabric tied to trees denoting peace because, you see, they are still at war.

With whom? That is a good question. With pretty much everyone. Everyone who wants their cattle, and on whom they then wreak revenge stealing their enemies cattle (and perhaps a child or two and the odd wife), and vice versa, and so on and so on, ad nauseum, etc. and amen. They will also fight the government if they show up. Which they do from time to time to try to disarm everyone.

In 2006, following a particularly ill-advised attempt at disarmament we evacuated the compound that we’re currently living in as the town was overrun and everything burned and looted – including our compound.

To make matters even more fun the place is mined to the gills. We are not allowed to drive or walk off main tracks. Just last week, children found a 3 foot long rocket and placed it, helpfully, in the middle of the runaway. The community thought this was a bad idea so they came and tossed it down a latrine. Not a very good idea but better than the runaway, I suppose. They should have just tossed it down at the end of the runaway which is, apparently, a former mine dump and ready to blow when the next ill-advised pilot overshoots the place.

While I have been typing this I have been lying in bed, under my mosquito net, listening to a certain rustling between the thatched roof tukel and the plastic sheeting that is pinned up on the inside. I have tried to dismiss it as a rat, or a lizard, but I am pretty sure now that it is a snake. Crawling around up there over my head. (A chunk of dirt just dropped to the floor as it shifted) Our nutrition advisor found one in her tukel only hours ago. I am becoming more convinced that we need those cats here and we need them now. I’m tempted to go back and get them myself.

No comments: